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News Letter

Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Adopting Healthy Attitudes for Coping with Arthritis Print E-mail

Arthritis can be an overwhelmingly difficult experience, or it can be a hard situation that you handle well. It's all in your attitude. These are some attitudes that may help make coping with arthritis easier.

Stress Hardiness and Self-Efficacy

The idea behind "stress hardiness" is that some individuals manage to survive and thrive in spite of serious stress. Psychologists have identified three traits that stress-hardy people share. They view life changes as challenges rather than threats. They feel a strong sense of commitment to their family, community, and work. And, they believe that their response to the stressful situation is within their own control.

"Self-efficacy" is a closely related concept, which means believing there are things you can do to affect your own experience of illness.

"When people have greater feelings of self-efficacy, their levels of pain, disability, and depression all decline," says Margaret Caudill-Slosberg, M.D., Ph.D., a pain specialist at Dartmouth Medical School.

One way to increase these feelings is to learn more about managing your arthritis, by joining a class, reading books and articles, or talking to other people who can share their personal insights.


Optimism means expecting the best possible outcome from a situation. This kind of expectation often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When it comes to arthritis, believing that what you do actually matters may make it more likely that you'll stick to your self-care plan, take your medications, and follow your doctor's advice. It also may reduce stress and depression, as well as the physical and emotional health problems that go along with these conditions. In addition, it may make it more likely that you'll build close, loving relationships that offer much-needed support if problems arise.

Empathy and Altruism

Empathy means identifying with and understanding another person's experience, while altruism means an unselfish regard for another's welfare.

"Both attitudes are a way of getting outside yourself," says Caudill-Slosberg. "Pain can be a very self-absorbing experience. Some people find that their whole lives become centered on this symptom."

The intense focus can magnify the arthritis pain. One way to avoid this is to direct more of your attention toward other people. This not only gives you the satisfaction of being a good family member or friend, but also takes your mind off your arthritis pain for a while.


Where arthritis is concerned, your ultimate goal is realistic acceptance. This doesn't mean giving up or obsessing about your symptoms. On the contrary, it means recognizing that life goes on and that there are steps you can take to meet whatever challenges come your way. You may not be able to do everything you once could, but you can learn to pace yourself so that you maximize your abilities and energy.

Some of the attitudes described above may come more naturally to you than others. The good news is that attitudes aren't unchangeable. You can learn to develop greater stress hardiness, self-efficacy, optimism, empathy, altruism, and acceptance of your arthritis. One way of coping with arthritis is watching how you talk to yourself and substituting realistically positive thoughts for unrealistically negative ones. Other ways include surrounding yourself with upbeat, supportive people and keeping your sense of humor. A good giggle or laugh may help put arthritis in perspective.


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