Although it has been recognized for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, the connection between mind and body has only recently been bridged in modern medicine. The reason is partly due to the strong focus on physical aspects of disease in the history of medical research, such as invading bacteria, viruses, or toxins that spur the development of many diseases.
Despite this connection, if a patient is at risk for or suffering from heart disease, the last question, or missing question, in a physician’s check up is a question about a patient’s mind. Typically, health care providers look for the usual risk factors, such as family history, lack of physical activity, poor diet, obesity, excessive alcohol intake or smoking. What about “emotional health”? Could that be the next important question to ask?
A growing body of evidence shows that negative emotions can be just as toxic to your health as the traditional risk factors for disease, especially heart disease and high blood pressure. Toxic emotions include anger, guilt, anxiety, hostility, hatred, stress, and shame.
Multiple bouts of anger are linked to hardened arteries, weaker immune systems, digestive problems, and even skin problems.
The Antidote: Optimism
Positive feelings lead to a healthier lifestyle. They enhance the quality of sleep; they make a person more likely to exercise and less likely to abuse drinking or smoke; they even impact your cholesterol levels, boosting your “good” cholesterol. Positive feelings can buffer the effects of stress.
The New Word in Health Science: Emotional Vitality
Emotional vitality refers to a state of being happy, having positive energy, low anxiety and depressive symptoms, and a high sense of mastery over personal emotions and behaviors. Emotional vitality can lower your “bad” cholesterol. It can reduce your risk of heart attacks. In fact a recent study found that emotional vitality can reduce your risk of heart disease by 20%. A strong link between emotional vitality and physical health remained even when typical lifestyle factors, like diet, exercise, and smoking, were factored out.
It can even make you less likely to have a cold or infection, especially during traumatic, unexpected events that may occur in life.
Improve Emotional Health Naturally
Part of staying naturally healthy is learning how to cope with negative emotions and negative events in life.
- Think positive. Have realistic goals and expectations from yourself and others. Give way to laughter, love, and friendships. For every negative thought that dawns on you, push yourself to come up with a positive one.
- Confront-don’t circumvent. Consult with friends, family, or professional help when you cannot confront negative feelings alone. A study funded by the National Cancer Institute and National Institute on Aging found that instead of suppressing negative emotions in the aftermath of a traumatic event, dealing with them yields successful results.
- Hang on to healthy habits. Get enough sleep to keep your mood positive, stay active, and feed your body healthy meals.
- Relaxation. Everyone has different methods of relaxation that work best for them. What is yours? Meditation? Physical activity? Breathing exercises? A hobby? Don’t let a busy life or schedule make you neglect the things that make you happy and relaxed.
Penninx BW, Guralnik JM, Bandeen-Roche K, Kasper JD, Simonsick EM, Ferrucci L, Fried LP.The protective effect of emotional vitality on adverse health outcomes in disabled older women. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11083309. Accessed December 9, 2013.
Kubzansky LD, Thurston RC.Emotional vitality and incident coronary heart disease: benefits of healthy psychological functioning. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18056547. Accessed December 9, 2013.