Frustration and anger are understandable reactions to chronic illness. Being sick is frustrating, since it brings uncertainty and loss of control.
The frustrations of illness vary from not being able to plan daily activities to the loss of the future you had dreamed of. Further, irritability seems to be a symptom of CFS and fibromyalgia.
Self-management can make frustration manageable. The strategies described in other sections, such as pacing and stress management, help reduce the sources of frustration.
For example, by using pacing you can stabilize your life, reducing the swings between high symptoms and periods of remission, and reducing the occurrence of irritability.
Stress reduction practices can help you relax, reducing your susceptibility to frustration. In both instances, techniques used for another purpose can reduce frustration as well.
Frustration can be destructive if it is expressed in a way that drives away people who want to help or those upon whom you depend. One way to respond positively is to create a situation focused on finding solutions to what is bothering you.
If you are frustrated about a relationship, set up a conversation to discuss your problems. Pick a time to talk when you and the other person will be calm and not distracted. Before the conversation, ask yourself what the other person could do to improve the situation.
Then, when you meet, explain what is frustrating you. You may be able to defuse anger on the other side by stating that you realize that your illness is frustrating for everyone involved.
Here are six other strategies used by people in our program to deal with frustrations created by being ill. They focus on the goal of finding non-harmful ways to acknowledge and express anger.
Expressing anger by talking it out with someone who is not the target of your frustration can release the feeling. As one person in the self-help program said, "The frustration and rage I felt about becoming ill has eased considerably since I joined a supportive group. I feel lucky to find a place to vent, be accepted and feel understood."
Putting experience in words can be helpful. Psychologist James Pennebaker has found that people have fewer health problems if they write about traumatic events in a way that combines factual description and emotional reactions. (See his book Opening Up and also the article Writing is Good Medicine.)
Giving verbal form to emotionally powerful experiences brings understanding. A related technique is to write a letter to the person you are mad at, and then tear it up instead of sending it.
See Things from a Fresh Perspective
The amount of anger you experience may be related to your thoughts, to how you see your situation. Imagine, for example, that you are waiting at a restaurant for a friend who is a half-hour late. You feel irritated.
When the friend arrives, she reports that she was delayed because she was in an accident. Suddenly your emotion changes from anger to concern.
Here's what one student said about the effects of seeing things in new ways: "I've learned to think about things in alternative ways. By taming my thoughts, I find that a lot of anger has disappeared and this is a most wonderful feeling. I have now reached the stage where most of this new thinking is automatic."
Plan Your Response
If you are irritated by comments like "I'm sure you would feel better if you would try this new remedy," you can prepare a response so that such comments don't bother you.
In this case, you might say something like "Thanks for your suggestion, but I'm under my doctor's care and I'm following his treatment plan" or "I'll keep that in mind."
Accept and Acknowledge the Feeling
Some people report that they are able to dissipate the power of anger and other feelings by naming them. The exercise produces a detachment from the feeling.
As one student said, "What seems to work for me is to think about the emotion I am having. If I am angry, I will say ‘Ah, that is anger'. Then I say ‘I accept this anger.' Then I describe the anger. Is it a huge anger or smoldering anger or little anger? Then I notice how it feels in my body."
Get Professional Help
Sometimes talking with a counselor can ease the pressures created by having a long-term illness. If frustration and anger are making your relationships more stressful, you might consider getting professional help. Look for a therapist who specializes in helping people with chronic illness.