Emotions play a vital role in our lives. Experiencing emotions such as joy, love, and fear can benefit humans as a species. When we neglect our emotions, they tend to amplify, become louder, and take up more mental space. However, by fulfilling our emotional needs, we can reduce the disruption caused by these emotions and improve our thought process and daily lives.
Living with RA is not easy or smooth. It’s a journey that involves managing your emotions and attempting to silence the distracting noise they create. RA comes with a roller coaster of emotions. You may spin and cycle through these emotions rapidly, feeling sad one moment and happy the next, and sometimes even experience prolonged periods of depression.
Understanding Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (EI) refers to the capacity to identify and manage one’s emotions, as well as those of others. Simply put, emotional intelligence involves recognizing emotions, paying attention to them, and regulating our thoughts to maintain a positive or neutral mood. Those who practice emotional intelligence have better clarity and can regulate their moods more effectively.
Emotional intelligence is an innate skill that requires consistent dedication and intentional effort to develop expertise. However, did you know that by practicing emotional intelligence, you can improve your ability to manage chronic RA-related pain?
Emotional Intelligence and Pain Catastrophizing
Pain catastrophizing is a cascade of negative emotional responses that can occur in response to actual or anticipated pain. It’s interesting to note that imagination plays a significant role in pain catastrophizing.
Unfortunately, pain catastrophizing is something that many individuals with chronic pain, including those with RA, experience. The unpredictable nature of RA pain can cause fear, anxiety, and overwhelming dread, making pain catastrophizing a common occurrence.
If you’re someone with RA, you can probably relate to this. Personally, I’ve experienced my fair share of pain catastrophizing. I’ve been so worried about an RA flare and pain that I’ve rearranged my entire day to avoid any potential triggers that could ruin it.
However, pain is a symptom that someone with RA can never fully ignore. It’s difficult not to catastrophize about it. If you have RA, you may not be in pain now, but it’s only a matter of time before it surfaces, and it could appear without warning. By honing your emotional intelligence, you can better manage the pain and how it affects your life.
Research shows the EI can significantly help with pain catastrophizing. According to this study, women who have fibromyalgia, and suffer from chronic pain, tend to have lower emotional intelligence and understand emotions less overall. The ones who develop higher levels of emotional intelligence report lower widespread levels of pain.
5 Tips to Develop Your Emotional Intelligence
Now that you are completely sold on growing your emotional intelligence, here are some steps to help you get started.
- Acknowledge your emotions. Take note of what you are feeling, and when you feel it, and give it a name. If you find it difficult to identify your emotions, set a timer on your phone to check in with yourself a few times a day. Use this time to reflect on what you are feeling.
- Don’t judge yourself for the emotions you experience. If you are not sure what to call a specific emotion, search for an “emotion wheel” online to help you identify it.
- Practice self-awareness by trying to understand why you feel a certain way every time you check in with yourself. This will become easier over time. You can use techniques like meditation, counseling, talk therapy, or life coaching to help you uncover the reasons behind your emotions.
- Recognize your needs and do not ignore them. Your emotions are trying to communicate something to you, so pay attention to them. If you have a physical need such as sleep, hydration, or medication, take care of it. If you need to prioritize your mental health, do that.
- Be empathetic and listen to others. Having strong emotional intelligence means being able to identify, understand, and manage other people’s emotions. Try to see things from their perspective, without judging them. Listen actively, without interrupting or planning your response before they are finished speaking.
- Take a break when necessary. Taking a break gives your brain time to reset and helps you to think more clearly. Most situations can allow for a five-minute break to consider all options and responses. Use this time to collect your thoughts and stay in control of your emotions.
Developing and mastering emotional intelligence can help manage the chronic pain associated with RA. However, as you can see, it can also benefit all aspects of life. It is undoubtedly worth learning.
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Condon, S, et al “Examining Emotional Intelligence in Older Adults with Chronic Pain: A Factor Analysis Approach.” Aging & Mental Health. February 1, 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2019.1673308.
Doherty, E, et al. “Measuring Emotional Intelligence Enhances the Psychological Evaluation of Chronic Pain.” Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings. December 2017. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10880-017-9515-x.
Luque-Reca, O, et al. “Emotional Intelligence Impairments in Women with Fibromyalgia: Associations with Widespread Pain.” Journal of Health Psychology. September 2021. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105319890916.