If you have a chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis, you know that dealing with chronic pain and other symptoms can often feel like an uphill battle.
You may find that your friends and family don’t fully understand what you’re going through, or may not feel comfortable talking openly with them. It can be tempting to shut yourself off and stay inside, and some days you may not even want to get out of bed. Unfortunately that kind of thinking only adds to your pain.
Joining a chronic illness or arthritis support group can be very helpful to your physical and mental health. Support groups can offer a safe environment where you can share your experiences and hear from other people coping with similar challenges. Support groups can also be a great way to get out of the house (if they’re in person) and meet new people and interact with others (whether they’re in person or virtual). You can get emotional support as well as learn new strategies for managing daily challenges — not just from your physical symptoms but also from any underlying anxiety or depression, which is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Support groups surround you with people who know and understand your struggle because they also have RA. Others may share approaches or solutions that have worked for them for specific challenges that you also face — and you may even do the same for them.
Finding a group of people who understand what it’s like to live with rheumatoid arthritis can be a great way to find the inner strength to face the challenge of your condition and live a fuller life. The first step in finding an RA support group is to determine what type of group would work best for you — whether online or in-person. Your health care team is a great starting point, as your rheumatologist may know a local group run by nurses, social workers, or trained professionals.
Traditional Support Groups
Traditional, in-person support groups have the added benefit of giving you in-person interaction. Typically in these meetings, people sit in a circle at an intimate gathering and talk about how they are dealing with their condition. Some groups may bring in local nutritionists, physicians, or other experts to provide additional strategies for managing RA. In addition, support groups may also organize informal social events like picnics and family outings. When it is difficult for these groups to meet in person, they can also be run via Zoom or other video conference platforms. To find an in-person group, ask your rheumatologist for recommendations.
Importantly: For most patients with chronic pain, therapy isn’t meant to take the place of medication but complement it as part of an overall treatment plan that aims to help people feel better physically and mentally.
There are a lot of different types of talk therapy, including:
These types of therapy involve working with a mental health professional, which may include a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed professional with training and certification in mental health like counselors from your religious group, social workers, and marriage and family therapists.
Many mental health professionals incorporate multiple techniques and types of therapy in order to personalize care for a given patient.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been studied for arthritis pain for many years and is considered the “gold standard” for psychological treatment of chronic pain. CBT is rooted in the idea that the way you perceive situations influences the way you feel, and that you have the ability to change your thought patterns to feel better.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT that is designed to help people to live in the moment and cope with stress and emotions in a healthier way by developing skills like mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a form of behavioral therapy that combines mindfulness with self-acceptance.
ArthritisPower is a patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. It is created and run by CreakJoints and its parent nonprofit the Global Healthy Living Foundation. Joining ArthritisPower is another tool you can use to build your support system, as you can track your symptoms and treatments (and share results with your doctor), participate in voluntary research studies in a secure and accessible manner, and connect with other members of the community.
Online Support Groups
Several health websites and organizations have moderated chat forums that are usually free and are restricted from public viewing. Facebook and other social media platforms are home to many thousands of support groups that are often set up by individuals or community/nonprofit groups. Group sizes can vary from a handful of members to many thousands. They can be open to the public or limited to registered members. Online groups are especially beneficial for those who can’t physically get to a group locally, either because of their location or issues with access and mobility.
Even if you do have support groups in your area, it is great to be able to go online at any time of day or night and ask questions or share ideas.
You can follow the patient advocacy community CreakyJoints on social media — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, YouTube — to connect with other patients who are seeking a community for living with rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic illnesses.
Some groups offer mentoring programs where new members can be paired with others who have had more experience living with the condition. Groups run by health professionals often have a helpline members can call when needed.
Family and Friends
Don’t discount the much-needed support you can get from loved ones. Tell family and friends how you’re feeling. They may not feel comfortable asking about your RA unless you bring it up first. Don’t worry about complaining; being candid is more important. Find someone you can talk to when you’re feeling particularly overwhelmed.
Here are some additional articles and videos to help you understand the benefits of support for RA.