Health Tip for this week is about something more personal. Studies from Journal of Health Psychology have shown that forgiving yourself and others can help avoid stress and helps you get healthier mentally.
Researchers examined the effects of longterm stress on an individual’s mental health, and how more forgiving people did in comparison to people who weren’t so forgiving. For the test, they invited 148 young adults to fill out questionnaires that looked at their levels of lifetime stress, their inclination to forgive and their mental and physical health.
Of course, people with higher exposure to stress during their lifetimes had worse mental and physical health. But the researchers also found out that if people were extremely forgiving of everyone including themselves, that trait literally eliminated the link between stress and mental illness.
According to study author, Loren Toussaint, an associate professor of psychology at Luther College in Iowa, “It’s almost entirely erased—it’s statistically zero. If you don’t have forgiving tendencies, you feel the raw effects of stress in an unmitigated way. You don’t have a buffer against that stress.”
How being forgiving helps people avoid severe stress is hard to figure out. The researchers suspect that people who are more forgiving may have better coping skills to handle stress, or their reaction to major stress triggers may be subdued.
The number of participants in the study is small, and more research is needed to comprehend the benefits of being more forgiving. However, Toussaint says he believes “100%” that forgiveness can be taught.
Many therapists plan how to inculcate forgiveness during sessions, he says, and his own earlier research has revealed that a short prayer or a brief meditation on forgiveness can help people be at ease.
He said, “forgiveness takes that bad connection between stress and mental illness and makes it zero. I think most people want to feel good and it offers you the opportunity to do that.”