How can I look after my emotional well-being?

There are many ways you can look after your emotional well-being. Why not try some of the tips below?

  • Keep up with activities you enjoy, or take up a new one. This could be anything: gardening, reading, walking, cooking. The list is endless! Read our tips on making gardening easier.
  • Stay connected – to family, friends, the local community. If you’re feeling isolated, follow your interests (join a gardening club, book club or singing group, for example). We have local branches and groups all over the UK – many have coffee mornings, activity groups and other social events. There’s something to suit everyone.
  • Keep active – many people say their arthritis symptoms lessen if they exercise. Read our information on exercise to find out more.
  • Give back – this could be a small gesture, such as giving someone a compliment, or a larger one, such as volunteering at a charity shop or soup kitchen.

Common emotions

Emotions send us quick, powerful messages about our environment. These then trigger reactions, which often allow us to function effectively in a given situation. Some emotions are automatically signalled – such as happiness, sadness and anger – while others, like guilt or jealousy, are more complex and often have no obvious signals.

One size rarely fits all in any aspect of life. It depends on you and at what stage your arthritis is: whether you’re experiencing the first symptoms, have just been diagnosed, are going through your first flare-up, or have been living with a chronic and relapsing condition for some time.

However, people with arthritis do talk about some common experiences. Hearing the diagnosis can be a shock. Some people deny anything is wrong, and try to ignore it. You might feel scared, or relieved to finally know what’s wrong.

However, there may be a sense that your body cannot be relied upon or trusted anymore, and the feelings of uncertainty can be hard to adjust to.

At any stage, many people feel angry and frustrated. It’s natural to ask “why me?” Anxiety is also common. You may be scared, especially if you have known someone with severe arthritis in the past.

Arthritis can affect or have an effect on your relationships, and leave you feeling isolated. It may knock your confidence, especially when others are not kind or understanding. At times like this, it’s good to know that many people, and Versus Arthritis, can help. As well as our free helpline, you can find support through our online community, where you can talk to others with arthritis, and share your stories and problems.

Emotions and your symptoms

Mind and body

Because your mind and body are so closely linked, the symptoms of arthritis, and the feelings you get, can influence each other. This can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it.

For example, if you're in pain or can’t do something, it might make you short-tempered or put you in a low mood. On the other hand, feeling positive about finding a solution or focusing on things you can do makes the physical symptoms of arthritis easier to deal with. 
Two principles are important in appreciating how we experience pain:

  • Each of us reacts to and manages pain differently.
  • How we deal with our pain can affect the way we feel it.

A variety of other factors can determine how your body will react chemically to pain and whether your nerves will transmit or block a potentially painful message to your brain. These factors can include anxiety, fatigue and how you responded to pain while growing up. The pain caused by arthritis can be persistent and sometimes severe, but you can work at not letting it dominate your life.

Drugs

A side effect of some drugs can be mood changes. This can be directly or indirectly – as a knock-on effect – of another side effect, such as insomnia, headaches or dizziness. This, in turn, can cause you to become tired and withdrawn, and could, in the long term, lead to anxiety and depression. 

Talk to your doctor or another healthcare professional you trust about the possible drawbacks and benefits of your arthritis medication. It's also important to talk to your GP if you feel your medication is affecting your emotions.

Best arthritis care

Work with your healthcare team to optimise your treatment to the best it can possibly be. Together, you can find the right combination of exercise, therapy and medication. This can be difficult, however, if you lack the confidence or the knowledge to have a meaningful, two-way discussion.

Here are a few suggestions on how to build your confidence in these situations:

  • Take someone with you to consultations. Ring our Helpline for advice on the right questions to ask. Write a list of things you want to discuss or tell your doctor.
  • Take these with you on the day and tick off each point during your appointment.
  • Attend a self-management course or workshop, which can help to build your confidence in the long term.
  • Stick to your treatment plan to get the most benefit. If it’s not working for you at any time, talk to your doctor, nurse or therapist about making adjustments. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your treatment and the alternatives.

Rest and relaxation

When you feel threatened, your body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This stress response releases chemicals that affect your heart, breathing, muscles, nerves, gut and brain.

There are lots of different ways to relax. Some people find that mindfulness helps them. Others find meditation, yoga, or listening to relaxing music beneficial. Another technique you could try is Autogenic Training – this is a relaxation process that addresses the imbalance in mind and body.

Pace yourself. Fatigue can be a big problem for many people with arthritis. Build extra time into your schedule so you can rest between periods of activity, without having to rush.

Sleep is vital

Some people with arthritis struggle to get a good night’s sleep – this can be due to pain, or worrying about the knock-on effects of your condition. Lack of sleep can make your pain worse, leave you grumpy or low, and can affect your concentration.

Stick to a calm routine, with a regular bedtime. Switch off your mobile phone, computer and TV. A comfortable temperature will help you drift off. If it’s not working, ask your GP for advice.

Read more about sleep.

Staying active

You don’t have to go to the gym – staying active is about keeping moving, in a way that feels comfortable for you. Being physically active helps to alleviate arthritis symptoms, and is the key to staying mobile and staying independent with arthritis.

You’ll find lots of ideas in our exercise information. To find out what’s safe for your joints, have a chat with your doctor, nurse or therapist before you start.

Your relationships

Good relationships are central to our emotional well-being. All relationships go through happy times and difficult times, and having a long-term condition such as arthritis can present challenges. However, being honest and upfront with the people you are close to, and spending time listening to each other, helps both you and them.

Changing roles

Arthritis means asking for extra help, and it’s not always easy. You may have to rely more on your spouse, partner or family, and you may not be comfortable with this.

You might worry about doing your fair share at work, or keeping the respect and friendship of colleagues. Some people stop going out as much, or give up their hobbies, and see their social life drifting away.

Relationships and emotions

Many of the emotions that come with arthritis are linked to our relationships. Worrying about being a burden and feeling misunderstood are two examples. Anger, frustration and sadness are also hard on the people we care about.

For family and friends

If someone you care about has arthritis, you want to be there for them. But it’s not always easy.

Perhaps you are helping with appointments, transport, or tasks at home. Maybe you provide personal care, like washing and dressing. You might have money worries too, which compound these problems.

If you’re caring for someone with a long-term condition, you can become depressed, isolated, anxious and/or stressed. It’s important to look after your own well-being. Try some of the tips in this booklet for yourself. Let your GP know you are a carer, and ask your local council* for a carer’s assessment, which can open the door to benefits and services.

Read our information for carers for more advice and support.

* In Northern Ireland, ask the local social services department.

Communication

The key to good relationships is trust, which depends on open communication. If something is bothering you, try to talk about it. To keep the conversation calm:

  • Introduce the subject gently – use ‘I’ statements to ‘own’ your feelings
  • Be aware of body language
  • Focus on the problem, not on blame – talk about how things make you feel and what would help you
  • Calmly explain your feelings
  • Ask how they feel
  • Listen without judging.

Staying connected

Many people with arthritis feel isolated. This can be due to stopping paid employment, not carrying on with the activities you enjoy, and generally being less active. 

Research tells us that feeling connected to other people is essential for our emotional health and wellbeing, so it’s a priority. Here are some ideas:

  • Look for new ways to stay in touch with family and friends. Can you talk on the phone, or online?
  • Plan ahead and manage your arthritis, so you can carry on doing the things that matter to you. An occupational therapist can suggest adjustments, so ask your GP or social worker for a referral.
  • Consider volunteering. Everyone has something to offer, and helping others is rewarding.

Building a good frame of mind

Self-confidence

Living with a long-term condition can knock your self-confidence in many ways. You may not able to socialise as much as you used to, or need help with certain tasks, and you may not be comfortable asking for help. You may also have experienced changes to your appearance, which can affect how you see yourself and what you feel capable of doing. 

This can be especially difficult to deal with if you don’t have a support network. Connecting with others is a crucial part of looking after your emotional wellbeing. It can make you feel happier and more positive about yourself and the world around you.

If you would like to talk to someone about your arthritis, you can call our free Helpline on 0800 5200 520, Monday–Friday, 9am–8pm. Our friendly team can talk to you about any aspect of the condition, and your call is confidential.

The methods you use to build your self-confidence are unique. What works for someone else, might not help you. If you would like to try building your self-confidence up slowly, why not try one or more of the following? 

  • Learning how to manage your arthritis.
  • Setting small goals. These should be manageable and enjoyable. Why not try a new recipe, learn a few words of a foreign language, or say hello to a new person today?
  • Being assertive – question the health professionals treating you, about medication and other treatment options you are offered (or not offered). Don’t be scared to question any aspect of your care and treatment.
  • Check how you are talking to yourself about yourself throughout the day. Would you speak to a friend like that? We can be very hard on ourselves sometimes.

Body image

The change in body image that may come with arthritis can knock self-confidence at first. Many people find they are no longer able to wear certain shoes, but there are many ways to keep your feet happy and stylish. Here are a few tips from our online community:

@Starburst: Go to a proper shoe shop where they fit and measure. Walk around in them in the shop lots. If you’re not sure, sit down or go elsewhere and come back.

@ouchpotato: I bling my footwear! I wear Vans or Converse, flat and well-made but still ‘in’, and style them up – whether that is with clashing coloured laces, glitter, sequins, or whatever I can lay my hands on.

@Starburst: Don’t buy uncomfortable shoes because they look nice. Life is too short. There’s no point in your shoes looking nice sitting at the bottom of your wardrobe.

Accepting help when you need it

Asking other people for help isn't always easy, especially if you take pride in being independent. You might be worried about being a burden, or about wasting someone’s time.

When to ask for help and where to go

If you're struggling with the physical and psychological impact of arthritis, it’s time to take action. It’s even better to do this early on, before small problems grow bigger. You can talk to your doctor, nurse or therapist, or you can contact support groups groups. 

Warning signs

Depression is different from feeling low for a while: it goes on for weeks, and interferes with your daily life. You can lose your motivation and sense of enjoyment. It can leave you feeling hopeless, helpless, tearful or irritable. Having no energy and not sleeping well are other signs.

Anxiety can happen on its own or alongside other conditions like depression. It’s a feeling of being worried or frightened all the time, and can get in the way of everyday life.

What to do in a crisis

If the feelings are so bad that you feel on the verge of harming yourself, or someone else, this is an emergency that needs medical help. Talk to your doctor immediately, call 999 or go to your local hospital’s A&E department. They will understand and are trained to help.