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A person with hands raised in the air slamming into a wall with a symbol representing a flare on is.

Is It Stress?

I’ve always heard that stress is bad for rheumatoid arthritis, but I’ve never been sure what that meant for me and my condition. Developing juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age two is a puzzle because I doubt it was stress-induced. As a child growing up, I had the normal stressors, plus that of a debilitating disease. Did stress contribute to my aggressive illness?

Likely, I’ll never know the answer. I’m not sure how stress impacted my RA as I grew, went to college, established my life, married my husband, and so forth. I know that I have experienced stress (and continue to! It’s a fact of living!), but I also am really unsure of what it may have done to my body over the years.

Did stress make my RA symptoms worse?

Since last fall I have been taking a new biologic and have been generally feeling better. Even more surprising: for the first time in my life I have a normal inflammation marker (C-reactive protein or CRP test). And yet this spring I have been feeling crummy. I’m tired (well, that’s just about always). I’m achy and particular joints have been throbbing. And I am stiff.

Why am I feeling worse?

I’ve been asking myself why. I’m on a medication that’s working, yet I’ve been having some really bad days. With some deep inward searching, I have come to believe that at least part of my problem is stress.

When I get home, I can feel the tense feeling in my shoulders hiking them almost to my ears. I realize that I’m clenching leg muscles and twitching my feet. My neck is creaking in brand new ways. Pains shoot up my forearms.

My doctor told me that the new biologic would not cure the damage from my disease. I understand this. I have many years of deformed joints, wilted muscles, and twisted soft tissues. I live with disabilities and know that chronic pain and RA are my companions for life. For me, the medication is not a cure, but instead a pause button. We hope to slow activity down and prevent new damage. So, I have a lot to already cope with as far as RA effects.

But I am realizing that stress and worry pile onto my joints like an elephant onto an old, rickety bridge. It’s not going to handle that pressure well!

Needing to better manage stress

Practicing meditation more regularly

I finally accepted that I needed to do more about managing stress and seeking relief when I did a little experiment. I meditated a couple days in a row and felt almost immediately better. It’s a practice I’m not great at practicing! But I do know that it is good for me and I need to be more regular about meditating. It helps my mind to stop running constantly, making to-do lists or scolding myself for various foibles. It helps me to feel and breathe through joint pain and discomfort. It helps me to calm my muscle tension and let it go.

Taking breaks

I also know that I need to take some breaks during my day to relieve stress. I find it helpful to take a moment to breathe and stretch. It’s also good for me to listen to music that I enjoy and feel like I can give my mind a break from concentrating.

Maybe I am becoming more susceptible to stress as I age. But I don’t think so. I think I am just becoming a little bit more aware of the impact stress has on my body. I know it’s not just because I have RA, but that the disease likely makes me more sensitive to the negative impacts. In any case, I need to continue my stress management practices and would love feedback on what others do to handle and calm their stress.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • qejm0g
    4 months ago

    I figured out a few years after my diagnosis that stress was a big factor in how my RD was behaving. At that time I had a stressful nightshift job, close family with mental health issues, I was a parent of teenage children and money (lack of) problems. Fast forward several years, I’m on disability, family member quite stable, kids grown and moved out and money isn’t quite the issue it was. I know the stress of managing all that hurried my illness along. These days all it takes to bring on a painful flare is short distance travel, or visit with family-albeit it is wonderful, it’s also stressful, long or short of it-it really doesn’t take much to tip the scale into a flare. So I try my best to roll with the punches, pick my battles, be patient with others, breathe deeply, think before I react to what would have made me angry or sad. I meditate regularly, I try to get fresh air and sunshine every day. I’ve given and cared for others quite a lot in my lifetime and sadly put my health where it is today…now I need to take care of myself.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your story! This is very encouraging! Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • aloneagainalethea
    4 months ago

    Excellent article, Kelly.
    I believe that stress is an absolute flare activator in my RA. After leaving work in 2017, I thought the stress days were over, now it’s just different things to stress about. I find it very difficult once I am stressed to manage it. I hope to add some of your techniques into my own routine. I do find some stress relief by cozying up with a good book, absorbing myself into the story. I also de stress sometimes by just being in nature, short walks around a flower garden, or a waterfall. I also get a little of the much needed vitimin D as I’m getting breaths of fresh air. Let’s be stress free!!

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks for all the great de-stressing ideas! These are excellent. Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • MaryMF
    4 months ago

    I’ve been trying to figure out the same thing. My numbers look great, but the pain is much worse. It starts the same time of day, and that’s about the time the stress starts! I’ll have to work on my meditation skills.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    4 months ago

    Good idea MaryMF! I need to do my meditation too! 🙂 Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    4 months ago

    Oh gosh I used to love stress in my life. The more the better. I loved getting shoveled under the steamroller of life.

    Now, of course I have much less stress and feel better, sometimes. Really I still like stress in my life. But I am better off without it. Or so my wife says so. 🙂

    Love your post.

    rick – moderator

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks Rick! 🙂

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