Pain-Relieving Happiness

According to new research published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, a positive attitude can help rheumatoid arthritis patients. Patients with a more positive attitude experienced less pain and fewer symptoms. The researchers found evidence that mood can affect people’s perception of pain and related symptoms, like stiffness, swelling and arthritis-related symptoms. Those who reported a more negative or depressive mood also reported more pain and RA symptoms.

I can totally relate to the findings of this study as mood definitely affects my experience of RA. Naturally, I am a sunny and upbeat person. And people in my family, including my husband, think that my management of my RA and ability to cope with the pain and symptoms has really been helped by my habit of focusing on the positive.

This also goes along with my thoughts on keeping busy with activities I enjoy—such as my work; quality time with my husband, friends, and family; volunteering; travel; and reading. While I can be too busy and exhausted, overall the positive feelings I derive from all these commitments distracts me from my pain and stiffness.

Conversely, on days when I feel especially bad or am flaring, my mood definitely suffers. I start spiraling down the drain of negative thinking: what if I never feel better? What about all the people I am letting down because I am ill and unable to do the things I want to or said I would? These kinds of thoughts make me feel even worse.

I can definitely feel stress in my body. When I’m under an unusual amount of pressure, my joints ache and throb. Of course this also affects my sleep and ability to rest, which makes me ache even more!

It sounds like a circle or a chain reaction that feeds itself. The better my mood, the better I feel and the more I am able to do. And the opposite is also true, when I’m either feeling bad or my mood swings into a negative place.

I am thankful that my usual self is positive, sometimes even goofy. I am the type of person who laughs a lot, even when I am feeling pain or discomfort. This natural state of happiness has been a huge shield from the effects of my RA and it has helped me get through very hard times and scary health experiences.

From when I was a small child dealing with a serious disease, I had to be able to find the joy in life and hang onto it with a fierce grip. While grit and determination have also been important in living my life and fighting health battles, seeing the sunshine in every day has been crucial for keeping motivated.

My grandmother suffered from depression periodically, but in her later years it took a huge toll on her health. The pain of her moods and emotions definitely affected her body as well. It is a challenging disease. Her experience showed me the importance of managing depression—getting support and treatment. Similarly, people with RA can experience sadness, negative moods, and sometimes depression. Paying attention and getting help is important, not only for our mental health, but also our physical health, including the management of our RA symptoms.

I’m definitely interested in more research about emotions and how they can affect our RA, both positively and negatively. For me this article is very encouraging because it tells me that if I do the things that make me happy, I can also alleviate my RA pain and symptoms. I’m also reminded that sadness is a part of the experience and that I can find the coping support I need to find my happy ray of sunshine.

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