5 Ways Negative Emotions Impact Your Health
When it comes to emotions, I’m a big advocate for feeling them fully and moving through them instead of avoiding them. I believe therapy is an invaluable tool for those struggling with mental illness as well as those who want extra support, expert guidance, or simply a safe space to express their emotions — both positive and negative!
Believe it or not, our ability to cope with our emotions plays a major role in not only our mental health, but also our physical health. That’s right, the mind-body connection is real, and negative emotions can influence your overall health in not-so-great ways.
So for anyone who needs a light push to start working through their negative emotions (like anger, jealousy, stress, sadness, hate, rage, etc.), here are five ways that your negative emotions could be influencing your health — and why it’s important to give your emotions the time, space, and attention they deserve.
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1. Negative emotions can raise your risk of heart disease.
Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, which means the more we can do to reduce our risk of developing it, the better. In addition to eating a healthy diet and maintaining a regular exercise routine, managing our emotions can help decrease our risk of coronary heart disease. A number of studies have shown that anger and hostility in particular are associated with higher risk of developing CHD. Researchers suggest using psychological management (like talk therapy and meditation) to both help prevent and treat coronary heart disease.
2. Negative emotions can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that stress wreaks havoc on the body in numerous ways. One of those ways is through the quickened development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Not only does stress inhibit the body’s natural healing processes, but it also feeds on itself. In the case of Alzheimer’s, studies have shown that stress can drive the progression of the disease and exacerbate symptoms—and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s impair one’s quality of life, which creates more stress. In other words, stress begets stress, begets stress, and so on. So if you aren’t currently prioritizing stress relief, I recommend finding a mindfulness exercise that you look forward to and can fit into your day.
3. Negative emotions can impact the efficacy of your medications, and your willingness to take them.
The World Health Organization points to medication nonadherence (not taking medication correctly or consistently) as a leading cause of preventable morbidity and mortality. And what can contribute to nonadherence? Negative emotions and lack of support. In short, you’re more likely to take your medication if you are effectively managing your emotions versus if you are experiencing chronic negative emotions with no treatment or support. The same goes for supplements, herbs, and other healing modalities like acupcunture or cupping! Also, it’s worth noting that your mood and disposition can influence the effects of any prescription medication you’re taking. If you’re in a heightened emotional state when you take a medication, the outcomes can vary and are sometimes unpredictable.
4. Chronic bouts of negative emotions can contribute to diabetes.
Anger, hostility, and aggressiveness have been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes. Studies have demonstrated that these emotions contribute to increased risk of diabetes in more ways than one. A 2010 study found that individuals who scored the highest in the study’s measurement of anger had a 34 percent increased risk of developing diabetes compared to those who scored the lowest. It also revealed that anger contributed to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, like smoking and high caloric intake, which ultimately led to obesity and eventually diabetes.
5. Negative emotions can result in inflammatory skin diseases.
It’s a well-known fact that chronic stress is linked to negative health outcomes in both the short-term and the long-term—but did you know that stress can affect your skin, too? Researchers have found that our skin has an immediate reaction to emotions and mental stress. (So yes, there’s a brain-skin connection too!) Stress affects our hormones, and our hormone levels can trigger inflammation and decreased blood flow to the skin. This inflammation can take the form of rosacea, acne, and even psoriasis. Without treatment or intervention, our emotions can land us in a vicious cycle with our skin—where your body is contributing to its inflammation, but also trying to fight the inflammation. Bottom line: Healing your emotions could help heal your skin.
Now, none of this is to say that you should suppress your emotions or be concerned if your emotional well-being feels like a mixed bag. The suppression of emotions is linked with unhealthy behaviors, like lack of physical activity and high consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine, while maintaining a balance of positive and negative emotions is associated with relatively good outcomes.
My advice? First, take inventory of how you’re feeling throughout the day. Write down your feelings as they happen in a diary or even a note in your phone. Having a record of your emotional state and variability can help you pinpoint what areas of your life cause you stress, anger, and sadness, and from there, you can devise a plan to cope.
You can cope in whatever way feels right for you, whether that’s speaking with a psychologist, therapist, or a licensed clinical social worker. Finally, I often tell my clients to carve out time for activities they enjoy, and use those as ways to cope when they’re feeling down. You would be surprised how much catching up with a friend, going for a walk, or dancing around to your favorite playlist can improve your mood and overall outlook on life. (Needless to say, I do all of these frequently!)
Whatever you decide to do, I hope after reading today you feel more empowered to take your mental and physical health into your own hands, and learn more about how you can improve both.
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- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Coronary heart disease. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coronary-heart-disease.
- Chida Y, Steptoe A. The association of anger and hostility with future coronary heart disease: a meta-analytic review of prospective evidence. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009 Mar 17;53(11):936-46. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2008.11.044. PMID: 19281923.
- Justice NJ. The relationship between stress and Alzheimer's disease. Neurobiol Stress. 2018;8:127-133. Published 2018 Apr 21. doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2018.04.002
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- Mento C, Rizzo A, Muscatello MRA, Zoccali RA, Bruno A. Negative Emotions in Skin Disorders: A Systematic Review. Int J Psychol Res (Medellin). 2020;13(1):71-86. doi:10.21500/20112084.4078
- Hershfield HE, Scheibe S, Sims TL, Carstensen LL. When Feeling Bad Can Be Good: Mixed Emotions Benefit Physical Health Across Adulthood. Soc Psychol Personal Sci. 2013;4(1):54-61. doi:10.1177/1948550612444616
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.