What are toxic emotions? Take a second to think about a time when someone did something that wasn’t nice to you. Oh yeah, you remember that jerk! As you are experiencing this unpleasant memory, have you noticed that your heart is beating a little faster, and maybe your stomach is starting to turn? That my friend is a toxic emotion, and it is making your heart work harder and your tummy work on an ulcer! Now stop thinking about that jerk! I don’t want you to develop an ulcer or have a heart attack!
Toxic Emotions Can Develop Quickly and Harm Us For Years
It’s not so much the stressful circumstances that hurt us but our reaction to the circumstances. Often within as little as the first 60 seconds of our encountering a stressful event, our reaction to it will either determine whether we are going to handle it positively or negatively. Some “toxic emotions” can be just as harmful as a physical toxin. Here is a list of some the most common toxic emotions:
Bitterness, unforgiveness, resentment, retaliation, anger, hatred, guilt, shame, sorrow, regret, jealousy, helplessness, depression, apathy, loneliness, fear, rejection…
Isn’t that a nice list? I’m sure it could go on and on. These toxic emotions cause bad things to happen in your body. Stress can literally cause disease if left unchecked. In 1971, a scientist named J.W. Mason published a peer reviewed paper entitled, “A Re-evaluation of the Concept of “Non-specificity” in Stress Theory.” In it he explained how one kind of stress might cause a strong release of neurotransmitters called catecholamines (they control muscle tone, blood pressure, heart rate and sugar metabolism) but a weak release of adrenaline and cortisol (these cause the fight or flight response).
However, another stressor can produce just the opposite physiologic response. The paper went on to explain how different attitudes, thoughts, and emotions affect immune cells, thus affecting how our immune system works. What this means is that specific emotions can cause specific diseases.
Certain Toxic Emotions Are Linked to Specific Diseases
For example, in pre-menstrual syndrome and in some types of cancer, BITTERNESS is often present. Autoimmune disease and SELF-HATRED are often associated. When a person feels trapped or stuck unable to resolve a problem, that’s called “Stress of ENTRAPMENT,” which is the leading cause of cardiovascular, neurologic, digestive, and psychological problems. Feelings of HELPLESSNESS frequently are connected with cancer and slow wound healing. DEPRESSION is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, diabetes and developing a disability. ANXIETY, WORRY and FEAR are connected to different types of heart disease. ANGER, as you might guess, is frequently found with heart attacks and hardening of the arteries. (1)
There is even a personality type that has the greatest risk of developing cancer. This one really surprised me. Read the characteristics and see if you’re a little surprised as well. They call this “type C” personality (2). Type C personality looks like this:
• Denial and suppression of emotions (especially anger)
• Pathological niceness
• Avoidance of conflicts
• Exaggerated social desirability
• Harmonizing behavior
• High rationality
• Rigid control of emotional expression
As I researched this list I found myself humming the song from the movie “Frozen”…let it go, let it go…
Toxic Emotions Cause Adrenal Dysfunction
One of the biggest ways emotional stress makes you sick is by raising cortisol levels. Adrenal fatigue can make you FAT, TIRED, LIBIDO-LESS, CONSTIPATED AND SICK. If that wasn’t enough high cortisol output by dysfunctional adrenal glands can let inflammation get out of control. I’ve written about cortisol and the adrenal glands HERE.
Toxic Emotions Can Lead To Diabetes
If you take a quick look at the photo above you will see that the release of cortisol is a normal response of the adrenal gland to stress. When emotional stress causes the adrenal glands to release more cortisol, it blocks insulin creating a blood sugar problem. If this stressful condition continues for months or years the blood sugar spikes created by inability of insulin to get the sugar into the cell can result in diabetes. If a person has diabetes the negative effects of the increase in cortisol can make managing blood sugar very difficult.
Toxic Emotions Zap Our Immune System
It has been shown that people who don’t handle stress well are not only more likely to become ill due to a virus, but they will also be much more miserable when they are sick.(3) As a person is consumed by stressful emotions, their immune cells are not able to respond as they should to a virus, and once sick the person’s anti-inflammatory mechanisms fail, and the increased inflammation makes for worse achiness, headache, and runny nose and eyes.
Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Steven Locke interviewed a group of people about stressful events in their lives and also about their attitudes and emotions. After the interview Dr. Locke took blood samples and used them to measure their natural killer (NK) cell activity. Natural killer cells are our bodies’ “big guns” when it comes to fighting viruses and cancer cells. The interviewed people were divided into 4 groups based on their level of stress and their attitudes and emotions. Here are the results:
- High stress/Positive attitude & emotions NK cell activity 22.5
- Low stress/Positive attitude & emotions NK cell activity 15.1
- Low stress/Negative attitude & emotions NK cell activity 10.6
- High stress/Negative attitude & emotions NK cell activity 7.5
The higher the NK cell activity the better the immune system is working. As you can see in this study it’s not whether or not a person has stressful events in their lives, but how they handle the stress that makes all the difference.
It doesn’t take long for these toxic emotions to show up causing harm in the body. In as little as 6 minutes of a person being under stress, blood tests showed suppression of the immune system and that it could take as long as 21 hours for these negative effects to go away (Berk 2001).
Toxic Emotions Reak Havoc on the Gut
Multiple studies have shown that all kinds of stress can cause Leaky Gut Syndrome. Our thoughts and our gut are interconnected. For example, just thinking about eating dinner when you’re hungry will make your mouth salivate and your stomach secrete digestive juices. When we have toxic thoughts and emotions our gut reacts very badly. You know that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’re nervous or upset about something. Simply by letting a toxic emotion like anger or fear take over our thinking, we can literally give our stomach an ulcer, shut down the immune system in our gut and destroy the good microbes in our gut allowing harmful microbes to take over. (4)
Inversely, a sick gut can CAUSE anxiety, stress and depression. 90% of the serotonin is the body is made in the gut, and when the gut is sick the brain suffers, because the neurotransmitters it needs, like serotonin, are not present in sufficient amount for good brain function. When I see a patient who is suffering with depression, the first thing I want to test is the gut. Often fixing the gut is what is needed to fix the depression.
This can be a vicious cycle and it highlights just how important and connected our thought life and our gut health is.
Toxic Emotions Reak Havoc on Hormones
Toxic emotions were linked to increased miscarriages in a study published in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology. It was found that the effects of toxic emotions blocked the protective mechanisms (TGF-beta-2) and promoted an increased release of the natural inflammatory chemicals (TNF-alpha) that can cause miscarriage.
The increased cortisol caused by overactive adrenal glands in response to toxic emotions cause DHEA to be converted to estrogen in fat cells. What this means is that, especially in overweight women, estrogen-dominance can develop. Estrogen-dominance is associated with increased risk of breast and uterine cancer.
Reduced sperm formation in men, decrease in or cessation of milk production in nursing mothers, and irregular or absence of monthly cycles in women are all connected with the effects of toxic emotions.
Toxic Emotions Can Cause Memory Loss
Once again it turns out that elevated cortisol (if you haven’t yet read my article on Adrenal Glands please do it now) damages the nerves in the brain that help us remember things. The damage cortisol causes is no joke. Through its effects on the adrenal glands toxic emotions can cause learning disabilities and memory loss problems similar to what Alzheimer’s disease patients experience(5).
Detoxing From Those Toxic Emotions
Sometimes detoxing from toxic emotions can be as easy as a choice not to allow ourselves to start that “stinkin’ thinkin’ ” (I’ve been dying to write stinkin’ thinkin’!). I know that as I have worked on this article, my thinking has become more positive simply because I want to be healthy. However, sometimes getting detoxed from harmful emotions is complicated. If you’re suffering from toxic emotions and can’t get detoxed alone, reach out for help! Life is way too short to allow stinkin’ thinkin’ to make you sick.
A joyful heart is good medicine(6)! 33 cancer patients were divided into two groups. One group watched a funny video while the other watched a tourism video. Tests were performed pre and post videos. The group who enjoyed the comedy, besides reporting feeling less stressed after the film, had better immune function than the group who watched the tourism video (7).
Exercise is a huge tool to help with the harmful effects of toxic emotions. The exercise doesn’t have to be heroic in order to be a big help. Even just a 15 minute walk can make a big difference! I wrote all about the positive effects of exercise HERE. Need help trying to figure out what exercise is best for you? Click HERE.
A Real Personal Relationship with God
That’s right! I’m sorry if that offends you. I am writing this article because I care and want to help. I had to put this in my article because this is personally my biggest help when dealing with my own toxic emotions. There was one time especially in my life that I know, without God, I would have become a bitter, depressed, angry sick person. May I share that experience with you?
I can still remember the pain in my heart when my wife and I learned that our baby girl, due to be born in three weeks, had died. It’s times like this when a person finds out if their faith has been placed in something real. I was born and raised by parents who loved Jesus, and at a very young age I placed my life in His hands. As I grew up I never questioned my faith, but I was often in situations when I found that Jesus did exactly what He promised. Rather than destroying my faith in Jesus, the death of my daughter showed me the depth of God’s compassion and comfort. What I had learned in my Bible set me free from depression, despair and bitterness. Call me crazy, but I believe God can help you just like he helped me.
The Power of Jesus
Throughout my life I have been blessed to help other people learn about Jesus. When someone decides to turn from believing in themselves and doing what they believe to be right, to following Jesus by doing what he said and trusting Jesus for their whole life, I’ve seen the Kingdom of God come to life on earth. I’ve seen families that were filled with anger transformed by Jesus to families filled with love. There have been people who wanted to kill themselves transformed by Jesus into people who are filled with concern for others. I’ve seen people who only cared about getting rich for themselves changed by Jesus into people who find the greatest joy in loving others. While I love helping people get healthy in my practice, witnessing God heal people’s lives and fill them with joy and purpose is my greatest joy.
God continues be at work in my life. I am continually amazed at God’s love, faithfulness, wisdom, power and care for me.
If after reading this article you can recognize that toxic emotions are making you sick, DO SOMETHING about it and don’t stop until you fix it! One thing is certain, if you don’t do anything, nothing will change, and you will stay sick and miserable.
(1)Taylor SE, Lerner JS, Sage RM, Lehman BJ, Seeman TE. Early environmental emotions response to stress and health. J Pers, 2004 Dec; 72(6);1365-93
(1)Everson-Rose SA, Lewis TT. Psychosocial factors and cardiovascular disease. Annu Rey Public Health, 2005;26:469-500
(1)Sirois DC, Burg MM. Negative emotions and coronary heart disease. Behav Modif, 2003 Jan;27(1):83-102
(1)Kubzansky LD, Kawachi I. Going to the heart of the matter: do negative emotions cause coronary heart disease? J Psychosom Res. 2000 April-May;48(4-5):323-37
(2) Baltrusch HJ, Stangel W, Titze I. Stress, cancer and immunity. New developments and psychoneuroimmunolgic research. Acta Neurol (Napoli). 1991 Aug;139(4):315-27
(3) Sheldon Cohen, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, and Ronald B. Turner. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS, April 2, 2012 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1118355109
(5) Magarinos AM, Verdugo JM, McEwen BS. Chronic Stress alters synaptic terminal structure in hippocampus. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 1997 Dec 9;94(25):14002-8
(6) Proverbs 17:22
(7) Bennett MP, Zeller JM, Roseenberg L, McCann J. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45