Managing psoriatic arthritis isn’t easy. You may conclude that no one understands the pain, swelling, fatigue, and stress you live with daily. If ignored, these feelings can become an obstacle in your pursuit for good health, leading to loneliness, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and depression.
But you don’t have to live this way. Many studies show that people with psoriatic arthritis (PsA) or any chronic illness who have a high level of social support from a physician, family, friends, and the community have less stress, reduced anxiety, and better coping skills than people without support.
According to findings in a study published in May 2014 in the Journal of Rheumatology, up to 22 percent of people with PsA have depression and about 36 percent live with anxiety. But research also confirms that getting support from others may protect you from emotional distress. Not only does social support help you feel understood, but speaking to others about your psoriatic arthritis concerns allows you to feel compassion, and feel comforted and more connected — all vital for a healthy well-being.
So where can someone living with psoriatic arthritis turn for social support? Here are some suggestions:
1. Seek Your Doctor’s Advice
Your rheumatologist or arthritis specialist is the most knowledgeable person about psoriatic arthritis — from what you feel and how to treat it to disease progression and hurdles that may arise. According to Lynn Ludmer, MD, medical director of rheumatology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, “It’s important to have an open dialogue with your doctor about your condition and medications. If you have particular concerns, share them.”
Before you meet with your doctor, write down the questions you have about PsA symptoms and your emotional state and take these to the appointment. Make sure your doctor addresses the questions at the visit. If you feel anxious or depressed, talk openly with your physician to see if medication or professional counseling may help.
2. Seek Support From Family and Friends
Seeking advice from your physician is only one avenue for emotional support for patients with psoriatic arthritis. According to Harris H. McIlwain, MD, a board-certified rheumatologist and pain expert in Tampa, Florida, having intimate relationships with family and friends helps patients to feel accepted and maintain optimism, and aids in stress management.
“These emotional benefits lead to stronger immunity, which is vital to staying well and functioning optimally,” Dr. McIlwain says. “In fact, it is well documented that people who are happily married or have large networks of friends not only have a greater life expectancy compared with those people who do not, but they also have fewer incidences of just about all types of disease.”
Whether you need someone to pick up a prescription, help with meal preparation, or lend a shoulder for you to lean on, family and friends are there to support you, so simply ask.
3. Locate a Support Group in Your Community
Support groups such as those sponsored by the Arthritis Foundation are geared toward meeting the distinctive needs of those with arthritis. Support groups provide PsA patients with a secure and accepting place to share their personal stories and receive comfort and encouragement from one another. At a PsA support group, you can vent your frustrations, learn about medication others are taking, and gain coping skills among the group members. Creakyjoints.org offers a local arthritis support group finder tool on its website.
4. Search for an Online PsA Group
If walking or driving is hard for you or you prefer the privacy of your home, perhaps you’d like to go online for psoriatic arthritis support. There are numerous psoriatic support groups filled with members who have this same condition. Within these online groups, you will receive the assurance that someone else knows what you are going through as others share their struggles living with PsA. After joining a support group, you may realize that the best experts on living with pain and other symptoms are those men and women who face it daily. It’s still vital that you discuss any new treatment, conventional or complementary, with your rheumatologist or arthritis specialist before trying it.
5. Hangout With Others Living With Psoriatic Arthritis
The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) offers a special one-to-one mentoring program that allows people with psoriatic arthritis to connect with others with the condition. Talking to someone else with psoriatic arthritis can boost support as you discuss stories, talk about your pain and treatment, and connect emotionally. By talking one-on-one to others with PsA, you will gain encouragement from someone who understands exactly what you are going through.
6. Get a Rescue Dog or Cat
On another note, social support does not have to be just with other people. You might form emotional attachments with your pets. Pet therapy, specifically with dogs, has been growing in popularity over the past 10 years, according to therapists at Yale School of Medicine. Two prominent effects of pet therapy include:
- The activation of oxytocin, a hormone that enables bonding and relationships
- Reductions in cortisol, the stress hormone (Reducing cortisol levels is important for psoriatic arthritis, as studies show stress worsens the condition and triggers flares.)
“Several of my patients stay alone yet find comfort and camaraderie with a pet,” McIlwain says. “This attachment is every bit as strong as that between a parent and a child. There are numerous articles published in the area of animal-human bonding revealing the health benefits of this type of interaction.”
Lastly, if these six ways to find emotional support with psoriatic arthritis do not help, see a therapist soon. A licensed counselor who specializes in chronic diseases can be extremely helpful in getting you to accept what you cannot change and change the aspects of life over which you have control.