Poorly managed, under treated and undiagnosed arthritis can lead to depression or anxiety. Existing mental health issues can aggravate arthritis too. Even those living with this illness for years can struggle on and off with these conditions. Knowing different ways to cope by either seeing a therapist, medication, exercise, diet or stress management techniques can make all the difference in having a positive outcome. 


Anxiety vs. depression

Knowing the difference between the two can help you and your healthcare provider find prompt solutions for your care. While they may seem similar, both have very distinct symptoms. In the instance they do occur, your rheumatologist can direct you to the proper therapist (s) and even offer up other options based on your comfort level.

The American Psychological Association characterizes the two as follows:


  • Feelings of tension
  • Worry
  • Irritability
  • Physical changes such as increased blood pressure


  • Sadness
  • A lack of interest in daily activities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

How exactly can these conditions impact your arthritis?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, studies have shown that depression or anxiety can lower your pain threshold. People with the highest pain levels reported also having signs of depression or anxiety. Chronic pain 24/7 and the physical limitations that it can bring into your life, can be traumatic.

Arthritis is an unpredictable disease, with flare ups and changes in disease activity fluctuating. When you add in stress hormones such as cortisol, which is known to rise during stressful situations, this can create a never ending vicious cycle.

Overtime if stress levels aren’t properly managed, this can lead to physical changes within the brain and nervous system itself. Take for instance a vehicle. If you leave the engine on all the time, eventually you will waste fuel and then blow the engine leading to a car that is rendered useless. Often times that’s how patients with arthritis may feel, leading to anxiety and depression.


What you can do about it

Treating the type of arthritis and related condition you are living with properly is the first place to start. No matter if the depression or anxiety came first, or followed after being diagnosed with arthritis is insignificant when looking at the big picture. The point is that it’s occurring and what you do about it going forward will make a huge impact on your overall wellbeing.

People living with arthritis don’t only have pain.  Inflammation is a big culprit in causing pain within or around the joint, muscles, tendons, ligaments and other surrounding structures.

One marker of inflammation called the C-reactive protein, has been shown when high to correlate in inducing symptoms of depression. This is why it’s important to get a hold of the inflammatory markers and cytokines that are present within arthritis, as it can cause what they call a “cytokine-induced depression” if levels remain high.

There are various factors that can cause depression or anxiety in an individual living with arthritis. However, being educated and aware of what arthritis can do on a mental and emotional level will help you live a life you deserve- an amazing one.

Looking for a licensed, trained, experienced, and accredited psychologists (PhD / PsyD), marriage and family therapists (LMFT), clinical social workers (LCSW / LMSW), and board licensed professional counselors (LPC)?  

Check out BetterHelp the world’s largest e-counseling platform.


*Note: While this post is sponsored by BetterHelp, all opinions expressed in this post are my own.