The Medical Benefits of Caring for Your Emotions

Many people develop Type II Diabetes when they enter the second half of life. My mother was unfortunately one of those who was diagnosed with this disease when she was in her 58th year. She battled this illness for many years. One thing I noticed, however, was that whenever she was under some form of emotional stress or experiencing excessive worry, her blood sugars rose and her physical health diminished. She later developed heart disease, which eventually took her life, not an uncommon outcome for people who suffer from diabetes.

I have since learned that my mother could have been greatly helped if, in addition to the medical care she received, she had also been given counselling to help her cope with the anxiety and fear she was facing. In research that has emerged from a study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine with more than a thousand men and women who had suffered a first heart attack, those women who went on to suffer a second heart attack were marked by high levels of fearfulness and anxiety. Subsequent studies have shown that women (and men too) who were offered personal counselling or taught relaxation techniques were not only able to handle their turbulent feelings better, but they also experienced some reprieve from their illness, in many cases lengthening their life and enhancing the quality of their life.

Daniel Goleman, whose work on Emotional Intelligence is well known, suggests that a good preventive strategy in dealing with the physical challenges that people face in the second half of life would be to teach them emotion management. He says that, since emotional well-being is one factor that determines whether an older person declines rapidly or thrives,  those entering into retirement, or already in retirement, could benefit greatly from regular sessions with a personal counsellor or therapist. Certainly, the scientific evidence shows that, just as we need to care for our physical health, so also we need to care for our mental and emotional health, and that both physical and emotional health go hand in hand. Our emotions can and do affect our ability to recover from surgery or cope with chronic illness.

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