We all know bullying is unhealthy for one’s emotional well-being, but a new study from Sweden shares its findings on how bullying from adolescence can affect one’s physical health into middle age.
Researchers have discovered that teenagers who are ostracized at school are more likely to be at risk of developing heart disease and diabetes when they enter middle age.
They are more likely to be obese, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as being at greater risk of developing diabetes by their early 40s.
Furthermore, the study found that girls were much more susceptible to the health risks associated with bullying.
In light of the new research, it’s evident that our emotional well-being is closely linked to our overall health – a mind-body connection. Why is there a correlation between bullying and physical health?
We know that bullying causes mental anguish, thus body’s stress response system – the release of cortisol, the “stress hormone” – kicks in to protect us from danger. The body does not distinguish between physical danger vs. emotional danger; it just knows that the person is in a state of anxiety.
When we consider the bullying dynamic – a repeated interpersonal dynamic characterized by intentional harm and a power difference – a victim’s stress response system is working in overdrive. Victims worry about how to get from class to class without getting shoved, taunted and humiliated. These young people develop in a constant state of stress and thus acclimating to a high stress livelihood. The body’s heightened stress response becomes the new normal.
In addition, we need to help our young people to develop healthier means to manage their feelings. If we don’t they are more likely to engage in behaviors that are unhealthy to manage – either bullying others, using food as a means to self-soothe, self-harming or isolating themselves. All of which can lead to the health concerns delineated in the study.
We live and develop in the context of relationships. It’s evident that we have to help our young people foster healthy relationships, not only for their mental health, but physical as well.