Living with psoriatic arthritis can be draining, both physically and mentally. That’s why caring for your overall well-being is an extremely important part of psoriatic arthritis management.
Psoriatic arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes joint pain, stiffness, swelling, tendonitis, and fatigue1. The condition can affect any joint but is common in the small joints in the hands, tendons, and spine—which can make it really difficult to perform daily activities, like brushing your teeth or walking. Because of this, people with psoriatic arthritis sometimes stop doing things they love or otherwise change their lives to accommodate the disease. For example, maintaining relationships when you have to cancel plans unexpectedly because you can’t get out of bed can be stressful. Understandably, navigating all of this can affect your quality of life.
We asked people with psoriatic arthritis what they do to manage both the physical and mental aspects of the disease and ultimately, feel better day-to-day. Here’s what they recommend doing for psoriatic arthritis management.
1. Spend time being active outdoors.
Davinia A., 36, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2012, says that she goes for a walk outside whenever she’s stressed about her joint pain and feels up to moving. “I’m very lucky because I have a lot of green spaces around, and it’s very easy for me to just go for a walk and disconnect, so that really helps,” Davinia tells SELF. She says she notices her mood improves after getting fresh air and movement. “It’s amazing how simple things can improve mental health and the way we feel,” she says. And exercise in whatever form you prefer can help relieve joint pain and stiffness.
For Whitney M., 38, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2013, doing yard work is her favorite way to stay active. “Gardening is a huge factor in managing my psoriatic arthritis. It not only helps with keeping my body in motion but also reduces stress,” she tells SELF.
2. Try deep breathing exercises.
Speaking of stress, there’s no doubt that dealing with chronic pain can be a lot to deal with. And feeling stressed may lower your threshold for pain, meaning that your physical symptoms2 could be easier to manage when you’re more relaxed, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Deep breathing is one way to help counteract the stress response and allow your body and mind to feel more relaxed. Davinia says that focusing on diaphragmatic breathing for even 10 minutes is especially helpful when she feels like a joint flare is on its way. “It’s almost like creating the space for you to relax,” Davinia says. She has a lot of neck pain from psoriatic arthritis and says that taking deep breaths releases some of the physical tension and helps ease her pain. To breathe through your diaphragm, you can place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach while slowly breathing in and out through your nose. You’ll know you’re doing it right if only the hand on your stomach moves.
3. Change your routine to better suit your abilities whenever you can.
It’s easy to get down on yourself when you have a chronic illness. You might think that you’re doing something wrong if you can’t get your pain levels to zero, or maybe you wish you could finish more activities throughout the day. Jennifer C., 42, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2010, says that adjusting her expectations and redefining what “pain-free” means to her has been instrumental in feeling better day-to-day. “I’m never pain-free, but that’s OK. I’m just kinder to myself and have accepted that as my new normal,” she tells SELF. After realizing that she needs to move slower on some days, Jennifer decided to make adjustments to her routine. “I get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning so that I can go slowly to manage my foot and ankle pain before having to run out the door,” she says. “I buy new running shoes as soon as I feel the cushion wearing down, which ends up being every 5 or 6 months, versus the year that I used to wait,” Jennifer explains.
4. Share your experience with loved ones.
Canceling plans over and over again can make you feel guilty. Katie R., 44, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 1994, says that being honest with her loved ones about why she has to cancel has eased that feeling.
“Every now and then, I will experience a flare that takes me out of the game for a few days. While I try not to let psoriatic arthritis dictate my life, including my social activities, there are times when the disease affects my day-to-day activities,” Katie tells SELF. “Telling the people around me that I am experiencing a flare is important for me, and for them. They don’t have to wonder why I’m not my usual chipper self, and I feel more comfortable asking for help from them or asking to change our plans,” Katie says. Many times, her friends will offer to come over, bring a bowl of soup, or help her complete household tasks. “I find that being honest about my disease with friends and family allows them to be part of my pain management too,” Katie says.
5. Don’t be afraid of asking for assistance when you need it.
“As an independent person, I find it difficult to ask for help,” Jaime Lyn M., 44, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis when she was 28, tells SELF. “But over the years, I’ve learned that asking my family to assist me in running errands and chores helps our family’s overall mood and my pain level. Now, I take a deep breath and swallow my pride and know that being reliant on others is usually only temporary.”
Allowing yourself to ask for help can be easier when you accept that you can’t do it all. Know that you’re not a failure for admitting that you’re human and have limits.
6. Find a community that gets it.
Many people with psoriatic arthritis—and any chronic health condition—say they sometimes feel isolated in their experience. Talking to others who understand what it’s like to cancel plans when you’re in pain, for example, can be a total game-changer.
Jennifer found an online community of people managing chronic health conditions through her job managing social media strategy for an app called Chronically Simple. “I’m now submerged in a community of amazing people trying to keep their health in check, trying to get through their new diagnoses, and mourning their pre-illness life while accepting their new life,” she says. On particularly hard days, Jennifer says she finds comfort in talking to other individuals managing psoriatic arthritis. “There are online communities of people who, despite never meeting you, know what you are going through—even more than your family does sometimes.”
You can also find an immense amount of support on social media, says Meaghan Q., 28, who was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2019. Meaghan created an Instagram about her journey soon after she received the news and gets many encouraging comments on her posts. “I discovered an unbelievable support system of others [on Instagram] who can really relate to the day-to-day struggles of living with this disease. It’s so helpful,” she says. You can look for communities on Facebook by searching for “psoriatic arthritis” in groups or find individuals with psoriatic arthritis on Instagram by using the #psoriaticarthritis hashtag. Additionally, you can find groups and virtual events through the National Psoriasis Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation.
Finding what makes you feel better may require some experimentation. Ultimately, you’ll probably need to work with a doctor for psoriatic arthritis management strategies that include medication caring for your overall health.