How Can Stress Affect My Arthritis?

Arthritis and stress tend to correspond — you are stressed because of your arthritis, and the stress can make your arthritis worse. Here is a guide to helping you understand how stress affects your arthritis:

Chemical effects of stress
People already dealing with arthritis may feel the effects of stress more acutely. Some people are just more sensitive. Researchers still do not know why people in the same situation will experience different levels of stress, but they do suspect a combination of genetics and environmental triggers. Our bodies respond to stress by releasing chemicals, such as cortisol. While these chemicals are meant to relieve stress, they may also trigger arthritic inflammation. Repeated exposure to stress can impact the chemical messengers in the brain, according to ArthritisToday. Arthritis may alter the body’s chemical responses and make your health more susceptible to stress.

Track your stress
One of the first ways to handle stress is to know your triggers. Keep a daily journal and use it to record stressful moments and times when your arthritis feels worse. You may begin to notice a pattern over time. A correlation would suggest that stress affects your arthritis directly — possibly on a daily basis. Once you know that stress is triggering pain, you can more effectively avoid stressful situations.

Muscle tension
Stressful situations instinctively set off fight-or-flight responses in your body, which pushes you to either enter a conflict or escape the situation. During the fight-or-flight process, your body releases a rush of hormones that cause a bundle of physical responses. Your heart starts to beat faster. Your breathing becomes more rapid, and your muscles tense. This increased muscle tension could contribute to arthritic pain, says The University of Washington’s Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine. Chronic stress will likely induce the fight-or-flight response regularly, which could result in ongoing muscle stress.

Peripheral effects
Stress can produce overlooked side effects in your arthritis. When you are under stress, you may feel too distracted to devote proper attention to your health. Stressful preoccupations might lead to unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise or drinking. Stress can also disrupt your sleep, leaving your joints tired the next day. Chronic stress can negatively impact other underlying health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.

Coping with stress
Daily exercise and long-term lifestyle changes can effectively combat stress. Popular methods for immediate stress relief include meditation, breathing techniques and physical exercises. Chronic stress may be alleviated with therapy or counseling, a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine.