JEANETTE RAYMOND, PH.D
SPECIAL TO THE MIRROR
Marlene, a fitness trainer and tennis coach, was crushed by a diagnoses of Rheumatoid arthritis at 64-years-old. 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 client’s bodies to work out effectively. She was getting tired more quickly, and finding herself fatigued even when she was at rest.
Marlene was scared. She had always done everything she put her mind to. She was efficient, well organized, and thoughtful in managing her life. She had expected to slow down as she entered her senior years, but not this fast, and not this painfully. Unfortunately Marlene joined the ranks of the 2,460,000 adults aged 45-64 that have doctor-diagnosed Rheumatoid arthritis in California, and the 60 percent of women who suffer from this disease, as reported by the Centers For Disease Control.
Fear and embarrassment kept Marlene 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.
Marlene 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.
Marlene’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. Marlene’s natural awareness and sensitivity to her body heightened to levels that made it difficult to focus and concentrate on anything else.
Marlene was an intelligent and conscientious person, self-sufficient and dedicated to her craft of body fitness. For Marlene, a healthy body was the gateway to a healthy attitude, and balanced life. What Marlene didn’t realize is that her emotional life also played a part in creating mind-body harmony.
The Mind-body Connection in
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.
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.
One of the most important and hopeful findings from recent mind-body research is that disclosing emotions by talking about and sharing your feelings reduces the measures of inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis cases. 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 cardio-vascular conditions, gastric problems and auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. The Journal Preventing Chronic Disease reviewed several complementary and alternatives medicines and reported that mind-body therapies are indicated to be among the most fruitful and consistent in helping ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
It may be difficult for Marlene 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.
Dr. Jeanette Raymond is a licensed psychologist practicing in Brentwood, who specializes in stress related conditions and mind-body therapy. She can be contacted at 310.985.2491. Her website is http://www.drjeanetteraymond.com