Have you gone through a detox lately? Maybe a special diet, juice cleanse, or all-out fast?
We’ve learned that potentially harmful chemicals like formaldehyde, BPA, phthalates, and more found in our foods and environment have been linked to health problems like asthma, diabetes, neurological problems, hormone disruption, and even cancer.
A healthy physical detox may help flush some those dangerous chemicals out of your system, and jumpstart your journey to a cleaner diet and lifestyle.
But there’s one other group of toxins you may not have thought about.
They’ve been linked to heart disease, the number one killer in our country today.
They’ve also been found to depress the immune system, slow healing, and increase pain sensations.
The thing about these toxins is that with the right steps, you can totally flush them away where they become powerless to damage you anymore.
What are they?
Negative Emotions Can Increase Risk of Disease
It’s true. Here’s just a glimpse at the way negative emotions can tear us down:
- Heart disease: A 2004 study found that stress and depression were just as damaging to the heart as hypertension and abdominal obesity. A 2012 study also found that depression increased inflammation and risk of blood clots. On the other hand, a 2010 study found that people who were generally positive were 22 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who were generally unhappy.
- Cancer: A 2010 study also noted that research results to date have found that stress, depression, and social isolation can impact pathways implicated in cancer, and may influence disease progression. According to the National Cancer Institute, research has shown that people who experience chronic stress can have digestive problems, fertility problems, and a weakened immune system, and on top of that, can encourage a tumor’s ability to grow and spread.
- Immune System: Negative emotions release hormones into the body that can affect the immune system. A recent study found that social isolation, or loneliness, affected those genes that direct immune activation, to the point that it lowered overall immunity. In a 2003 study, researchers found that negative emotions lowered immune response against disease. On the other hand, those expressing happy emotions developed increased immune response.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but we can see that whenever we experience chronic stress, depression, isolation, and other negative emotions-particularly if we experience them for an extended amount of time-we can definitely harm our health.
7 Steps to Your Best Emotional Detox
That’s all well and good, you may say, but we can’t live in this world without experiencing negative emotions. Are we supposed to pretend they don’t exist?
Definitely not! Repressing negative emotions is one of the most dangerous things we can do, and has been linked with cancer and other diseases. In fact, a 2005 study found that cancer patients who suppressed negative emotions (rather than expressing it in a healthy way) reported more anxiety, depression, and anger.
The key is to detox or process your emotions on a regular basis. Clean them out of your system and allow your positive emotions to arise. How do you do that? Try the following 7 steps.
- Know what you feel: This may seem silly, but you’d be surprised how many of us aren’t even aware of what we’re feeling. We can get so used to repressing or stuffing our emotions that pretty soon we start having trouble accessing them. We pretend everything is fine. We turn to distractions like television and alcohol. Get to know yourself by tuning into your emotions and start to identify exactly what you’re feeling.
- Don’t judge: We all do this. “I shouldn’t be angry at this. I shouldn’t be stressed out.” But you know that doesn’t help. You feel what you feel. Don’t judge it. Accepting your emotions as they are is the first step toward detoxing them.
- Find out why: The next step is to discover what’s causing your emotion. Don’t accept the first answer. A coworker said something that made you mad. Go deeper. Why did you react that way? What about the statement really bothered you? Why? Try journaling, praying, talking to a trusted friend, going to a counselor, or spending some time on a retreat that focuses on getting in touch with your feelings.
- Address your why: This may be a small or very large step. If you discover that you reacted angrily because you’re tired and overworked, the solution may be very simple-cut back on your activities so you can get some rest. If you discover your coworker’s comments brought up repressed hurt from your childhood, however-perhaps it reminded you of comments your parents used to make-you are likely to have more work in front of you. Try creating an action plan for addressing the issue. It may involve daily journaling about these feelings, appointments with a psychiatrist, positive affirmations, and more.
- Forgive yourself and others: We don’t often realize it, but it’s common to blame ourselves for any negative emotions we feel. They aren’t pleasant to experience, and we know that they aren’t pleasant for those around us. If we express then in unhealthy ways that are hurtful, the self-blame can get worse. Meanwhile, we may blame others as well, if we feel they are responsible for the negative ways we react. It’s important to release blame all the way around-forgive yourself and those who were involved in creating your negative emotions. Realize it’s not about forgetting what happened, but getting yourself into a place where you can forgive and let go.
- Let go and regain your power: It’s only when we fully process, understand, and let go of our negative emotions that we can regain our personal power and step into the light again. Pretending, repressing, and stuffing won’t work. If you follow the other five steps in this emotional detox, you’ll come to a place where you will feel that you are ready to let go. Try attaching an action to that feeling. Write down the emotion and set fire to the paper. Bring something new into your space to signify the change. Express your emotions in music or art. Find a way to release.
- Plan for regular self-care in the future: Once you’ve gone through an emotional detox, you’re not done. Life challenges us every day, and there will be more negative emotions coming your way in the future. Set up a protection plan. Make room in your schedule for activities that help you process and release emotions. These may include regular exercise, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, journaling, getting involved in hobbies you enjoy, getting regular massages, or spend time with those you love. Remind yourself to love and be kind to yourself. This isn’t self-indulgent-it’s critical to your long-term health and well being. What can you do before the day is over that makes you truly happy? Give yourself permission to do it!
How do you deal with your emotions? Have you worked on an emotional detox? Please share your tips.
Linda Brookes, “INTERHEART: A Global Case-Control Study of Risk Factors for Acute Myocarial Infarction,” Medscape, September 24, 2004, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/489738.
Karina W. Davidson, et al., “Don’t worry, be happy: positive affect and reduced 10-year incident coronary heart disease: The Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey,” European Heart Journal, February 18, 2010; 1065-1070, http://eurheartj.oxfordjournals.org/content/31/9/1065.
Karina W. Davidson, “Depression and Coronary Heart Disease,” ISRN Cardiol., November 22, 2012; 2012:743813, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3514821/.
Iwamitsu Y, et al., “The relation between negative emotional suppression and emotional distress in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Health Commun., 2005; 18(3):201-15, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16187928.
Lutgendorf SK, et al., “Host factors and cancer progression: biobehavioral signaling pathways and interventions,” J Clin Oncol., September 10, 2010; 28(26):4094-9, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20644093.
Jane Collingwood, “Study Probes How Emotions Affect Immune System,” Psych Central, May 22, 2014, http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/05/22/study-probes-how-emotions-affect-immune-system/70192.html.
Shaoni Bhattachasrya, “Brain study links negative emotions and lowered immunity,” NewScientist, September 2, 2003, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn4116-brain-study-links-negative-emotions-and-lowered-immunity.html#.VP-mv2TBzRY.
Photo courtesy David Castillo Dominici. via freedigitalphotos.net.