When you have arthritis daily life can be filled with challenges. Activities you once took for granted—driving the car, doing the laundry, fixing meals, climbing stairs—can be difficult and painful. You may feel tired, stressed, depressed, and even angry at the pain and your inability to do the things you want to do.

Coping with any type of chronic condition means living in a world of never-ending change as symptoms flare up and then subside, often for no apparent reason. Some people find it easier to cope than others. I’ve learned from personal experience and from people with arthritis that tips and strategies to improve your attitude and mind set can be very helpful.

I hope these insights and observations will help you live a happier and more satisfying life.

  • Look for ways to reduce your stress level and put yourself and your needs first. This is not selfish or self- centered. You must take care of YOU first! You are the authority regarding your own body. Rest when you’re tired. Be protective about how you spend your time and energy. Understand that day-to-day living uses a great deal of physical energy and there is an emotional and mental component to coping and adapting. Do the things that are important to you and your family. Give yourself permission to say “No,” without feeling guilty. When you are feeling better, you can say “Yes.”
  • Try not to be self-conscious about the visible symptoms of your arthritis. It may be challenging, but look for ways to work around your problems. If you are self-conscious about the way you walk or need extra support when walking, loop your arm through your spouse’s or friend’s arm. Use a wheelchair if distances are too far to walk. (You could be recovering from surgery, a car accident, or a sports injury for all anyone knows.) If your hands are weak, ask the waitress at a restaurant to cut up your food in the kitchen before she brings it to the table. If you have trouble getting books off the shelf at the library or bookstore, see if a friend or an employee can accompany and help you. Don’t let your visible (or invisible, for that matter) symptoms diminish your enjoyment when getting out. Family and friends want you to participate and live a full life.
  • Keep your sense of humor! Having trouble moving as fast as you used to, giving up a favorite activity like golf, or using a handicapped parking placard when you shop are not particularly funny. However, putting a humorous spin on everyday observations and situations breaks the tension and puts your problems in perspective. For example, if you drop or spill something and make a mess, say, “I learned this from my children.” If you need to lean on someone to get from here to there, tease that some people will do anything for a little extra attention. If you are embarrassed by the orthopedic shoes you must wear, tell friends you’re trying to set a new fashion trend. (And, why not? Who would have thought that platform shoes and spiked heels with pointed toes would be a fad?) Laughter is a great stress reducer.
  • Surround yourself with caring, loving, and nurturing family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Give yourself permission to eliminate people and activities that drain your energy. If you’re having a bad day, be honest with your family and friends. Explain that you may feel terrible in the morning but fine in the afternoon. Don’t expect people to know what you are feeling unless you tell them.
  • Tell people about your illness. At any age, it can be difficult to share your feelings with your friends; it can be especially difficult if you’re diagnosed with arthritis when you’re young. Your friends may not know what having arthritis is really like for you. And they may not know what to say or do—so tell them. Also, tell your hair stylist, dentist, and customer-service people (as appropriate) that you may need their help.