There’s a humorous scene in a popular, comedy film where boomer-aged Jack Nicholson’s character, Harry, is rushed into the emergency room clutching his chest thinking he’s having a heart attack. The young ER doctor asks him, “what were you doing before the pain started? ” to which he answers, “arguing with a woman”. The doctor rolls her eyes in understanding. She assures him that he’s just having a stressed-out panic attack but that stress can cause a heart attack. Incredulous, Harry retorts, “I could have a heart attack from arguing with a woman?” And the doctor answers, “Haven’t you heard, love hurts?”
At least that’s one side of the love-health connection coin. The other, happier, side is that love also heals and, as the old saying goes, ‘makes all things new again’. Since it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, I’d like to talk to you about how the relationships with the people you love – family, friends, relatives – can affect your health, positively or negatively. Here’s how to get the healing side of the love coin toss more often than the hurting side.
How The People You Love Affect Your Health
Sometimes patients come in with certain tell-tale symptoms that make me think they may have too much stress in their life. They can include anxiety, fatigue, sleeplessness, elevated blood pressure, indigestion, unusual weight gain/loss, irritability, excessive drinking, etc.
In addition to ruling out any underlying medical cause, I also ask my patients about their relationships with the people in their life. If you experience these symptoms, you might want to look at your relationships as the possible source. Here are some typical scenarios and possible solutions:
1. Toxic friends, family, co-workers: Do you tend to become agitated, jittery, spiked blood pressure, or feel exhausted after interacting with a demanding or critical spouse/significant other, child, co-worker? It’s time to have a heart-to-heart talk with this person/persons, air any real grievances or resentments they may have, then set some boundaries of what behavior you’re going to accept from them if the relationship is going to continue.
2. Peer Pressure: Do you feel stressed out, pressured to do what your friends are doing, even if it’s an unhealthy lifestyle? For example, feeling like you can’t say no to too much drinking, eating unhealthy foods, taking illicit substances, or getting involved in risky behavior? Many people don’t want to be seen as “different” and go along with unhealthy behaviors just to stay part of the group.
A recent study by doctors from Harvard Medical School and UC San Diego, showed that people whose close friends were obese were more likely to be obese, even if those friends lived thousands of miles away. Similarly, the successfulness of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous lies in replacing the old, toxic friendships with a new, healthier group structure. The real answer to you feeling better, less stressed, anxious, pressured, may be walking away from your old group and making new friends who are aligned with the healthy person you want to be.
3. Tireless Caretaker: Do you take care of everyone but yourself? If you’re Boomer-aged, you’re part of the “sandwich generation”. You not only have grown kids that you may still be supporting, but you may also have an aged parent, or disabled spouse, you’re taking care of. You may also have a full-time job you’re trying to hold down. In short, you’re burning the candle at all ends! This kind of non-stop stress can wreak serious havoc on your health. The answer is to delegate responsibilities to other people who can help you – especially those grown kids. There are many great healthcare agencies around that employ assistants to help with home care of the aged and disabled. You can’t do a good job of taking care of loved ones if you’re exhausted and sick yourself.
4. Social isolation. Lack of love/relationship, estrangement from family, friends for whatever reason, can be one of your biggest health detractors. Statistics show that married/otherwise coupled people (especially men), as well as people with good family relationships, live longer and are healthier, happier people.
If possible, work on improving, reconnecting the lost/impaired love connection with your estranged family, friends. There’s a saying about relationships that goes, “The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway”. Phone lines work both ways so don’t wait for it to ring. Pick it up yourself and try to re-open the lines of communication with lost friends, and family and see where it leads.
In summary, many research studies have shown that the amount and quality of your social/love relationships affect many aspects of your health. Good relationships help boost your immune system, offer resistance against disease, improve hormone function, fight inflammation, and keep you in a better mood that improves your mental health.
Toxic relationships – ones that are fraught with resentments, unresolved “damages”, can erode your health at the deepest, cellular level. They have just the opposite effect on your immune system and mental health. Does that mean that people in healthy relationships never argue or get mad at each other? No, it just means they know how to communicate better and resolve any issues before they become deep-seated, festering, perhaps deadly, wounds. Old Ben Franklin was not really known for wisdom in matters of the heart. Yet, he penned a great saying that makes a lot of sense: “If you would be loved, love and be loveable.”
This Valentine’s Day, show your love for your friends and family and try to reconnect with those you may have fallen out of synch with. A heart-shaped box of chocolates not only tastes good, but it can boost your love-health connection immensely. Just be sure to make it a small one with heart-health boosting dark, sugar-free chocolate!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
The Unhealthy Side of Relationships, http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201108/how-do-your-relationships-affect-your-health/the-unhealthy-side-relationships
Quotes on Love, http://www.inspirelove.net/quotes-on-love.html
photo credit: baptistdoctors.org