Emotions are an important part of what it means to be alive because, together with thinking and sensing, emotions tend to shape our perception of reality. But what exactly are emotions? According to Robert C. Solomon, emotion is a complex experience of consciousness, sensation, and behavior that shapes our experience and perception of a thing, event, or situation. Although it may be hard to grasp the complex nature of emotion, what we do know for sure is that emotions have a strong impact on our health and well-being. The study of this impact of emotional states on our health has shown that emotions can be either beneficial or detrimental to our health in more ways than we can count. In this article, we explain the many ways certain emotional states can be harmful to our health.
Good Vs. Bad Emotions
In our dualistic world, we tend to divide things as either good or bad and the same goes true for emotions. Emotions such as happiness and joy are often considered to be good and healthy while anger and sadness are more often than not labeled as bad or unhealthy. This labeling of emotions is mostly a result of the impact these emotions have on our well-being and health. So-called negative emotions are unpleasant and when lasting for too long can lead to poor health and functioning while positive emotional states evoke a general sense of well-being and pleasure and generally are good for overall health. Both psychologists and physicians have emphasized the importance of promoting positive emotions for the sake of overall health and reducing* negative emotions. And although there is some truth to this on a more superficial level, things are not so simple with emotions as evident by the growing epidemic of psychosomatic illnesses and psychiatric disorders.
Emotional Complexity and Stress
Emotions in themselves are not intrinsically bad or good, it is the way we handle these emotions that will determine their impact on our health. According to a study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science, experiences of mixed emotions or co-occurrence of positive and negative emotions was strongly associated with good physical health and that it attenuated age-related physical decline. A possible explanation for this was previously provided by the dynamic model of affect (DMA) that proposes that experiencing different emotions helps people get a better grasp of a given situation. The more people are able to understand about their situation objectively, the better will they be able to adapt to challenging stations and learn from their experience which leads us to the stress response.
Emotions and Stress
When our emotional reactions lead to chronic and debilitating stress, we can say that our emotional responses are unhealthy. Chronic stress is a well-known risk factor for things like coronary heart disease (CHD), poor immune system functioning, psychological disorders, and even cancer. Stress management is now a priority in the medical setting, and one way stress can be managed is by learning how to take control of your emotions. According to an article published in Annual Reviews, chronic stress leads to a wide array of maladaptive physical responses that can manifest as chronic illness in the long run. Stress management involves talk-therapy and social support. Unfortunately, our emotional response to perceived or real stress is often rooted in our upbringing which was further confirmed by animal model studies. It may be hard for most people to learn better coping strategies when dealing with stressful emotions.
Studies on Different Emotions
The beneficial effects of certain emotions compared to others have been extensively studied. For instance, a study published in Psychology Science found that harboring feelings of forgiveness towards offenders rather than bearing grudges resulted in a lower psychological stress response as measured by heart rate and blood pressure. Furthermore, a meta-analysis on the effects anger has on a person’s health found that expressed or suppressed feelings of anger and hostility were associated with an increased incidence of heart disease, diabetes, bulimia nervosa, and car accidents. On the other hand, positive emotions were found to help a person build more resilience against stress and thus had a positive impact on overall health and levels of well-being.
Emotions could be said to be neither good nor bad. Rather, it is the way we handle our own emotions that determine their impact on our psychological and physical health. Negative emotions are associated with an increased predisposition to chronic stress while positive emotions build resilience against stress. On the other hand, some studies found that the balance of both positive and negative emotions had the most favorable outcomes in terms of resilience building. Whatever the case may be, it is important to remember that our emotions are part of what makes us human and learning how to govern your emotions be they positive or negative should be your priority.