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Emotions and Health

23rd July 2009 by Carol Posted in Uncategorized

It’s not surprising that our emotions affect our health. The “Type A” personality and its relationship to heart disease was identified fifty years ago, While the research in this area has been refined, what it has found is that the hostility aspect of Type A personalities is what is associated with heart disease. In other words, a strong negative emotion has been shown to be connected with a physical disease.

In contrast, laughter actually helps your cardiovascular system in part by reducing stress hormones and also by causing your body to relax.

Now that we know this, what do we do? One thing is that when we feel stress, we need to make a conscious decision to do something different. Of course, it would not be appropriate to break out a romantic comedy during a stressful business meeting. But it would be a great idea to distract your mind with it after work that evening. The only thing worse than a stressful period of time at work is rehashing those events over and over in your mind after work is supposed to be done.

Yet when we are stressed out, making a choice to watch a funny movie is going to feel strange. What feels natural when we are stressed is to deal directly with the stress. Yet sometimes that is not possible. You cannot change past events and brooding over them is actually not helpful. If you can get your mind into a different frame of reference, you actually might become more effective at solving problems. So, even though it feels weird and you are not in the mood for a movie, start it up anyway. Or do something else that makes you laugh. Wad up a piece of aluminum foil and watch your cat play with it. Watch dumb videos on line. Find a website or a book with a lot of jokes and read.

Why does this work? Why is it not avoiding a problem?

Stress is ultimately caused by things we cannot control. You are on your way to work and there is a wreck up ahead. The highway is a parking lot. You are going to be late. You can’t get off; you can only sit there. For many people, this lack of control would be close to intolerable, which explains the level of road rage around us. Sitting in traffic, these folks get madder and madder, when anger actually gets in the way of problem solving.

The alternative in this situation would be to anticipate this kind of problem. When traffic gets stopped, pull out the cell phone and tell folks what is going on so they know that you are on your way and are unavoidably delayed. Then put in a CD of a comedy show or whatever else you like to listen to. Enjoy yourself because there’s nothing else you can do. When traffic clears up, get yourself to work.

Ultimately, when we are aware of the limitations of our ability to control a situation and when we choose not to take responsibility for more than the what we really can control, we can actually reduce stress. When you have done what you can to address a situation, it becomes time to help your brain shift gears from frustration to relaxation. If you do this, your heart will appreciate it.

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