Erin Newman August 11, 2015
The more we learn about disease, the more we start to realize that there is no separation of body from mind. Treating just the symptoms of a disease does us no good if we are not also changing our mental outlook. For instance, depressed patients with any type of disease, recover more slowly and have worse health outcomes than optimistic patients.
Scientists have also now seen enough cases of “broken heart syndrome,” often brought on by the death of a spouse, that we now have a medical term for it: stress-induced cardiomyopathy. All of this should give us cause for hope, though. It means that we can take charge of our own health, and that we can learn ways to prevent disease in our lives.
It is our mental and physical health, and not our genes, that carries the most weight in determining our health outcomes. To quote Craig Venter, a pioneer in genomic research,
“Everybody talks about the genes that they received from their mother and father, for this trait or the other. But in reality, those genes have very little impact on life outcomes. Our biology is way too complicated for that and deals with hundreds of thousands of independent factors. Genes are absolutely not our fate. They can give us useful information about the increased risk of a disease, but in most cases they will not determine the actual cause of the disease, or the actual incidence of somebody getting it. Most biology will come from the complex interaction of all the proteins and cells working with environmental factors, not driven directly by the genetic code.”
And as one recent study affirms, 90 to 95 percent of cancer is preventable with lifestyle changes, and one of the largest (and as yet least understood) is our mental disposition.
Releasing Anger: The key to prevention?
One study of over 160 women with breast cancer found a significant association between health and the suppression of emotions, most commonly anger. Another study concluded that suppression of anger may have a direct impact on mortality, including deaths from cancer. And yet another study determined that “Emotion-focused coping strategies were significantly associated with survival.”
All of which just means that if we want to live long and healthy lives, we’ve got to learn to express our anger and other emotions.
Ways to tell that you may be suppressing anger or other emotions:
• People tell you that you are always smiling and happy.
• You often feel as if you can’t say no.
• You feel overwhelmed and tense.
• You no longer know what makes you happy, only what makes others happy.
• You worry often about the past or future
• Overeating, drinking, medicating, shopping, or other addictive behaviors
Women, especially, have been taught at an early age that it’s not okay to display anger. “Just who do you think you are, missy?” we might have heard, or later, we might have gotten the distinct message that we don’t want to be seen as a witch with a capital “B.” We may then mask this emotion with a happy face, or by eating, drinking, medications, or other ways to numb the emotion.
What’s behind the anger?
Often, we may not even know that we are angry about something. We might not hear the words that run through our minds about an incident or a person who’s angered us. And, while we may not want to admit it, or may not even recognize it on a conscious level, our anger is usually a mask for other, even less comfortable emotions. Sadness, shame, guilt or regret are often at the heart of our anger at another. These emotions may be even harder to recognize and discover, but when we get down to this level of emotions, then we can really clear them out and make way for love and joy.
Ways of handling anger:
Expressing or handling our anger doesn’t mean venting to others –either at the person that we are angry with or another. We must express the anger in a safe and loving way that allows us to acknowledge the anger and then work through it.
Journaling: Daily journaling is one of the most powerful ways to get in touch with your subconscious mind (which is where many of these suppressed thoughts and emotions may be lurking). This is not a “here’s what I did today” type of journal, but instead a “ this is what’s bothering me” type of journal. Clearly express everything on your mind, including just how you really and truly feel towards a person, whether that be your spouse, your child, a friend, or a parent. Many people worry that others might read their journal; if this is you, burn or shred the paper after writing. (Believe me, you won’t ever want to go back and read it!) I find (and many recommend) that journaling works best in the morning, when your mind hasn’t had time to fill itself up with thoughts of the day yet.
Loving our anger: Part of suppressing emotions is the idea that we should not be feeling a certain way at all, or that we would like for that feeling or thought to go away and leave us alone. If we can instead acknowledge that the feeling or thought is part of us, and allow it to be seen, then it will no longer have as much power to hurt us. Best yet, once we acknowledge the feeling or emotion, we can then direct love to that place in our bodies where we most feel the emotion. (This also seems to work best in the mornings, too, in a space that you can be quiet and still. But if that doesn’t work, then lunch breaks or evenings can be a good time, also.)
If these methods sound too tough or unrealistic, or just something that you can’t fit into your life, then it may help to speak to a professional who can help you to discover your inner emotions. We owe it to ourselves and to the people who love us to live the most emotionally rich and healthy lives as possible!