July 28, 2022
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Tara Romasanta Photography/Stocksy United
Having RA can be like riding on a roller coaster, full of ups and downs.
Emotions give life meaning. They’re powerful. We’re feeling some type of emotion every second of every day.
But some emotions are bigger than others.
It’s important to give these feelings the respect and attention they deserve. If they aren’t well managed, they can quickly distract, derail, or redirect you.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re likely very familiar with these big emotions.
The journey to diagnosis is often referred to as just that, a journey. But sometimes, you may feel like it’s more of a roller-coaster ride, with many ups and downs. It can be unpredictable, scary, and confusing.
Even if you’ve had an RA diagnosis for a while, you may experience daily ups and downs. You’re not alone.
An RA diagnosis can spur an emotional overload.
Most people with RA can quickly list a range of negative feelings they experienced. You may have felt shocked after the initial diagnosis or confused about unexplained symptoms. Anxiety, fear, envy, shame, sadness, anger, denial, frustration, and feelings of depression can cycle rapidly.
But yet, you may have also experienced some positive emotions during your diagnosis. You may have felt relief or validation when you finally got answers.
Many people with RA also find a new sense of gratitude and appreciation for life. Some people who have been diagnosed for years report a sense of hope for the future of healthcare after learning about new treatments. Most importantly, unconditional love, kindness, and compassion for yourself can grow after an RA diagnosis.
Effectively managing unpleasant emotions is beneficial for chronic pain care. According to a 2016 study, people with successful coping strategies and supportive social relationships had improved treatment outcomes for RA. The Arthritis Foundation also agrees that breaking the cycle of chronic pain and negative emotions can be physically and mentally beneficial.
Big emotions can have a cyclical effect on your RA symptoms. Chronic pain and fatigue can influence your emotions, and your emotions can influence your symptoms of pain and fatigue.
Without proper care, negative feelings can also have a big impact on your social interactions. You may be short-tempered and impatient with people closest to you. You may have anxiety and depression, which keeps you from doing things that bring you joy. You may even withdraw from social interactions altogether, which can affect your mental health.
You’ve probably been given a lot of unsolicited advice about how to manage your feelings. Some of the most popular suggestions seem to be yoga, daily meditation, moving more, resting when needed, positive self-talk, and simply ignoring them.
The list of vague and uninformed suggestions is really endless. Simply signing up for yoga or taking a nap doesn’t change the fact that you have RA and the life changes that come with it.
So how does one actually manage the big emotions that come with RA?
My favorite method is based on cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT. CBT addresses maladaptive thoughts and empowers people to make changes based on the present, not the past. It’s the most widely researched and empirically supported psychotherapeutic method.
First, I start by breaking my unhelpful pattern of thinking by differentiating facts from fiction. What is concrete and true cannot be changed. It’s not worth your time or energy thinking about how your life without RA would be different. These facts are out of your control. But you can control your thoughts about RA and how it impacts your life. This in turn can help you maintain control of any negative emotions.
Grieving who you were before your RA diagnosis can also be difficult to navigate. You’ll go through all of the expected stages of grief with RA: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s OK to lean into the process and feel all the emotions as they come. Utilizing CBT methods can help you weather the stages.
Of course, there will be times when emotions will overwhelm you, and that’s OK. With practice, you will navigate them with ease without surrendering to them.
Remember that RA changes lives, but it doesn’t have to change you.
Managing big emotions is key to navigating life with a chronic condition like RA. It can reduce your symptoms, improve your mental health, and help you to live life fully and flexibly.
You already have everything you need to thrive with RA. There is so much hope, and it starts with you.
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