Dealing With Your Emotions

Most people will experience a whirlwind of emotions when they are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Along with pain and tiredness, people sometimes experience feelings of loss that they can no longer cope with the same workload or take part in a sport or activities that they used to enjoy.

These feelings, along with prolonged periods of pain and disability, can lead to low mood and depression. Both depression and stress can negatively affect your life. It is important for you to learn to cope with stress and to recognise the signs of depression so that it can be treated.

Managing stress

Stress is a part of everyday life and is hard to avoid. A moderate amount of stress is good and helps people carry out tasks more efficiently. However, too much stress can make it difficult for people with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis to cope with the added burdens imposed by the disease itself.

A vicious circle can occur in the relationship between rheumatoid arthritis and stress. For many, the difficulties which arise from living with chronic arthritis create stress. This stress may lead to muscle tension and increased pain. These worsening symptoms in turn lead back to more stress and the cycle continues.

People may link the onset of rheumatoid arthritis with a stressful life event. The theory of what triggers rheumatoid arthritis and whether stress is a cause or trigger is not known. Stress, however, may be a trigger for ‘flare-ups’ and may cause increased sensitivity to pain.

So how can you manage your stress?

  • First, identify the causes of stress in your life.
  • Simplify your life as much as possible. Remember to try and prioritise the important tasks first.
  • Manage your time, and conserve your energy.
  • Try to set both short-term and life goals.
  • Get help to cope with problems.
  • Practise relaxation techniques.

Dealing with depression

It can be difficult to recognise depression in yourself as some of the symptoms – fatigue, insomnia and loss of motivation – may also occur in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Recognising depression and treating it appropriately is important for general well-being and also for pain management in rheumatoid arthritis. . If you think you are depressed, it is very important to consult a health professional. With the right treatment and support, most people learn to manage their depression. Recognising you are depressed and need help is a step in the right direction and vital in learning how to manage your arthritis.

People, who are also depressed, are less likely to take part in sports or social activities e.g. visiting the family, going away on holiday. By avoiding these activities, people will often feel more isolated and also do not get the exercise that might help ease pain and improve their function.

Another factor to consider is that people who are also depressed, may be less inclined to take part in sports or social activities e.g. visiting the family, going away on holiday etc. Avoiding these activities can cause isolation. In addition, lack of motivation to get out and about and take exercise may make pain management more difficult.

Tips for dealing with feeling down:

  • Talk through how you feel with somebody close to you. They may be in a position to help and support you.
  • Talk to your rheumatologist, rheumatology nurse specialist or GP and tell them your worries and fears. They can give you good advice.
  • If you are feeling really low, discuss with your doctor whether medication might be appropriate. The right choice of drugs may have a positive influence on your mood and can also help with insomnia.
  • Be positive and take control.

Getting Help

Arthritis Ireland’s booklet ‘Coping With Emotions’ outlines what type of emotions you might experience and how to deal with them, as well as providing details of what supports are available. Arthritis Ireland’s LoCall helpline (1890 252 846) is a confidential service which is open to anyone affected by arthritis. It provides emotional and practical support and information by phone, by letter and by email to people with arthritis and their family and friends.

It is open from Monday – Friday from 10am – 4pm .

For advice about depression, contact Aware ( or call their helpline on 1890 303 302 or email There are support groups in over 60 locations throughout the country.