Building Confidence With Rheumatoid Arthritis Lifestyle Changes

Rheumatoid arthritis is a lifelong medical condition that involves joint pain and stiffness. Experiencing long-term illness (also called chronic illness) increases the risk of developing mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. People with symptoms, such as fatigue and pain that interfere with daily life and the ability to perform tasks, may notice decreased self-esteem.

Learn about the link between RA and self-esteem, ways to build confidence with RA, and more.

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How RA Affects Body Image and Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and the attributes that make them who they are. Body image—the way a person thinks and feels about their physical body and how they look—is one piece of self-esteem. Many people with rheumatoid arthritis experience low self-esteem, negative body image, or both, partially because of how RA symptoms impact the body and daily life.

RA may lead to lower self-esteem because of:

  • Physical limitations or fatigue that prevents or limits things that could be done before RA
  • Pain that interferes with daily life
  • Not being able to live as previously planned or not being able to achieve goals due to symptoms
  • Mobility challenges and how that relates to navigating daily life

RA may lead to negative body image because of:

  • Physical symptoms, such as swelling and visible changes in joints
  • Mobility and how that looks (e.g., walking with a limp that can be seen by others)
  • Weight management impacted by RA symptoms

Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

Sometimes rheumatoid arthritis occurs along with mental health conditions. When two or more conditions occur together, they are called comorbidities.

RA increases the risk of developing mental health conditions. Some mental health conditions that may occur more commonly with RA are:

Get to Know Your RA

Rheumatoid arthritis is different for everyone. What helps one person with RA may not help another. For example, rest and exercise need to be balanced, so joints remain comfortable with rest as well as strong and mobile with exercise, but that balance is unique to each person with RA.

Tips for learning your unique needs and finding effective coping methods for you may include:

  • Listening to your body
  • Resting when feeling tired or when pain levels are high
  • Moving when feeling stiff
  • Trying one coping strategy or making one lifestyle change at a time
  • Remaining patient and remembering it is a process
  • Not comparing abilities or symptoms to others because every journey is different
  • Making adjustments slowly
  • Keeping track of how different things affect symptoms

7 Ways to Build Confidence With RA

Building confidence with RA is similar to building confidence without RA, but there are some extra things to consider. For example, it is common for people with RA to have days where their symptoms are worse, sometimes for seemingly no reason, even during phases of improved symptoms. It is important to remember that this does not mean the person with RA did anything wrong, and it may not have been related to anything they did or did not do.

Here are some ways to build confidence with rheumatoid arthritis:

  1. Set realistic goals: Goals that are set too low will not feel like accomplishments, while goals that are set too high can lead to disappointment and lower confidence when not reached.
  2. Celebrate every achievement: No improvement or accomplishment is insignificant, especially when learning to manage a chronic illness. Celebrate all the wins and lessons learned.
  3. Know that progress is not linear: It is common to have good days and bad days or to experience an increase in symptoms even when things are going well. This does not mean there is a problem because the general trend over time is more important than the day-to-day changes.
  4. Have a plan for when things do not go as planned: Making a plan and sticking to it is great, but sometimes unpredictable things happen. So have a backup plan for when things come up, or symptoms are unexpectedly worse.
  5. Find things that work for you: Try new activities, coping methods, and recommendations from healthcare providers. Everyone is different and responds differently to treatments and coping methods. Try some things and determine what works best for you personally. Not everything has to be right for you, as long as you find something that helps.
  6. Focus on things you like and that make you feel good: Just because something helps doesn't mean it's the best fit for you. Try to find things you enjoy that also help your symptoms.
  7. Reevaluate and adjust regularly: Long-term health conditions and symptoms can change a lot over time, especially when receiving medical treatment and making lifestyle changes. Make a plan to reassess with members of your healthcare team as needed.

Ask for Help

Rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic illnesses are complex and may require a lot of guidance and support to manage effectively. Coping with RA is both physical and emotional, with challenges related to understanding life with a long-term condition, symptom management, different options for treatment, and coping methods for RA effects that can impact every area of life. It is important to accept available resources and reach out for help when needed.

Accept Guidance From Your Healthcare Provider

When people think of treating and managing a medical condition, consulting with a healthcare provider is generally the first type of support that comes to mind. The physical impact of rheumatoid arthritis can be treated by a rheumatologist, a doctor specializing in muscle, bone, joint, ligament, and tendon diseases.

Rheumatologists and other healthcare providers can help people with RA by:

  • Diagnosing the condition
  • Prescribing medications to relieve symptoms, such as pain and inflammation or slow the progression of the disease
  • Perform surgery to repair joints and improve physical function
  • Provide referrals to physical therapists or other healthcare professionals who can help with physical symptoms and mental health professionals to help with mental or emotional challenges
  • Recommend healthy lifestyles and other methods of coping

Lean on Friends and Family

Friends and family may be a support option for people with RA. However, they are not professionals, so they may not always know how to help. When talking to friends and family, people with RA can try to communicate what helps them and what doesn't help them, so others know what to do to provide needed support.

Join Therapy or Support Outlets

In addition to healthcare providers, family, and friends, other types of support are available to people with RA. These options can help with both the physical and mental challenges of the condition. For example, RA can negatively impact mental health, and mental health challenges can increase RA symptoms. Mental health support can help prevent, treat, and cope with mental health challenges associated with RA.

Here are some additional support options for rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Physical therapy can help you strengthen muscles, increase joint flexibility, improve mobility, and improve physical symptoms and quality of life.
  • Talk therapy can help you prevent and address mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression. It can also help you cope with the emotional side of RA, even if you don't have a mental health diagnosis.
  • Support groups can help you connect with other people facing the same or similar challenges and learn new coping strategies

Tricks and Tools That Help

There are many tricks and tools that help with rheumatoid arthritis and with confidence. Some of them can help with both at the same time. For example, there are many self-help devices that make life with RA easier by assisting with daily tasks. The ability to be more independent with the help of devices can boost confidence.

Tips to help with RA and confidence:

  • Find devices to help with daily tasks, such as zipper pulls for getting dressed, special can and bottle openers for cooking and food prep, and handrails for safe mobility at home.
  • Start a journaling or gratitude practice to help focus on all accomplishments and lessons learned while living with RA.
  • Make time for relaxation and stress relief throughout the day.


Rheumatoid arthritis is a medical condition that affects the joints and causes pain, stiffness, inflammation, and mobility challenges. People with RA are more likely than others to develop mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, and mental health conditions make RA symptoms worse. RA can also lead to lower levels of confidence and self-esteem.

Everyone is different and experiences RA differently. Each person needs to learn about their symptoms and the treatments and coping methods that help them.

A Word From Verywell

If you or someone you know suspects or has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you are not alone. Support is available, including help with physical symptoms and disease progression, mental health conditions that may occur simultaneously, and confidence that RA may impact. Reach out to a healthcare provider, such as a primary care provider, rheumatologist, or mental health provider for support.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do people with rheumatoid arthritis live happy lives?

    Yes, people with rheumatoid arthritis can live happy lives. While pain and other symptoms of RA can be unpleasant and interfere with daily life, there are treatment options available and many things that can be done to help cope.

  • Why do stress and depression make RA worse?

    Stress creates a physical response in the body that increases inflammation, swelling, pain, and RA symptoms. Depression can prevent people with RA from doing the things that help them manage their symptoms, such as taking medications, exercising, and making other healthy decisions.

  • Can you take antidepressants with RA medications?

    Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat depression in people who have depression and rheumatoid arthritis together. However, talking to a qualified healthcare provider about each situation is important because everyone is unique. Additionally, some medications may react and cannot be taken together.

  • What are natural ways to feel better with RA?

    There are many natural ways to cope with rheumatoid arthritis. Some possibilities include managing stress, following through with recommendations from healthcare providers, making healthy lifestyle changes, such as nutrition and exercise, and doing things that boost confidence.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Chronic illness and mental health: recognizing and treating depression.

  2. Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid arthritis and body image.

  3. Marrie RA, Hitchon CA, Walld R, et al. Increased burden of psychiatric disorders in rheumatoid arthritisArthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2018;70(7):970-978. doi:10.1002/acr.23539

  4. National Health Service. Living with rheumatoid arthritis.

  5. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. Everyday life with rheumatoid arthritis.

  6. Hospital for Special Surgery. Rheumatoid arthritis support and education programs.

  7. American College of Rheumatology. What is a rheumatologist?

  8. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. How to tell your friends or family you have RA.

  9. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis and mental health.

  10. Arthritis Foundation. Self-help arthritis devices.

By Ashley Olivine, Ph.D., MPH
Dr. Ashley Olivine is a health psychologist and public health professional with over a decade of experience serving clients in the clinical setting and private practice. She has also researched a wide variety psychology and public health topics such as the management of health risk factors, chronic illness, maternal and child wellbeing, and child development.