Let’s be direct: Living with arthritis can sometimes get depressing. Chronic pain and fatigue can impact everything from your work and hobbies to being able to capably wipe your own bum in the bathroom. Arthritis can also make your anxiety skyrocket, especially if you’re already prone to worrying. It’s hard to know what the future holds when you’re not even sure you can open a jar of pickles. And mood disorders like depression and anxiety can worsen symptoms of arthritis, creating a vicious cycle of pain and panic. (Here’s how inflammation may play a role in depression and arthritis.)
This is why it is so incredibly important to take care of yourself, physically and mentally. Unfortunately self-care can sometimes feel like just one more thing on a never-ending To-Do list of things to manage your illness, which kinda ruins the whole point.
To minimize stress and give you some fresh ideas for self-care, we asked people with arthritis and arthritis experts to share the little things they’ve discovered to help you boost your mood and feel more in control of how you manage your disease.
1. Buy a fun sleep mask and ear plugs
“If I don’t get enough sleep I always feel it in my joints the next day. A week or more of bad sleep is inflammation city. But I have noisy roommates who like to stay up late. I finally bought a light-blocking mask — mine looks like a cartoon sloth, it’s hilarious — and ear plugs. Now I (mostly) get as much sleep as I need. Plus, sleep just makes everything feel better!” — Janette S.
2. Embrace the brace
“I don’t look obviously disabled but my arthritis means I really need to sit, especially on public transportation. So even though I don’t really need it most days, I bring my cane and brace. I hate to say it, but it’s got me a lot of seats in all kinds of places!” — Evan T.
3. Coat your hands in hot wax
“Heat treatments, like warm compresses or hot paraffin wax [like the kind typically used in deluxe manicures] are a simple way to reduce stiffness and pain, and make you feel pampered.” — A. Lee Osterman, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and president of the Philadelphia Hand Center
4. Consider the upsides of weight gain
“When I first went on Humira I gained like 20 pounds. I loved that it helped my pain but hated how I looked. Then my doctor pointed out that my weight gain was a good sign — when my RA was at its worst, I had no appetite and couldn’t cook. He was so right! It helped me appreciate my body instead of hating it. I’m channeling that extra energy into learning to cook healthy recipes.” — Heidi B.
5. Consider switching your birth control
“My rheumatoid arthritis always flares up around my period, so it seemed like hormone swings were a trigger. One of the best things I ever did for myself was to get on birth control pills that make it so I only have a couple of periods a year. They smooth out my hormones throughout the month and I rarely have to deal with period-related flare-ups.” — Marisa K.
6. Keep a rubber bottle opener in the bathroom
“I love makeup but because I have basically zero range of motion in my wrists and swelling in my fingers, putting it on often ends in swearing or crying. The hardest part is opening up little bottles like mascara. I was using my teeth until my husband got me a rubber disc, the kind used to open jars. It’s a game changer.” — Pam M.
7. Adjust your expectations
“Some days, I get really angry with myself for everything I can’t do that I think I ‘should’ be able to do. Arthritis has made me adjust my expectations. Now I just accept that some things will take me longer, other things I can do but in a different way, and then there are some things I just can’t do. So I don’t. And I don’t feel bad about it.” — Elia M.
8. Replace round door knobs with levers
“Nothing will make you feel worse about yourself than not being able to open a stupid door. So I replaced my round door knobs with lever door handles. That way I can use my elbow if I need to. There is one downside: My dog has also learned how to use them! RIP shoes.” — Mel D.
9. Pump some iron
“Many of my patients with arthritis avoid lifting weights because they are worried it will stress their joints more. In most cases, it actually helps reduce pain. By strengthening the muscles around the joints you will help take some of the load off, which helps reduce pain and keeps joints healthy.” — Megan R. Williams Khmelev, MD, osteoarthritis specialist and owner of Elemental Weight Loss Clinic, in San Antonio, Texas
10. Sign up for a tai chi class
“Gentle stretching programs like some types of yoga and tai chi keep your joints moving and help to nourish cartilage. Stretching, especially in the hands, also prevents aggravation. These activities may also help reduce perception of pain and manage stress.” — Dr. Osterman
11. Get your groceries delivered
“I use a grocery service. I place my order online, they do the shopping for me, and I can either pick it up at the store or, for a small fee, have it delivered to my house. Arthritis or no arthritis, everyone should do this! It’s such a time and sanity saver.” — Zelda L.
12. Buy a box of rubber pencil grips and use them on everything
“Opening anything small and round — like a tube of lipstick or eyeliner — is basically impossible for me as my grip strength is so bad. So I put a rubber pencil grip around the lids. Now they open easy-peasy!” — Marcella S.
13. Always have some freezer meals on hand
“I have uncontrolled RA and my husband travels a ton for work. Marie Callender and I have become best friends. Having ready-to-cook meals available can make the difference between a horrible day and an okay one. If you’re worried about inflammatory foods, Annie’s has a lot of healthier options.” — Steve P.
14. Use the good days to prepare for the bad ones
“When my arthritis is really flaring up, having easy-to-eat snacks is so important. So on my good days, I take time to wash and cut up fruits and veggies, move food from jars or cans into plastic containers with large tabs, and portion out snack food into baggies.” — Steve P.
15. Indulge in a really good steak
“Steak is delicious and if you get the good stuff, it may help your arthritis. Grass-fed or pastured meat has been shown in research studies to be significantly higher in omega-3 fatty acids and creatine, both of which can help reduce inflammation.” — Ed Levitan, MD, Five Journeys
16. Let go of your Supermom fantasies
“As a mom, I feel like I should always be the one taking care of my kids, but RA has shown me that I can’t always be Supermom. Sometimes they can take care of me too — and they really like it. My 12-year-old will say, ‘Mom, sit down, I can do this by myself.’ My 6-year-old loves to read me books in bed. Instead of feeling bad I can’t read to him, I just enjoy the extra snuggles. I feel so blessed to have such great kids and I think this has made us even closer.” — Carrie E.
17. Get creative with your clothes
“I work in a professional field but some days I just can’t button up a white shirt or tie a tie. So I’ve invested in some quality pieces that have fake buttons or no buttons and pre-tied ties. It’s all about creating an easy wardrobe.” — Leo A.
18. Install a meditation app
“Most autoimmune illnesses, of which rheumatoid arthritis is one, flare up under stress, so stress management is huge. I start my patients on meditation apps, in addition to telling them the importance of taking personal time to relax.” — Dr. Levitan
19. Rub some chili pepper on your knee
“Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili pepper, can be used topically over symptomatic joints to help ease the pain. It works in varying degrees in different patients. But watch out, it does burn a little when applied.” — Don R. Martin, MD, a rheumatologist with Sentara RMH Rheumatology
20. One word: sweatpants
“I live in mine. It’s fine. Athleisure is trendy these days!” — Beth V.
21. Let the little stuff go
“If stuff doesn’t get done, it’s not a big deal. Dishes. Laundry. Vacuuming. Whatever. Do what you can and let go of the rest. It’s okay to leave the clean clothes in the laundry basket and the dishes in the sink. It’s okay if you take a nap at noon. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself first.” — Genevieve S.
22. Get a massage
“Massaging your muscles increases blood flow, reduces pain, and can help loosen up stiff joints. It also relieves stress.” — Dr. Osterman