Forgiveness is good for your health | SierraSun.com

Forgiveness is good for your health

Lisa Stekert
Special to the Sun

Forgiveness is consciously deciding to let go of feelings of resentment or anger toward another person who has harmed you in some way.

Letting go of those feeling does not mean having to forget or condone the wrongdoing committed against you. It simply means making a conscious decision to let go of the pain the situation has caused. Forgiveness is not just a formality, but also a state of mind that can lift many burdens mentally and physically. To forgive, you must let go of the anger and negative thoughts, and forgive the person outwardly as well as deep within yourself.

Unresolved conflict affects your health more than you may realize, and research supports that practicing forgiveness provides huge benefits to your health. According to a study published by the Journal of Health Psychology, the more forgiving people are, the fewer symptoms of mental disorders they experience. This research suggests that practicing forgiveness is a valuable mental health early intervention strategy. Individuals who develop their ability to forgive may have a more adaptive or extensive repertoire of coping strategies.

True forgiveness is a choice and easier said than done. It is an active process in releasing resentment and hurt, while feeling compassion and empathy for the person who wronged you.

Health benefits of forgiveness

Harboring hurt and disappointment carries an enormous physical burden. Chronic anger puts you into fight-or-flight mode, which affects blood pressure, heart rate, and immune response. This response may increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes among other health conditions.

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The health benefits of forgiveness include reducing stress levels, which results in lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol is associated with increased blood sugar levels. Practicing forgiveness can lower your heart rate and the risk of heart attack, improve cholesterol and sleep, lower blood pressure, and reduce levels of anxiety, depression and stress.

According to a study done by Duke University Medical Center, having a forgiving heart may lower both emotional and physical pain. In this study of participants who suffered from chronic back pain, those who were more likely to forgive reported lower levels of pain. Other benefits of forgiveness are greater self-esteem and overall happiness.

Forgiving yourself

There may be times throughout your life when it may become necessary to forgive yourself for an act or wrongdoing, either real or perceived. Some people have made choices in their life they later regret, and may have a difficult time forgiving themselves for making those choices. People often hold themselves to higher level of accountability than they do others, and as a result, they often have a more difficult time forgiving themselves than they would forgiving another person, who committed a similar offense against them.

Self-forgiveness is most effective when it includes careful reflection on a mistake, admission of the mistake, empathy for the other, and some kind of reparation for the offense. When a person has challenges with self-forgiveness, issues such as anxiety, depression and stress may manifest into physical symptoms. Individuals who are unable to forgive themselves are more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as substance and alcohol abuse.

Practice forgiveness

Those who forgive tend to have more satisfaction with their lives. The personal benefits of forgiveness include increased happiness, better health and stronger relationships. People who practice forgiveness often experience more positive feelings toward people, higher levels of empathy, and the ability to resolve conflict more easily and repair damaged relationships with family or friends.

Lisa Stekert is the coordinator for the Tahoe Truckee Suicide Prevention Coalition and Outreach Coordinator for the Tahoe Truckee Prevention Task Force. Contact her at lstekert@tfhd.com or by calling 530.550.6733.