Anger Management and RA

I believe that among the many emotions those of us with chronic illnesses like RA have to contend with, anger is one of the most challenging.  Not simply because it is a tough emotion to deal with in general.  That is certainly true.  Rather it is the negative effects it is known to have on our health, both physical and mental.  If you stop and think about how your body reacts to anger you will recall that there are a number of bodily responses.  One is the “fight or flight” response where our heart races, our blood pressure goes up, our body temperature rises, etc.  Since there is no need to flee, this response, if left unchecked by anger, is not healthy.  Over time it can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, digestion problems, even heart attack and stroke.

The "RA anger" can be tough to recognize

Anger, as it relates to RA, can not only be tough to deal with, but may also be an emotion we fail to recognize.  There are so many emotions that confront us as we often struggle to manage a chronic disease like RA, that separating them, and dealing with them is yet another task to perform that may get shoved aside in the chaos.

That said, understanding where that anger comes from and then responding to it and managing it can be a significant step forward in our journey.

Anger as a result of the onset and ongoing nature of disease is, first and foremost, NORMAL. So if you have never felt any degree of anger about it, you may have passed through that stage blissfully fast, or perhaps have suppressed it.  The former is your good fortune, the latter, not so much.

RA brings on a gamut of emotions

I can openly admit that in the early stages of the disease there are a lot of emotions from fear to anxiety to depression and most certainly anger, that come together in a “stew of emotions”.  They are not always easily separated and do not necessarily appear as distinct and separate.  It is part of the process of RA management to address the emotional components of the disease.  To do so, will make your entire journey more deliberate and successful.

As to anger, there are nuances to this emotion as it relates to RA.  Not only was I angry at some point in the early stages, but to this day I have moments of being angry.  Everything as minor as being angry when I cannot lift the grocery bag and have to rely on someone else, to something major like having yet another treatment fail.

The thing is, there are healthy ways to channel this so that our health is not further compromised by anger. First of all, if you explode in anger that is a sign you are not handling it well.  If, every time you have an inkling of anger, you suppress it that is a sign you are not handling it well.  Rather, identify the anger BEFORE you react.  By doing that you immediately put the control of how to respond in your own hands and not that of unchecked reactions.  Once you identify it, calmly consider the source and the possible ways to contend with it.  For instance, if you are angry because your insurance has not approved a medication and both you and your physician know is the one you need, channel that anger into a plan of action.  Use that burst of energy to review how to address the problem.

Another useful way to channel energy is the physical response.  Many is the time that I have done an additional swim workout or another Tai Chi session to release the energy that arises from anger.  The serotonin replaces the cortisol and not only does that help you physically but also mentally.  The same is true of stress-relieving practices like meditation or massage.  They too flip the body’s response to one of positivity, wiping away the negative side effects of anger.

By taking anger and using it to manage our RA, we have transformed it into something useful.

The truth is, addressing anger in all of its glory, can make the anger work FOR you, not AGAINST you.


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