Anxiety and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Part 1
A few weeks ago, I fell and broke my hip. It's not how I wanted to start the summer, especially after a year and a half of living confined during a pandemic. But, here I am.
The day I fell, I was enjoying a walk in the woods and, by the time I got to the emergency room, I had spent 4 hours with an ice pack on my hip, hoping and praying that it would start to magically feel better.
A broken hip diagnosis
The doctor came into my room after the X-ray was taken and said, “Well, you broke your hip.”
You can imagine the feeling I had - part of me wanted to scream out loud, “NOOOOOOOOO,” part of me wanted to sob, and a small part of me was letting the news sink in, starting to adjust to my new reality.
Then, the anxiety set in.
"What does this mean about my osteoporosis?"
"Does this mean I’m going to start breaking bones when I sit down hard," I asked myself?
"What if it doesn’t heal and I need a hip replacement?"
I was running through all the bad possibilities in my situation. I was going into worst-case scenarios in my head and letting my negative thoughts run wild. I was freaking out.
Hip surgery healing and recovery
Finally, the surgeon came into my room. She told me that she would put some screws in the hip and, since it wasn’t displaced, my chances of it healing were good. I started asking questions.
How will I know if I’m healing correctly? "If the pain subsides and stays down."
What can I do to help the odds of healing? "Eat lots of protein and gradually increase activity."
My racing mind started to switch its focus. I began to plan my recovery and, now, I had a positive direction, steps I could take that were in my control to help the outcome go my way.
How anxiety creeps in
Anxiety permeates the life of people living with the challenge of rheumatoid arthritis - not because we are anxious people, but because we have to handle the uncertainty, the unpredictability, the financial strain, and relationship stresses that comes with RA on a daily basis along with the actual symptoms we live with.
Depending on your personal history, the environment you are living in presently, and your personality style, the way you handle situations that cause anxiety will differ.
Ways how I handle anxiety
The situation I described above perfectly encapsulates the way I handle anxiety.
My first reaction is most often avoidance and denial. This is why I sat for hours in excruciating pain, refusing to go to the ER. I didn’t want to accept the fact that this was happening, so I just avoided it until I finally decided I was being silly.
Then, I freak out internally for a bit, racing through all the outcomes that make me scared.
And finally, I take a deep breath and figure out what, if anything, in the situation is under my control.
Learning how to cope with anxiety
Anxiety is not going away in any of our lives. But, learning key coping resources and incorporating them into your life is the best way to not let anxiety reduce your well-being overall.
In my next article, I’m going to talk more about what coping skills have been shown to be the best for buffering yourself against anxiety.
Until then, I wonder how you handle the anxiety in your life and if you have ways of coping with it. Chime in and let me know!
You know you have RA when [select all that apply in your experience]: