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How Our Thoughts and Emotions Can Physically Heal or Harm

There are many things we can do to improve our physical health. We can exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get adequate sleep – just to name a few.

However, an often overlooked aspect of optimal health is how our emotions and thought life plays in role in our physical health.

Think about a time when you were emotionally exhausted and distressed. How did you feel physically after all was said and done?

When we are emotionally exhausted, our body tends to respond concurrently. We may get headaches, feel sick to our stomach, or actually become physically ill.

The mind and body connection offers an important focus for what it means to be truly “healthy.” It’s difficult to feel good when we are physically ill, just as when we are emotionally distraught and overwhelmed by stress it takes a toll on our body.

The medical field is beginning to recognize that our perspectives, emotions, and mood have implications on our physical health. In John Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living he reviews studies that examine how our physical health is intimately connected with our patterns of thinking and the beliefs we hold.

Below are some ideas adapted from his book on how our emotions, thinking, and attitude impact health.

Are you resentful or do you accept and forgive?

When we have been wronged, mistreated, and dumped on, it can be difficult to have forgiveness. This applies to forgiving ourselves for mistakes we have made and forgiving others for the pain they caused us.

However, despite the seeming difficulty of experiencing forgiveness, it is a foundation for emotional and physical healing. Think of how holding on to resentment impacts your life. When we go through life full of bitterness and anger it can begin to take a toll on our relationships and our overall view of life. It is in our own best interest to seek forgiveness.


Researchers have found a psychological characteristic that protects some people from the harmful effects of stress. This characteristic is called hardiness and people who have this trait tend to be healthier than their counterparts experiencing the same level stress.

There are three traits that are related to psychological hardiness. These include: control, commitment, and challenge. Having a sense of control helps us to deal with challenges by feeling we can do something about our situation and make necessary changes. People high in commitment are more engaged in what they are doing and tend to give their best effort. Lastly, people high in challenge tend to view change as a natural part of life and so can view unexpected situations as less threatening. All three of these characteristics help us to cope when life gets rough.

Do have you a hostile personality?

Do you get easily agitated and upset and tend to not trust others? Expressing out emotions isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For the sake of our physical health, it is important to we don’t suppress our emotions and feelings, as this plays a role in hypertension and even cancer.

However, there are some caveats to the reactions we have. Having explosive outburst and a hostile disposition has been related to heart disease and other coronary problems. Simply put, a hostile outburst is hard on the heart.

Pessimism vs. optimism

Studies have shown a clear difference in the thinking patterns of those who are pessimistic and those who tend to be more optimistic. For instance, someone who is pessimistic will blame themselves for the cause of bad events, assume bad things will always happen, and assume the worst case scenario.

This type of thinking has been shown to impact both physical and psychological health. Pessimists show hormonal and immune system changes making them more susceptible to disease and illness, whereas optimistic thinking can actually be a buffer against illness. When we are experiencing problems in life our ability to bounce back from these emotionally and mentally is key.

All in all, thoughts that leave us feeling hopeless, cynical, and out of control have an impact on our health. Our emotions and thinking impact our behavior patterns as well. Think about your propensity to engage in risky and unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and drug use when you’re feeling content, compared to when you feel like you can’t handle life’s problems.

Finding ways to “let go” of bad events, turn problems into challenges, and having confidence in your ability to change and manage your life will go a long way in improving your mental as well as physical health.

Photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

How Our Thoughts and Emotions Can Physically Heal or Harm

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). How Our Thoughts and Emotions Can Physically Heal or Harm. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Jun 2011
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