Chill Pills: The Most Important Medication

We all know the basics on how to stay healthy:

Eat well: check.

Exercise regularly: check.

Get yearly physicals: check.

Manage your emotions: uh, what?

You heard right.  Managing your emotions is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

You may make a joke that you’ve been feeling like a basket case lately, but the truth is, when negative emotions take control, your physical health does wane. Stress or life upsets can feel even more draining than running a marathon, and colds and other ailments often creep up following a period of high emotional imbalance or periods of mental anguish.

But according to studies done at Ohio State University, there is more even more to suggest the negative effects of mismanaged emotions on health.  Researchers there specifically found a correlation between anger management and the body’s ability to heal.  In fact, in one study showed that people with wounds who managed their anger healed faster than people with anger problems.

And Duke University researchers posed the question “What specific personality characteristic causes physical illness?”  The answer was anger.

But how does anger prevent healing exactly? Well, people who don’t properly manage their anger have higher rates of cortisol, a stress hormone that increases the body’s inflammation and directly contributes to back pain.

Inflammation in your blood vessels is also what leads to plaque build-up and heart disease. That same Duke study found that cognitive/behavioral stress reduction sessions (more commonly known as anger management) lowered the levels of both anger and anxiety in patients with chronic heart problems and led to improved physical health.

Well, I don’t think I’m an angry person, you might say.

But work stress functions in quite the same way, increasing the amount of cortisol coursing through your body. So, encourage your office to sponsor a stress management program and invite a certified biofeedback counselor to meet with employees.  With the help of a stress monitor, biofeedback counselors measure your response to stress and help you figure out how to alter and reduce its hazardous effects.

Both in and out of office situations, you can also use this technique, which my patients, friends, and family like to call “Dr. Todd’s Ten”.

Dr. Todd’s Ten

In a situation that makes you angry, count to ten, slowly and calmly.  Keep breathing deeply.  Then ask yourself this series of questions:

Step 1:  Will this matter ten years from now?

Step 2:  If I let this go, what is the worst that would happen?

Step 3: Did the person do this to me on purpose?

Then count to ten once more, and continue breathing.  Chances are, the intensity of your anger or stress passes, maybe even disappears completely.  

With all the things that we have on our plates these days, getting stressed and angry is easy and probably a frequent occurrence. But it doesn’t accomplish much besides making us less healthy.  The next time someone cuts in front of you in line or takes your parking spot, try my “Todd’s Ten” and see if you can stop yourself from blowing up.  If you aren’t able to do this, remember: seeking professional help for healthy ways to manage stress and anger is a wise decision.

Posted on October 1, 2015

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