Mental Health and Axial Spondyloarthritis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023

Mental health is an important topic that is often overlooked, especially for people with chronic health conditions. Living with any chronic condition can be incredibly difficult because it affects both your physical and mental health.1,2

People with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) face many challenges when it comes to their mental health. These can stem from pain and fatigue, as well as the isolation that can come from not being able to participate in activities that they once enjoyed.1,2

Talking about mental health helps to break down shame and stigma. If you are struggling with your mental health, know that many other people feel the same way, and help is available.1,2

AxSpA and mental health

AxSpA is a type of chronic inflammation that affects various parts of the body, including the spine, hips, shoulders, and knees. People living with axSpA may experience numerous physical symptoms like joint pain, stiffness, fatigue, swelling, and chest pain. Beyond these physical challenges are those related to mental health. Common mental health issues related to axSpA include depression and anxiety.2,3

Symptoms of depression

Depression has many different symptoms and can appear differently in different people. Some of the most common symptoms include:4

  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or passions that used to be enjoyable
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances

Remember, you are not alone if you have any of these symptoms. Many people have depression at different times in their lives. Talking to someone close to you or a mental health professional can help. It can be daunting to reach out for help, but remember that your health is the priority.4,5

Symptoms of anxiety

Feelings of worry, dread, and unease are common for everyone sometimes. But when these feelings affect your daily life and keep you from doing the things you need or want to do, it could be a sign of anxiety. Anxiety can show up in many ways, such as:6

  • Racing thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing or sleeping
  • Sweating
  • Belly pain or nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability

Everyone experiences these symptoms differently and at varying levels of intensity. Seek help from your doctor if your symptoms are constant or become overwhelming.6

Stress and axSpA

Living with axSpA can be a very stressful experience. You may feel like you are battling a never-ending cycle of pain, stiffness, and fatigue. This causes stress, and stress can cause axSpA flare-ups. This vicious cycle makes it even harder to live with the condition day to day.7

Developing good coping strategies can help reduce stress levels and manage flare-ups. Taking the time for self-care can make all the difference when you are trying to manage your axSpA symptoms.7

Strategies to improve mental health

One way to feel better is to connect with your friends and family. These are the people who will help you when things are tough. Talking with your trusted group can help put your feelings into perspective.8,9

Also try these strategies to help your body and mind feel better:8,9

  • Exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Explore mindfulness methods, like meditation
  • Unplug from phones and devices, especially at bedtime

Know when to seek help

You may feel intimidated by the thought of taking the brave steps to reach out for help. But it is important, and easier than ever. You can access mental healthcare professionals online, over the phone, or in person.8,10

There are also services that can help if you do not have insurance. Payment plans or subsidies are often available so that mental healthcare is easier on the wallet.8,10

Taking control of your mental health is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. We all need support from time to time, so do not be afraid to ask for it. With the right resources and awareness, you can manage both the physical and emotional effects of axSpA. If you are feeling overwhelmed with stress or depression, reach out for help from your doctor.8,10

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