A news story that came on while I was at an airport waiting for a flight caught my attention the other day. I normally don’t pay very close attention to the news channels while I am waiting because I am generally always working. But I heard “increases high blood pressure” and “tend to die sooner” and my radar was immediately up.
The story was about how people who are bitter or who hold a grudge tend to have many more health problems than people who are not bitter.
Of course I was going to immediately agree because I have been telling people this for years. So I listened intently to see how much of the story they were going to tell. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the story was a pretty fair representation of the science behind grudges and their effects on health.
Everyone knows that when you feel angry over a perceived wrong that someone has done to you or a loved one, you feel bad. Anger and bitterness are bad, negative emotions. That is just a plain fact.
There may be an extremely good reason for the bad feelings. Reflex leads many people to hate the aggressor. During that process, it also forces the victim to relive the bad experience over and over, every time he or she thinks about it.
On the other hand, there may not be a good reason. Sometimes people perceive that they are victimized when they are in reality, not. Or, they themselves are the ones causing the problem and are projecting their negative behaviors onto some perceived bully.
Either way, the body’s response to that perception is going to be the same. And, over time, the effects of this continued response leads inevitably to higher blood pressure, increased illness, fatigue, and a host of other problems.
The body’s response to negative stimuli is generally the same whether it is reacting to a fearful, anger-inducing, or sad event. The immune system engages and begins to produce hormones and proteins that change the way the body behaves, even on a cellular level, until the threat is passed.
This is a great process when the event is say, a bad flu or a robbery. These are serious events that will trigger the body to beat back the threat. It does this by engaging the immune response to kill off or attenuate bacteria and viruses as in the case with the bad flu.
With the robbery, the body’s fear response is engaged, and cortisol and other hormones released into the blood boost the body’s glucose response, which increases available fuel. However, sometimes our bodies get confused based upon a perceived threat that isn’t really a threat at all. The cascade of proteins and hormones will still occur, though.
The chemicals released with illness or injury (whether physical or psychological) stimulate behavioral changes that are designed to minimize damage from the threat. Withdrawing from social interactions, staying in bed, and appetite disruptions are all illness behaviors that are induced when the brain is flooded with the stress protein called cytokines.
An excess of either cortisol or cytokines separately is enough to put a person at risk of a heart attack. And these chemicals are secreted every time a person has an angry, bitter ride on the shame spiral.
People who are in active grudge mode will tense up at the thought of the source of their grief. Tension in the shoulders, face, arms, back, and neck are visible and palpable. Tension in the diaphragm, lungs, heart, and joints isn’t, but it still occurs.
Having this much stress on the body in the way of all that tension, added to the flood of unnecessary stress hormones and proteins and the constant depressed mood that accompanies feeling angry and bitter is simply a recipe for disaster.
This is a cycle that churns in only one direction, relentlessly leading to an early death. Stopping the cycle is anything but simple.
That’s not to say it’s impossible. I was glad to see that the news story also included some tips for letting go of the grudge. Simply treating the high blood pressure without stopping the source of it does no good. Forgiveness is a hard road to walk…in the beginning. But, just like getting used to taking a pill every morning, taking steps to forgive can become a strong habit.
Being able to acknowledge the fear, anger, or embarrassments that are the result of bad events, and then releasing those emotions will be critical. Acknowledging them in a private, safe, and controlled atmosphere is ideal. This gives you control over the reaction the next time you are faced with reliving the event or facing the perceived aggressor.
Daily devotions that support your faith are another great way to move toward forgiveness and forward progress because they help teach you to leave the negative stuff behind.
Moving toward positivity and forgiveness doesn’t make you more likely to be victimized in the future. You have learned the lessons you need to protect yourself. Now, you just need the freedom to truly be healed.
The Hypertension No More program has easy exercises for emotional release that are extremely effective; I encourage you to try it today.