Disclosing Emotions Reduces Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis disrupts Anika’s career early in life.
At the age of 44 Anika a fitness trainer and tennis coach was crushed by a diagnoses of Rheumatoid arthritis. She had always been the epitome of health and vitality. She watched her diet and weight and enjoyed her physically active life and career. Recently pain and stiffness in her fingers, wrists and knees was making it difficult for her to swing the tennis racket and get her clients bodies to work out effectively. She was getting tired more quickly, and finding herself fatigued even when she was at rest.

Women are twice as likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis than men.
Anika was scared. She had always done everything she put her mind to perfectly. She was efficient, well organized and thoughtful in managing her life. She had expected to slow down as she got older, but not this fast, and not this painfully. Unfortunately Anika joined the ranks of the 1.293 million adults aged 18 and older that have doctor diagnosed Rheumatoid arthritis in the United States. She is also among the women who are twice as likely as men to suffer from this disease, as reported by the Centers For Disease Control.

The pain of rheumatoid arthritis put Anika’s focus mainly on her body.
Fear and embarrassment kept Anika quiet. She was used to dealing with her problems herself and never felt the need to talk about her experiences with family or friends She researched her condition and found out everything she could about it, including the bleak prognosis. Anika discovered that Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory process that develops from a faulty immune response, for which there is no cure. She constructed a strategy for herself involving supplements such as glucosomine, fish oil and borage. She began the ‘arthritis diet’, high in fish and fresh fruits, while low in potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and peppers. She added specific exercises for her joints.

Anika’s symptoms ebbed and flowed with each new change in diet and routine. But her general level of fatigue, pain and swelling hampered her work with clients. She became more self-conscious and less social as a result. Anika’s natural awareness and sensitivity to her body heightened to levels that made it difficult to focus and concentrate on anything else.

Anika was a intelligent and conscientious person, self-sufficient and dedicated to her craft of body fitness. For Anika, a healthy body was the gateway to a healthy attitude, and balanced life. What Anika didn’t realize is that her emotional life also played a part in creating mind-body harmony.

The Mind-body connection in Rheumatoid Arthritis.
A report in The Journal of Chronic Diseases as long ago as 1964 reviewed the research on personality among those with doctor diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis and found that sufferers tend to be self-sacrificing, masochistic, conforming, self-conscious, shy, inhibited, perfectionistic, and interested in sports and games. The Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine confirmed these findings more recently, adding that when compared to their non arthritic siblings, rheumatoid arthritis patients were more nervous, restless, and sensitive to anger issues, making them more compliant and solitary.

Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are more sensitive to body sensations.

Those with rheumatoid arthritis are acutely sensitive and aware of their bodies such that their focus is on physical sensations more often than not. “They have a heightened sense of reality that makes them more sensitive to bodily distress”, said one of the lead authors of a study reported in The Journal of Rheumatology in 2008. This trait, known as ‘somatic absorption’ was persistent even when other factors such as disease severity, demographics, other illness and psychological distress were taken into account.

Disclosing emotions reduces markers of inflammation in the blood of Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers The Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 2009, found that patients who took part in a study where they exchanged feelings and expressed their emotions had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood than those who kept their feelings to themselves.

Talking about your feelings has a huge benefit in most chronic diseases including those caused by compromised immune systems. Emotional restriction induces stress, and prolonged stress damages the effectiveness of your immune system. Expressing emotions and sharing feelings releases the body from dealing with the diseases linked to stress, such as auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

It may be difficult for Anika to open up and share her emotional life with friends and family. But taking that step can be the most important long term plan she can adopt. It will bring support that will ease the stress of perfectionism and shift the focus away from her body. Talking about her feelings and allowing others to understand and empathize with her, can boost her immune system, restore energy, and improve the quality of her life.

© Copyright 2010 by Jeanette Raymond. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Gloria G Daley

    July 30th, 2010 at 4:46 PM

    Its surprising how an emotional trait and seeking out to others can actually influence a physical issue and that too so prominently.I think most doctors,if not all,fail to make the patients aware of this.

  • Tessa s

    July 31st, 2010 at 6:56 AM

    Thanks for this article- my cousin suffers terribly from rheumatoid arthritis so I am going to foward this info along to her

  • GoldenDuck

    July 31st, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    When I’m feeling low and even if I have physical hurt, talking to a friend really does help me a lot. Actually makes me feel like the pain actually decreases when I’m involved in a conversation with my friends, and it happens with any person I feel close to.

  • Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

    July 31st, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    Thanks Gloria, Tessa and GoldenDuck for your insightful comments.
    When you talk about your emotions and feel heard it does alter the neurochemistry in the brain. It also reduces the stress hormones in the blood stream that can cause inflammation if you suffer from an auto-immune disease.

  • Iris

    August 1st, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    Never have given much thought to the very depths of how much what is happening to us on an emotional level can give rise to so much physical hurt and struggle as well. No matter how this manifests itself it is good to know and quite reassuring actually that getting ourselves healthier on a spiritual and emotional level can also give us more strength physically. Very perceptive and well written, and I am sure that there are many others out there like myself who will benefit from this work.

  • Jim

    August 2nd, 2010 at 4:34 AM

    Oh yeah I think that it is a well proven fact just how much that the mental fitness of one plays such a huge role in their physical health. The more that you are in tune with the whole body the better the body is going to be able to heal itself in times of need.

  • Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

    August 3rd, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    Thank you Iris and Jim for your thoughtful comments. Emotions are physical things, it’s the feelings of it that are ‘mental.’

    It sounds like you recognize the important connection of mind-body fitness so that you can deal appropriately with stress and enjoy the benefits of strong secure relationships.

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