The health benefits of negating “negative mental states”

This piece was published as Can Bitterness Undermine Health? by my Massachusetts colleague Ken Girard.

There’s no doubt, that when we’ve felt bitter—and we probably all have at one time or another—we’ve felt miserable, or vengeful, or just plain unhappy.  But can bitterness actually make us sick?

According to an August 18, 2011 article on CNNHealth (“Blaming others can ruin your health”) by senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, new research is finding that holding on to such negative emotions and thoughts can indeed have seriously adverse health consequences.

Dr. Charles Raison, clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at Emory University School of Medicine and CNNHealth’s mental health expert is quoted by Ms. Cohen:

The data that negative mental states cause heart problems is just stupendous… The data is just as established as smoking, and the size of the effect is the same.

That’s right.  A negative state of thought causing heart problems—on the same order as smoking.

Here is one more instance of a trend that I’ve been seeing in medical research—a trend that is a beginning recognition that our thought does indeed affect our health.  And of greater import, that spiritual thought can have a beneficial effect on our health outcomes.

Ms. Cohen begins her article with a prime example of this specific phenomenon.

Kevin Benton, an African-American, had been racially bullied by fellow students while in college.  He became bitter towards them—a not uncommon reaction—which led to his ending up in a hospital with a severe and potentially fatal heart condition.


As he lay in his bed, unable to walk, immersed in resentment and bitterness, something remarkable happened.  Ms. Cohen writes:

Just then, a janitor walked by and grabbed Benton’s hand, and prayed aloud to God to heal him. “As soon as she said, ‘Amen,’ I felt like someone had poured cold water on my head and made my heart shrink,” he says.

Benton got the message and forgave those bullies.  Three days later he walked out of the hospital well.

Prayer, forgiveness, love—spiritual thought—a potent combination.  A combination, as Kevin Benton saw, that may indeed present new vistas for how we maintain health and well-being.

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