You want to do what you want to do, go where you want to go, but your body may have other ideas when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). It may be a case of the mind being willing, but the flesh is not. Undoubtedly, this can be a great source of frustration, resentment and anger. It can also lead to unnecessary suffering and pain.
It can take time to get used to a new diagnosis, especially one that will hang around for the rest of your life. To make that life a long and fulfilling one, it’s important to do as many things as you can to support yourself throughout your journey with RA. This includes learning about anger and resentment. How to recognize the genesis of it. What to do to transform it, and why it matters to your health and well-being.
As you go through life with RA, it’s not uncommon to circulate through a number of emotions. You may recognize the following five stages of grief from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It’s not uncommon to grieve when you have a chronic illness. You may mourn when you lose the ability to do something you need or want to do, but can’t because you’re flaring, you hurt, your medications aren’t working, you have dislocations and deformities that rob you of who you were before RA.
This is a huge topic – one that is far too large to comprehensively cover in one article. So, let’s get this process started with some basic information.
Why you want to transform your anger
When you experience anger, or any negative emotions, physiological changes occur. Stress hormones are released, which prepare you for flight or fight. Your heart rate and breathing speeds up, as your blood pressure climbs. Over time, this creates wear and tear on your arterial walls. Your heart will not be happy.
Trigger the stress response, and you may be adding more heat to those already red-hot joints. Inflammation is a side effect of stress. Anger, frustration, rage, resentment, and other emotions that you have not processed can ignite the inflammatory response. Isn’t there enough inflammation in your body, without adding to it?
Neuroscience is proving that the more you rehearse behaviors, the more you automatically do them, forging neural pathways that make the execution of those behaviors automatic. The same holds true for anger. Prior to learning about stress and becoming Auntie Stress, my typical pattern would start with worry. This would lead to frustration, then anger. It was a vicious not-so-merry-go-round of feelings that seemed to pick up speed as time went on. I didn’t know what to do and how to put the brakes on that cycle.
Poorly managed emotions can affect your relationships. Words that are often uttered in anger and frustration can put dents in communication, which may be difficult to repair. Resentment can simmer, then boil over, often for something unrelated, and scald whoever and whatever is in its path.
Tune in to recognize your anger
What do many people do when they’re angry? They clench their fists. At times, when I look at my dislocated and deformed hands, I think that they serve as a metaphor for anger. What about you? What bodily sensations do you feel when you are angry? Are you tightening your jaw, your neck, your fists? Is your breathing more shallow? When you notice how you feel, you have information that can set you on a different path.
How to melt down your anger
When I get angry, I use my hands as a reminder to use one of my tools and techniques to change course. It’s a process – a skill that improves with practice. And with practice, I don’t get angry as often, or when I do, I am able to move more quickly through it.
I became Auntie Stress, after going through the HeartMath® Institute program. Here is an excerpt from page 42 of Transforming Anger - The HeartMath Solution for Letting Go of Rage, Frustration and Irritation, which explains one of the skills you develop.
“You tap into the real you by knowing the difference between being ‘in the head’ and ‘in the heart.’ It’s like two different radio stations. Tuned to the heart station, your attitude adjusts and you find responses that are much more satisfying to you and better for everyone involved.”
This summer, I was asked to review two books - MBSR Every Day – Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Daily Meditations for Calming Your Angry Mind – Mindfulness Practices to Free Yourself from Anger. I will be offering both of them, as well as others, as giveaways on my blog and in my newsletter. All these books offer up a number of techniques to help you shift into a better frame of mind.
Last week, I took the car in for servicing. I had a conversation about stress with the young man who drove me home. I explained the importance of switching gears by shifting perception. He then shared how he was getting frustrated with the car ahead of him. He realized that it was an elderly driver, whom he imagined wanted to be cautious while driving. It was then that he uttered the C-word – compassion. It is a powerful tool to use to melt anger; both towards others and yourself.
Learn to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, knowing that you won’t always feel that way. That’s even true with rheumatoid arthritis. You get different medications, discover different treatments, and learn how to take better care of yourself. As the kids say, “You are the boss of you” So, one way to be a good boss of yourself is to work on your emotions.
You’re worth it, aren’t you?
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_Marianna Paulson is known as Auntie Stress. On her website, you’ll find links to her two blogs, Auntie Stress Cafe and the award-winning, A Rheumful of Tips. She also publishes a mostly monthly newsletter called The Connective Issue. Sign up here to receive information, tips, and to learn about giveaways. _
Marianna Paulson is known as @AuntieStress. On her website, you’ll find links to her two award-winning blogs, Auntie Stress Café and the award-winning A Rheumful of Tips. When she is not helping clients (and herself) address stress, she keeps active by swimming, dog walking, and taking frequent dance breaks. She takes steps in a number of different directions in order to work on being a “Superager.” She may have RA, but it doesn’t have her! “Choose to be optimistic. It feels better.” - Dalai Lama XIV