Ask anyone who has a close friend or relative living with chronic illness: The disease impacts more than just the physical and emotional health of the person living with the condition. Chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) also affect family members, lifestyle choices, and relationship dynamics. When you help, support, and care for someone with rheumatoid arthritis, you suffer when they suffer. But what can you do to increase their comfort and help decrease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis?

"Plenty," says June Breiner, MD, an internal medicine specialist at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Baltimore, who has treated people living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Follow these tips for helping your loved one deal with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.

Relaxation Eases Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain

Progressive relaxation is good for everyone, and has even been shown to reduce the amount of swelling in joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Breiner says. In progressive relaxation, you tense and relax your muscles, starting with your feet and working your way up your body.

Prevent and Address Depression

Research shows that people with depression have lower pain thresholds than those without depression. You and your loved one should talk to a doctor about any prior history of depression, and how an antidepressant can be helpful, Breiner says.

Find a Cool Solution

When your loved one's joints are swollen, apply ice to the area. A bag of frozen peas also works well because it can be molded to the shape of the swollen joint.

Plan Beneficial Activities

Certain physical activities can be very helpful in reducing pain from rheumatoid arthritis. Aquatherapytai chi, and yoga are often helpful for rheumatoid arthritis patients. Or try walking. You can burn calories, strengthen muscle, and build denser bone — all without harming fragile joints.

Stretch to Relieve Stress

Breiner also recommends stretching as a great way to relieve stress and keep joints and muscles flexible, which leads to reduced pain and increased comfort.

Help Prevent Weight Gain

If your loved one is gaining weight or is overweight, consult with a doctor or dietitian to develop a weight-loss plan. Losing weight will ease the stress on joints, and therefore the amount of pain.

Support Restful Sleep

Help your loved one develop proper sleep habits. These include going to bed and getting up at the same time each day; keeping the room cool and comfortable; and ensuring a quiet and restful space. Also, if your loved one is taking painkillers, make sure they are taken at night to allow for recuperative sleep.