Are you holding on to a situation that is causing you emotional distress? Whether it is a simple spat with your spouse or a deeper, long-held resentment toward a friend, unresolved conflict often goes deeper than you think – it can affect your physical health.
Dr., M.D. at The Johns Hopkins Hospital says, “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed.” She explains that chronic anger puts us into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response.
The good news: Studies have found that forgiveness brings with it plenty of health benefits including lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. Interestingly, research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as we age.
Forgiveness can be difficult, though. Sometimes we think by forgiving, we are letting the other person off the hook, saying that it was “okay” that they hurt us. We might feel that forgiveness conveys the idea that it didn’t hurt very much in the first place; when in fact, it did. While these feelings are completely understandable, remember that forgiveness is what allows us to let go of an upsetting connection we have to the person who wronged us, and to move forward.
However, forgiveness is not just about saying the words. “It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not,” Swartz says. As we release the anger, resentment and hostility, we begin to feel empathy, compassion and sometimes even affection for the person who wronged us. Forgiveness often benefits the forgiver more than the one being forgiven.
Once you make the decision to forgive, seal it with an action. If you are unable to talk to the person who wronged you, write them a letter, journal about it, pray, meditate, or talk about it with someone else in your life whom you trust. Release the negative emotions from your mind, body and spirit and feel the sweet relief of freedom. You can do it. Try saying these words: I forgive you. Not because you deserve it, but because I deserve to let this go. For my own health and well-being.