Learning to Manage Fear and Frustration

When you develop fibromyalgia, the condition has an enormous impact on life. For many people, the diagnosis is difficult to accept and difficult to understand. The syndrome has a host of physical, psychological and emotional issues associated with it, and these issues require intensive effort to manage.

It is common for women and men who have fibromyalgia to become fearful and frustrated as doctors struggle to find what will help relieve the symptoms. Retaining a normal lifestyle can be very difficult due to the pain, fatigue, muscle stiffness and other symptoms common to fibromyalgia. It is natural to start worrying that you are doomed to live a scaled back life filled with physical limitations. Unfortunately, negative thoughts and emotions can begin a downward spiral similar to what happens to people experiencing depression. For these reasons, it is as important to find ways to manage the fear and frustration as it is to manage the symptoms.

Dealing with Fear and Frustration

Fear can be expressed in many different ways. For example, you may have a fear about letting your family down because of your inability to maintain a pre-fibromyalgia lifestyle. You may be afraid of what the fibromyalgia is doing to your body in terms of physical damage. You might be afraid that you will have to live with fibromyalgia the rest of your life. For many people, the main fear is that the pain will endure forever. Living with pain is not easy, and that’s why it’s important to spend as much time as necessary to find the pain relieving methods that will work for you.

Frustration is another common emotion that accompanies fibromyalgia. The fact that so many people refuse to recognize fibromyalgia as a valid medical diagnosis is frustrating in itself. It can also be frustrating to deal with pain on a daily basis; not be able to make it through the day due to lack of energy; or have to give up some enjoyable activities due to muscle stiffness. Frustration can lead to worry too. Fibromyalgia and its consequences become large and seemingly unconquerable problems with no end in sight.

It’s important to recognize that being fearful is a normal response. In fact, fear can be a healthy and normal response in certain cases (think fight or flight reactions), but it may be very unhealthy for those who have fibromyalgia if it overpowers thoughts and influences life on a regular basis. In fact, fear can make your symptoms worse. Research indicates that those who have high levels of fear concerning pain, movement or doing activities experience:[1]

  • Higher levels of disability
  • Increased heights of depression
  • Greater degree of pain severity
  • Lower performance levels while doing some activities
  • Less ability to deal with or manage their pain, anxiety and other issues concerning fibromyalgia

In other words, if you allow fear to take over, it will negatively affect your health and mental well-being.

There are other problems associated with an unhealthy fear. For example, fear can prevent you from enjoying healthy or intimate relationships which is common in cases of chronic diseases. It can lead to you avoiding certain activities and treatments, like physical therapy or exercise that can actually help you minimize the symptoms and better management the syndrome.

Frustration often accompanies fear. When you are frustrated, you may lash out or give up trying to cope with your condition. Anything you do may not seem worth the effort. Common expressions of frustration include not believing your doctor is doing everything possible to cure you or believing your family is failing to be supportive even when they are trying to help. You may begin thinking you will never overcome the cycle of pain.

Depression represents a cycle of negative thoughts, and this is exactly the type of cycle a person with fibromyalgia can enter. Once you allow the negative thoughts to take over, they can become self defeating. What you need to do is find ways to maintain a positive outlook and find ways that will allow you to work through your frustration.

Breaking the Fear Cycle and Lowering your Frustration Levels

There are many ways to help you manage your fear. While drugs and other forms of medication may help, they are not always the best choice.[2] Drugs sometimes prove to be ineffective or cause more severe side effects. The best method for breaking the cycle of fear, while lowering your level of frustration, is to address both through alternative and natural methods as much as possible. It may mean getting a little creative or turning to options that you would not normally consider while working closely with your physician.

Following are some alternative methods for dealing with the many negative emotions you may feel as you learn to manage your fibromyalgia:

  • Take up aerobic exercise – Aerobic forms of exercise have proven to have longer lasting effects than strength building or other types of exercise.[3] You can try water aerobics if afraid to do traditional aerobic exercises out of worry they are too strenuous.  Doing water-based exercises is easier on your joints and muscles. It is the ideal solution for those afraid of the pain of land-based aerobic exercise.[4]
  • Consider doing other types of physical therapy (PT) – This may include yoga and Tai Chi. Both types are easy on your muscles and joints while encouraging you to move to prevent further stiffness in the joints and other related problems.
  • Take up meditation – This is a way to help you gain control over your emotions. It can help you deal with a myriad of emotions like frustration and fear and help you cope with the symptoms of your fibromyalgia.[5]
  • Discover mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) – MBSR is a form of alternative treatment that combines meditation with yoga exercises. Where it is different in its approach to pure meditation and yoga is through the incorporation of a Buddhist-teachings-based concept called mindfulness.[6] You concentrate on breathing and ignore your irrational fears. Fears and frustrations use up too much of your energy. By incorporating mindfulness in your plan to manage fibromyalgia, it’s possible to gain more control of your thoughts and emotions. The idea is that you realize and accept that some pain is necessary, but it doesn’t have to control your life.

Mindful meditation can be combined with other forms of compatible exercise programs like Tai Chi.

  • Consider participating in cognitive behavioral therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapeutic treatment that teaches people how to manage their thoughts and feelings to produce positive behaviors. Thoughts and emotions can be self-defeating when they reflect negative patterns that are self-perpetuating. For example, if you are fearful, you may tell yourself, “I will never get better.”  If you repeat that thought over and over again, anxiety levels are increased and you give up trying to improve your situation.

Cognitive behavioral therapy involves working with a trained therapist who teaches you how to interrupt the negative thought patterns when they begin. This type of treatment has proven to be extremely successful in dealing with mood disorders, anxiety and depression. It can help you deal with pain, fear, frustration and other issues associated with fibromyalgia.

  • Distract yourself – For some, focusing on something else will help erase fears and frustration. Escaping difficult thoughts or forgetting pain temporarily through music, meditation, art, hobbies or many other forms of distracting therapies, gives you a refreshing emotional and physical break. Hobbies and soothing creative activities help you better manage what formerly seemed beyond your control.[7]
  • Focus on the positive – Focusing on what is positive in your life can help you maintain a healthy perspective about your fibromyalgia. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help.
  • Accept only the truth – Learn to accept that your pain is not any fault of your own. It is a medical condition. If you realize that, you can accept it and work through it.

There are other ways to fight off, control and manage fear and frustration. It is important that you find one or more methods that will work for you. It’s a personal decision as to what you choose to do. The suggestions made are just meant to get you thinking about options for managing negative thoughts and emotions. You may have other ways that will work better for your situation. It’s also important to make sure that you don’t let other people discourage you from taking steps to improve the quality of your life.

Fear and frustration are normal emotions for someone who has fibromyalgia. Yet, you cannot give in to them if you want to feel better and maintain control of your life.


[1] Turk, DC; Robinson, JP; and Burwinkle, T (2004). “Prevalence of Fear of Pain and Activity in Patients with Fibromyalgia Syndrome.” The Journal of Pain, 5(9): 483-490.

[2] Lawson, K (2008). “Treatment Options and Patient Perspectives in the Management of Fibromyalgia: Future Trends.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 4(6): 1059–1071.

[3] Häuser, W;  Klose, P;  Langhorst, J; Moradi, B; Steinbach, M;  Schiltenwolf, M; and Busch, A (2010). “Efficacy of Different Types of Aerobic Exercise in Fibromyalgia Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomised Controlled Trials.” Arthritis Research and Therapy. 2010; 12(3): R79.

[4] Gowans, SE; and deHueck, A (2007).  “Pool Exercise for Individuals with Fibromyalgia.” Current Opinion in Rheumatology, 19(2): 168-173.

[5] Duke Centre for Integrative Medicine (2006). The Duke Encyclopedia of New Medicine. London: Rodale.

[6] Schmidt, S; Grossman, P; Schwarzer, B; Jena, S; Naumann, J; and Walach, H (2011). “Treating Fibromyalgia with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Results from a 3-Armed Randomized Controlled Trial.” Pain, 152(2): 361-369.

[7] Mitchell, D (2011). The Complete Guide To Healing Fibromyalgia. New York: St. Martin Press.

This article was originally published on July 11, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/7/2015