Stress and pain are two things that can affect your life in many ways.
Stress and joint pain both send signals to our bodies that something is wrong and prompt us to confront whatever is hurting or threatening us. Stress triggers our fight-or-flight response, which is an important survival mechanism we inherited from our ancestors. While stress and pain are important signals, they can also have severe effects on our lives if they become chronic.
Today, however, chronic stress is increasingly common yet doesn’t ensure our survival as it once did. Thanks to work deadlines and financial pressures, sometimes it feels like you have no escape from life’s stressors. Unfortunately, studies have linked chronic stress to chronic pain. Stress can induce joint pain or worsen the aches and pains felt by people with arthritis.
It’s important for those already suffering from joint pain to understand the link between pain and stress, practice self-care, and manage their stress effectively.
How stress impacts us physically
Stress is a normal human reaction we all experience. However, stress becomes problematic to our health when it is long-term, or chronic. Like the impact of arthritis on our joints, chronic stress causes wear-and-tear to our bodies over time. Physical symptoms of stress include insomnia, dizziness, high blood pressure, and body aches.
If you are under chronic stress, take note of any physical symptoms you may be experiencing. Is your heart beating rapidly? Do you have trouble sleeping? Are you easily irritated? When you recognize signs of stress, work to get them under control and consult your doctor before your feelings worsen.
What happens when you mix stress and arthritis?
One of the main ways stress can impact your body is by causing inflammation. Chronic stress can invoke an inflammatory response in the body, which is normally a helpful reaction from the immune system. However, lasting inflammation can further wear down your tissues and bones, amplifying any existing joint damage. When stressed, your muscles may tense up more, which can increase stiffness or pain.
Poor sleep is another major concern for those living with arthritis. About 70% of people with osteoarthritis (OA) report having trouble sleeping. Stress-related sleep disturbances can make matters worse, and interrupted sleep can increase daytime pain.
Stress can also impact your routine, forcing you to focus less on daily tasks and more on your racing mind. This makes it difficult to keep up with self-care activities that can reduce pain and help better manage your arthritis.
Learning to prioritize stress management
Just as you can learn to manage your joint pain more effectively, you can become better at managing your stress. Here are some tips to help you on your journey!
- Identify what might be causing your stress. Are financial concerns or life changes the culprit? Or are you feeling stressed about your arthritis? Determining the cause can help you address your stress head-on.
- Relax! We recommend trying activities like meditation, breathing, yoga, or a gentle stretching routine to help put your mind at ease.
- Do something active. Picking up an active hobby like an intramural sport, swimming, running, or dancing can get your heart pumping while improving your mood.
- Get outside. Taking time to get some fresh air and enjoy nature can go a long way. Go for a walk, do some gardening, or take a hike.
- Make time for fun. Even if you’re busy, doing something that excites you and takes your mind off whatever is causing you stress can make a big difference. Is there a new movie you want to see? Grab some popcorn and go check it out!
- Remember to say no. It’s easy to fall into the trap of agreeing to every request that comes your way, like taking on a new project at work. But if you’re already feeling stretched too thin and struggling with stress and joint pain, you should give yourself the time and space to heal.
- Be open about your feelings. When we’re feeling stressed, it can be helpful to chat with a trusted friend or family member. Lean on those around you for comfort.
Stressed about joint pain and want to consult with a physician in your area about Anika’s potential solutions? Try our Find a Doctor tool today!