Want to know how to lower your blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, lower your heart rate, and reduce stress? Who doesn’t? Is it the latest diet? Yoga? Do you have to drink grapefruit juice all day? None of the above. The prescription for all the above benefits and more is forgiveness. Have you ever felt that circumstances at home or at work were “eating at you”, even physically? Emotions are as much a part of our physical well-being as nutrition and exercise. The renowned medical authority illuminates the health benefits of forgiveness.
We all have opportunities to forgive because everyone, without exception, has been hurt. Someone you care about talks about you behind your back. Someone you don’t care about criticizes you to your face. Or worse, your husband or partner cheats on you. Your family disapproves of your children’s behavior. The list of possible offensive or hurtful instances is endless.
How do you know if you need to forgive someone? The Mayo Clinic offers some insightful clues:
- Having angry outbursts at the smallest perceived slights
- Drinking excessively, smoking or using drugs to try to cope with your pain
- Being consumed by a desire for revenge or punishment
- Often feeling misunderstood
- Feeling at odds with your religious or spiritual beliefs
Forgiveness can seem esoteric. How do you actually forgive — and let go — emotionally? It’s important to note that forgiveness is not a feeling — it’s a decision. Forgiving means making a choice to let go of resentment and anger. Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota says this about forgiveness:
Forgiveness is the act of untying yourself from thoughts and feelings that bind you to the offense committed against you. This can reduce the power these feelings otherwise have over you, so that you can a live freer and happier life in the present.
Piderman goes on to say that forgiveness can lead to feelings of empathy and compassion toward the offender. I have to admit that this is all much easier said than done. But, when it is done, it’s worth it. I have experienced the freedom and the compassion that may not kick in overnight but which is real. Forgiveness is a powerful tool to allow us the liberty to simply be ourselves unbound.
Here are a few more advantages to forgiveness, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Lower blood pressure
- Stress reduction
- Less hostility
- Better anger management skills
- Lower heart rate
- Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse
- Fewer depression symptoms
- Fewer anxiety symptoms
- Reduction in chronic pain
- More friendships
- Healthier relationships
- Greater religious or spiritual well-being
- Improved psychological well-being
It’s amazing to see the effect of our emotions on our bodies. We have more power over our health than we may want to admit. Lewis Smedes once said that, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Smedes was no doctor, but he was right.