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An arthritis diagnosis can bring a wave of emotions. It usually starts with shock and disbelief. Then it’s followed by sadness and anger. And it’s not uncommon for you to feel anxiety and possibly denial as you let the news sink in. But the most surprising emotion that’s common among arthritis sufferers? Guilt.

It’s surprising because it’s not like you chose to have your joints degenerate through the years; neither were you given a choice about getting an autoimmune condition. However, because arthritis can be debilitating and it can intrude on life, it can affect your independence and prevent you from doing even the most basic tasks. The guilt comes from the idea that you now won’t be able to do what is expected of you; that you’ll eventually be a burden to family and friends.

To that end, feeling guilty is certainly understandable—inevitable even. But it also isn’t healthy.

Guilt is one of the leading emotions that contribute to depression—a serious condition that also affects a lot of arthritis sufferers.

You need a certain level of self-awareness that while you may end up playing the blame game when you get your diagnosis, being self-critical will do nothing to help you manage your condition.

So we thought it would be useful to gather some of the most actionable tips that fellow arthritis sufferers have shared with us through the years to make sure that guilt doesn’t get the best of you. Check it out below.

1. Read up on real arthritis facts

There are numerous types of arthritis, the most common being osteoarthritis, which refers to the natural wear and tear and degeneration of your joints; and rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune condition. In both cases, you have to understand that there is nothing that you could’ve done to prevent either.

True, lifestyle changes can help you manage symptoms better or even delay its onset, but if you’re naturally predisposed to the condition, you will eventually succumb to it. For example, Kobe Bryant is an exceptional athlete who gets regular exercise and yet he was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis on his knee. Caitlyn Jenner was a former Olympian and now has osteoarthritis.

The point is, given that unavoidable factors such as ageing and genetics are major factors for arthritis, there’s no point in blaming yourself for it. Your best bet is to learn more about your condition. Ask your doctor about it or do your own research—the more you know, the more confident you feel that it’s a condition you can manage.

2. Set realistic goals for yourself

Because you’re feeling guilty at the possibility that you could one day end up relying more on family and friends because of your condition, you end up pushing yourself more than you need to. But when you set such high targets and aren’t realistic about your new limitations, you will end up disappointed. Often, this becomes a negative and vicious cycle that will ultimately affect your mental and physical wellbeing.

Be sure to set attainable goals for yourself. For example, if you want to stay fit, an hour and a half of intensive crossfit daily may be too much for your joints to handle. But that’s not to say that you should give up exercising altogether. Maybe a lower impact activity such as swimming or yoga for an hour might be more appropriate.

3. Take control of your health

There’s a feeling of hopelessness that’s typically associated with an arthritis diagnosis. People often get so hung up on the fact that it’s a degenerative joint condition that you can do nothing about. But let’s get one thing straight—you can’t do anything about your diagnosis, but can you do a lot to manage it.

For example, incorporating exercise into your daily routine is very helpful—it can help improve your physical and mental state. You can be more proactive about educating yourself about your condition, be responsible about taking your medications on time, and be more conscious about eating healthy. You can try to be more open about what you’re going through to family and friends to create a stronger support system.

4. Seek out others who are going through the same thing

Arthritis sufferers tend to shut family and friends out because of how guilty they feel about being a burden. In most cases, this isn’t the case at all. Loved ones are more than happy to help and listen to what you’re going through. But reaching out to others who know exactly what it’s like to live with arthritis and all its challenges is also more comforting to sufferers.

Try joining a support group in your local community if there is one. If not, go online. Our community alone has thousands of arthritis sufferers who consistently share their stories and thoughts on the challenges of arthritis. Even just reading about what they’re going through reminds you that arthritis isn’t your fault. There are others who understand exactly what you’re going through.  

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