When you first find out that you have arthritis you may, like most people, feel a bit dismayed and then relieved that at last there is a name to give your symptoms and that there is a confirmation that they are very real and not in your head and that there is a hoped for treatment. Then reality sets in and you realize that this will effect your life from now on. You experience anger and anxiety to depression and loneliness and then to make matters worse you start to feel guilty because you think you're a wimp for even having those thoughts.

Most mental health experts say that it is the rule instead of the exception to having such strong emotions when it comes to being diagnosed with a chronic condition. There are still some experts that talk about going through stages of grief when mourning the loss of health or stages of crisis as you are learning to live with your diagnosis, but the word “stage” is misleading. The word “stage” implies an orderly progression of emotions. From emotion A, to emotion B, to emotion C, but for many people it's more like C to A to B and back to A again, A, B, C are all jumbled up. No matter how these emotions effect you, they are normal for people who experience them in some form and there are ways to cope with them.

How to deal with your feelings

There are some factors that may influence your reaction but that doesn't change your diagnosis or who you are. Here is a list of those factors:

Pre-diagnosis personality. You may be more resilient when facing stress more so than others. When you are facing adversity, at first you feel off-balance, but you soon bounce back. If you have, in the past, had to deal with a very stressful situation and you have regained you composure and optimism in a reasonable amount of time, you also have a better chance of bouncing back from a diagnosis of a life changing diagnosis.
Severity of the arthritis symptoms. The sicker you become, the more energy you will spend trying to physically heal and the less you'll have for emotional growth. The more sever pain you experience the less concentration you will have, and significant disability is very hard to ignore. There are other forms or arthritis that can affect the whole body, like rheumatoid arthritis, there are complications that affect the heart, lungs, or other organs and adds another source of worry. Be patient with yourself if you any of these factors applies to you. It could take a little more time and effort for you to come to terms with your arthritis than someone with milder symptoms or less risk of serious complications.
Support from your family and friends. Studies after studies has shown that people who had the support had a better psychological adjustment to arthritis. When you have a strong support system, and if you ask for and accept help when you need it, you will likely have an easier time then if you didn't. When you have a solid network already in place, you can reap the same benefits when you join a support group or becoming active in a civic organization.

Rest assured that the strong emotions you are experiencing are really quite natural, even expected, response to finding out that you have arthritis. Squelching these feelings, even if you could, isn't advisable because they are a part of the emotional growth process that will eventually allow you to come to terms about your condition. To make the process less psychologically painful, there are other ways cope. Each time you use your skills successfully to handle an emotional crisis, you learn something new that can be applied the next time those nasty emotions rear their ugly heads. You

might even find that you're actually experiencing an upward spiral in coping.

The final phase in the adjustment process is called renewal, the rediscovery of your joy in life and contentment with yourself, even if you still have occasional feelings of frustration, fear, or sadness. Keeping the destination in mind, those overwhelming emotions may not seem so difficult.

Denial at work

There will be a feeling of calm that most people will experience before the emotions strike them, this is deceptive. That's how denial works. “This can't be happening to me,” or “Arthritis isn't going to affect my life.”, these are the statements people tell themselves when they are in denial. If denial last to long or starts to interferes with treatment it can be potentially harmful. Although, for most people, denial is short lived and serves the purpose of a protective function, it's a way of bidding time until you can mentally absorb the shock of your diagnosis.

Some people will refuse to believe their diagnosis because arthritis doesn't show any outward signs and family members and friends will reinforce this belief. Then you have those who don't take their diagnosis seriously or even their vulnerability to illness. And still there are those people who claim to accept the diagnosis but deny having any negative feelings about it.

Denial can, and most times does, lead to either under-doing (refusing to take medications or practice good self-care habits) or overdoing (rushing around like a chicken with it's head cut off, trying to show that arthritis isn't in control, you are). No matter which it is, reality sets in eventually, through pain, stiffness, and fatigue, and it will catch up to them. Then denial is no longer an option and the emotions of anger, anxiety, depression, and loneliness and guilt comes flooding in.

How to Cope with Denial

Listen to the ones you trust, such as your spouse, your best friend, or a doctor who thinks that you are not taking your diagnosis seriously enough, rethink your reaction.
You can always get a second opinion if you have any doubts about diagnosis. But if the second doctor agrees with the first, don't let denial get in the way of receiving the treatment you may need.

Anger

There is no guarantee that arthritis won't strike you down, even if you are diligent about taking care of yourself and doing all the right things. Arthritis does discriminate, it will strike good and bad people, young and old, even those that do everything their doctor tells them. For some people, their reaction to the diagnosis is anger, “Why me?” “What have I done to deserve this?” The answer you need to remember is that no one deserves to get arthritis, but this, most times, doesn't ease the anger they feel and can make it worse.

Not everyone who gets a diagnosis of arthritis get angry, but most do. They don't get angry at just the disease, they will include the doctor (“How could he have missed this?”), the medical community in general, or a loved one (“He isn't even trying to understand”). There is nothing wrong with being angry.

It is really quite normal and sometimes quite justified response to a frustrating situation and the key is finding a healthy, productive ways to channel all that energy.

How to Cope with Anger

Transform that anger into motivation. Try to redirect those feelings of anger toward constructive goals. Exercising is one way to burn off angry energy while improving your health. Or you could use that energy to fuel your resolve to fight back against arthritis.
Make sure you keep the ones you love out of the line of fire. If you have an issue with a loved one, wait until you have calmed down then talk to them.

Anxiety

After being diagnosed with arthritis your life as you know it ceases to exist and in its place is the idea of pain, illness, and eventually disability. Maybe you are afraid that you will never be able to work again, or take care of your family responsibilities, and the thought of having to be dependent on others can be devastating especially if you are independent. Arthritis is unpredictable, you never know what the next day, next week, next month, and the next year will be like and that scares the bejeeus out of some people and makes it difficult to handle.

Some of the concerns are realistic while others contain some truth but are blown out of proportion. Now, anxiety is a natural and understandable response to the situation, there is nothing wrong with feeling this way, as long as you don't let it become intense or persistent. When anxiety starts to get out of control, it can make pain and stress harder to manage.

How to Cope with Anxiety

Reassess your fears and worries. How realistic are they? If you can't answer this question then educate yourself about arthritis, talk to your doctor, or read everything you can get your hands on about arthritis. Get accurate information, it's the best antidote for unfounded concerns.
Talk about your fears or write them down, by getting them out in the open will often make them seem less threatening.

Depression

Depression in some degree is also a common factor in people who have been recently diagnosed with arthritis. It is often described as being down in the dumps, having the blues, or just being sad or unhappy. You could loose interest in your friends, or in the activities you enjoy, and you could become withdrawn or isolated. You may loose your appetite, or even over eat, you can have trouble sleeping, you may even have trouble concentrating and making decisions, or be plagued by feelings on worthlessness.

If depression is purely a reaction to a stressful situation, it is usually mild and short-lived. But those who have more severe or persistent symptoms may have a psychosocial disorder that requires professional treatment. Mild depression can be a miserable experience and make it harder to find the motivation to follow a health-care regimen.

How to Cope with Depression

Exercise regularly without exceeding your limitations. Research has found that regular, moderate exercise works about as well as therapy or antidepressant medications for those people with mild depression.
Talk back to those thoughts that are unrealistic and negative with positive talk.

Loneliness

Some people are quite comfortable talking about the emotions that come with an arthritis diagnosis, and then there are others that are not. Depression intensifies the reaction of pulling away, while anger will push away the most caring family members, and friends. Not everyone knows how to respond to someone with arthritis or for that fact someone with any long-term condition, and they may resort to awkward silence or outright rejection. After running into those who are more intense, you may decide that it is simpler to just stay to yourself.

Withdrawal only breeds loneliness at a time when you need the support of family and friends the most. There is nothing like having to face a stressful situation by yourself. The more social support you have the less depression and the more improved feelings of well-being a person with arthritis will have.

How to Cope with Loneliness

Don't bottle up your feelings, let them out. Find someone to talk to, whether it's a friend, relative, religious advisor, or mental health professional.
You might think about joining a support group. An on-line support group may be a good substitute if you can't find one in your area.

Guilt

While there is no logical reason for anyone to feel guilty about having arthritis, we are human and we aren't always logical. There are some people who blame themselves for getting sick, as if there was something they could have done to prevent it. Others feel guilty because it is their believe that somehow they are a burden to their family, while there yet others that are ashamed because they aren't use to having feelings and emotions effect them so strongly. And there is another group that I haven't seen mention in all the articles and magazines I've read. Those are the ones that have had someone they trusted and loved so deeply, tell them that they are the reason for the unhappiness and misery of the relationship they are in. They here statements like, “If you hadn't gotten sick we would be happy together.” or “You and your sickness are the reasons I do what I do.” “You aren't really sick, you're just trying to keep from going out and having fun.” This kind of talk can drive a person deeper into depression, loneliness, and guilt. You start to hate who you have become even though it's really not your fault.

While misplaced guilt and self-blame, can intensify depression and a tendency to withdrawal and can be disastrous for your self-esteem, they serve no purpose. Once you recognize that your arthritis is not your fault, and your emotional reactions are normal, you will be well on your way to coming to terms with your arthritis.

How to Cope with Guilt

Show yourself the same compassion you would show others. Imagine that it is a loved one who has arthritis and not you. Hold a mental conversation in which you respond to your loved one's self-blame.
Rebuilding your self-esteem by focusing on the positive and patting yourself on the back whenever you meet a new challenge head on and it is a success.

Renewal

Eventually the emotional bumps in the road will smooth out and you will reach the phase called renewal. By then you would have accepted your diagnosis, and not resigned to passivity, instead, you would have made an active choice to lead a mental healthy, rich and satisfying life despite the pain and illness.

This doesn't mean your life will be perfect, you'll still struggle with frustration, worry and maybe despair every once in a while, especially when you have a flare and other stressful periods. With time you should start feeling more like yourself before the diagnosis, or maybe even better. The emotional crisis that was brought on by your diagnosis will ultimately make you a stronger and wiser person, more prepared to cope with what ever life throws your way.

When to seek help

There will be times when you need help coping with you feelings and seeking help from a therapist, counselor, or other metal health care professional doesn't mean you're being weak. Instead it's a sign that you are being pro-active about your well-being. If you are experiencing any of the following seek a profession:

Depression, anxiety, or other emotional reactions to your diagnosis that are very intense or long lasting.
Emotional or behavioral symptoms that are interfering with your everyday life or personal relationships.
Thoughts of suicide. (GET HELP IMMEDIATELY)

Further Reading

You should read as much as you can about your condition. If you want to know more about coping with a chronic condition, try the books listed below.

1.Sick and Tired of Feeling Sick and Tired Living with Invisible Chronic Illness, by Paul J. Donoghue and Mary E. Siegel
2.The Chronic Illness Workbook Strategies and Solutions for Taking Back Your Life, by Patricia A. Fennell
3.After the Diagnosis From Crisis to Personal Renewal for Patients With Chronic Illness, by JoAnn LeMaistre
4.Celebrate Life New Attitudes for Living With Chronic Illness, by Kathleen Lewis

Author's Bio: 

Angela Carter is the owner of Coastal Computerized Information Services in Savannah, GA. She has been in business for nearly two years and has been doing Internet searches for nearly 12 years.