Is Grief a Pain Trigger for Me?

For the past 1.5 years, I have walked a unique journey as I have supported my mom through stage 4 melanoma, a type of skin cancer that has spread to her brain. Truthfully, between the intense treatments, mobility issues left over from her stroke, and accompanying grief surrounding all she's been through, it’s been the hardest season of my life so far. Cancer is relentless, and I know that truth intimately, now.

Grief can be a trigger for RA pain

What’s added fuel to the flame is my rheumatoid arthritis’ constant need to be heard in moments of sadness. It leads me to ask, “Is grief causing my RA flares?” To me, it certainly looks like it.

Like clockwork, my joints start hurting following a declining or uncomfortable day with my mom. After a few traumatic hospital stays my mom had over the summer, I flared up each time, requiring steroids. When difficult decisions surrounding her care have arisen, I needed more acetaminophen or ibuprofen to keep me comfortable throughout the day. My joints become more angry the more stressed and sad I become.

Interesting research helped me understand

In an interesting study I read, researchers looked at grief severity in people who had just lost a spouse in connection to pro-inflammatory markers in the blood. The higher the grief severity score, the higher the level of inflammatory markers in the blood.1

For me, this was an enlightening study to read considering my own symptoms and grief. It helped me understand the process going on in my body without feeling like I was doing something wrong to cause the increase in pain. Grief does have an effect on levels of inflammation and pain in my body. How do I respond knowing that is a possible explanation in my own health?

How do I combat grief?

Admittedly, there may not be anything I can do to control impending grief. However, I have learned that there are healthy ways I can cope or react to what my body is telling me in the moment. The joint pain is an outward signal of something that’s happening inwardly. There are a few things I have found to be helpful to cope with both physical and emotional pain.

Feel instead of think

Sitting back and allowing myself to feel whatever is happening in that moment has been really helpful in releasing negative emotions. Typically, we think, think, think to the point of madness, but we rarely just let ourselves feel. Whether that’s by crying, laughing, swearing, dancing, etc., letting myself feel instead of thinking about the current situation is important, too.

Devote 1 hour to relaxation

In the past, I have been terrible at setting aside time for myself when life is high-stakes and busy. I tend to ignore the signals my body is giving me to slow down. Recently, I have made it a priority to listen more to my joint pain and take an hour to relax, usually in the bath. It definitely helps me regroup and avoid unnecessary pain.

Confide in a trusted friend

As a verbal processor, I find it really helpful to talk to a trusted friend when I feel like I am in a heightened state of grief. Instead of all the grief making a home in my body, when I talk about what’s happening, I feel a sense of relief physically. My advice is to identify who that person(s) could be for you, and ask them if it's OK for you to come to them to discuss when you need it. Support is everything!

Do you feel grief or stress exacerbates your joint pain? What do you find helpful? Share with us below!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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