Coping With Pain: Relaxation and Stress Reduction Techniques for Living with Arthritis

Living with arthritis often involves managing not only physical discomfort but also the emotional toll that chronic pain can bring.

Stress, both physical and emotional, can worsen arthritis symptoms, creating a challenging cycle.

In this article, we’ll explore the connection between stress and arthritis, and more importantly, look into effective relaxation and stress reduction techniques to help people with arthritis lead a more comfortable and balanced life.

The Stress-Arthritis Connection

Stress is known to impact the body in various ways, and for people with arthritis, it can increase pain and inflammation.

Stress triggers the release of certain hormones, like cortisol, that may contribute to increased inflammation in the joints. When you are feeling stressed it may lead to you adopting unhealthy coping behaviours such as eating unhealthy foods, inactivity, and poor sleep quality.

Stress may also lead to muscle tension, which can worsen your arthritis pain.

Understanding Relaxation Techniques

Incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily routine can be a powerful way to manage stress and, consequently, alleviate arthritis symptoms. Here are some effective relaxation methods:

#1. Deep Breathing Exercises:
  • Practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing to calm your nervous system.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand, and exhale slowly through your mouth.
#2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR):
  • Systematically tense and then relax different muscle groups.
  • Start with your toes and work your way up, focusing on releasing tension as you go.
#3. Meditation:
  • Mindfulness meditation can help you stay present and reduce stress.
  • Find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath or a calming mantra.
#4. Guided Imagery:
  • Imagine a peaceful scene or engage in mental exercises that transport you to a serene place.
  • This can divert your mind from pain and stress, promoting relaxation.
#5. Yoga and Tai Chi:
  • These gentle, flowing exercises can improve flexibility, balance, and mental wellbeing.
  • Many arthritis-friendly options are available, making these practices accessible for various mobility levels.

Managing Stress in Daily Life

#1. Prioritise Self-Care
  • Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and engaging in activities you enjoy.
  • Taking care of your overall wellbeing can build resilience against stress.
#2. Time Management
  • Organise your schedule to reduce time pressures and avoid over committing.
  • Break tasks into manageable chunks to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
#3. Establish Boundaries
  • Learn to say no when necessary to avoid taking on too much.
  • Communicate your needs to family and friends to create a supportive environment.
#4. Stay Connected
  • Share your experiences with trusted friends or join a support group.
  • Connection with others can provide emotional support and a sense of understanding.
#5. Seek Professional Help
  • If stress becomes overwhelming, consider consulting a mental health professional for guidance and support.
  • Also seek support from friends and family if you are going through a hard time.
  • For more information, read our article on Support for Mental Wellbeing.

Managing arthritis involves a holistic approach that considers both the physical and emotional aspects of wellbeing.

By incorporating relaxation techniques and adopting stress-reducing habits, people with arthritis can break the stress-pain cycle and improve their overall quality of life.

Taking the time to prioritise self-care and seeking support when needed are crucial steps toward managing stress and, in turn, coping more effectively with the challenges of living with arthritis.

If you need a good smartphone app, we have listed 5 mindfulness apps & resources that can be beneficial for managing stress:

  1. Smiling Mind
  2. Headspace
  3. Calm
  4. Stop, breathe & think
  5. Simply being

If you are interested in learning more about managing stress, we have some fantastic pre-recorded webinars on multiple topics to help manage stress – watch the webinars here.

Breanna Jones
Health Promotions Coordinator
Arthritis Queensland

November 2023