When you find out that you have osteoarthritis, you may be scared and worried about how it may change your life, work, and relationships.
It's hard to know how fast your arthritis may progress. Your symptoms may come and go, stay the same, or get worse over time. Some days you may feel fine and be able to do the things you need—and want—to do with little pain. Other days the pain may be too much for you to do simple tasks like getting dressed or brushing your teeth.
At times you may feel overwhelmed, tired, and angry. You may be afraid that you might become disabled and not be able to care for yourself. You may even wonder if you'll be able to continue to work. These feelings are normal. Most people who have arthritis feel this way at one time or another.
Some people with arthritis also feel down or depressed. They may describe this as feeling "depressed," "unhappy," "short-tempered," "blue," or "down in the dumps." If you feel like this most of the time, tell your doctor. Treating these symptoms may help you feel better and make it easier for you to do your daily tasks.
Ways to cope
Even though living with arthritis can be stressful, the good news is that you can do some simple things to feel better and keep the joy in your life and relationships.
- Ask your family and friends for help. Don't be afraid to let people help you with some of your tasks, especially on days when you have a lot of pain.
- Balance activity with rest. If you get tired when you do a task, break the task down into smaller tasks, and rest between them.
- Learn ways to reduce stress. Stress can make your pain feel worse. You might try deep breathing and relaxation exercises or meditation to help reduce stress and relax your mind and muscles.
- Meet with friends. At times, you may not want to go out because you're too tired or don't want to be seen using a cane or wheelchair. But being social can help you feel better. If you isolate yourself, you may get depressed.
- See a counselor. Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows you to express your fears and concerns and learn new ways of coping with arthritis.
- Be creative. Find ways to still do the things that you enjoy, but do them in a different way that doesn't cause pain. For example, plant flowers in a raised garden bed instead of planting them directly into the ground. Then you won't have to kneel.
- Join a support group. This is a great place to share your concerns and hear how other people cope with the challenges of arthritis. Online forums and chat groups are also good places to find support.
- Keep a pain diary. Write down how your moods, thoughts, sleep patterns, activities, and medicine affect your pain. Having a record of your pain can help you and your doctor find the best ways to treat your pain.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about arthritis, the more you'll be able to cope with any lifestyle changes that you may need to make as your symptoms get worse. Encourage your family and friends to learn about arthritis too. Then they can know what you're dealing with and learn ways they can help you.
If your arthritis makes it hard for you to do your job, talk to your boss about what changes you can make to your schedule and things you can do to modify your work area.
You might ask if:
- You can have a later start time.
- You can work part-time or work from home.
- You can switch to a light-duty position, if your job involves a lot of lifting, bending, or standing.
Adopting a "good-health attitude" and healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet, staying at a healthy weight, and getting enough sleep, will make you feel better and help you stay active.
When you think in a positive way, you may be more able to:
- Care for yourself and handle the challenges of arthritis.
- Avoid or cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.
One Woman's Story:
"There are so many things in our life that we can control. And there are big things that we can't control. But if we assume control of the things that we can, at least we feel like we're doing something to make our lives better."— Bev
Support your caregiver
If a family member or friend is helping to care for you, be sure to let that person know how grateful you are for the help.
Keep in mind that your caregiver's life may be changing along with yours. And he or she may be dealing with some of the same emotions as you are. Talking is a great way for each of you to share your concerns and support for each other.
Current as of: December 8, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Stanford M. Shoor MD - Rheumatology