Does what you ‘feel’ impact your physical health?
Many people ignore their emotions when it comes to their physical health. This week we are going to discuss emotions and physical disease in the same sentence, in the hope that you will see that our emotions are most definitely linked to our physical health ( and they also strongly influence our relational and spiritual health as well!).
More than 80% of disease has an emotional component
The American Medical Association, the oracle of all things health in the USA, states that 80% of all health problems are stress-related. Another influential health-related organisation – the US Center for Disease Control & Prevention – believes that 85% of all diseases have an emotional component. And so whether is 80% or 85%, these are BIG numbers deserving of our attention.
Research shows that stress, i.e. “…any real or imagined threat”, causes one’s body to respond in a wide-ranging number of ways. Think about it: heart pounding, palms sweating and dry mouth are just a few examples of the physiological power of stress – and here’s a kicker … stress happens even if the stressor is only imagined.
Emotional stress impacts body chemistry…and not in a good way
What of the effects of stress that we can’t readily see or feel? For example, the effect of stress on our blood chemistry: Up goes the needle on our stress-o-meters and up goes the C-Reactive Protein (CRP) levels. CRP is a blood marker for inflammation. And so just thinking ourselves into a state of emotional stress is enough to trigger inflammation.
It’s largely accepted that what we think about plays a role in some psychological disorders. But can we think ourselves into a physical disease state? It certainly appears so, if we accept that our body’s response to stress includes the production of chemicals that can make us sick.
Reversing emotional stress
If we can think ourselves sick, then it must follow that we can think ourselves healthy. After all, this is in essence what psychotherapy is all about: No magic potions, just focusing our mind – our thoughts – on getting ourselves well. Sure, we may need some help, but in the end, we have to do the work. This is why self-care is so important in optimising emotional health.
So here’s a thought: perhaps the most cost-effective way of preventing and, even in some cases, treating chronic diseases of lifestyle involves using our emotions to our advantage. How do we do this? Get rid of stress by giving it away. Sounds corny, doesn’t it? Well, it often works and here’s how: we give stress away when we give of ourselves to others. When we focus our efforts on the needs of others, rather than just on our wants, then the needle on the stress-o-meter drops out of the red zone.
HOPE: an antidote for chronic emotional stress
Most of us think of hope in terms of a definition along the lines of, “…a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen”. But sometimes stress can lead to feelings of hopelessness and not hope. I suggest that HOPE when used as an acronym, can be an antidote for emotional stress. Put HOPE to work for you by giving of yourself by…
Most people will tell you that they get more joy out of giving a gift than receive one. Well, what better gift to give than giving of yourself to others in need of help.
HOPE can be a useful way of helping you to deal with emotional stress, especially low-grade chronic emotional stress. Try the HOPE approach and let me know how it worked for you by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m Dr Peter Hill from the Caleb Centre where we focused on Preventing People From Becoming Patients