How Your Negative Emotions Can Literally Make You Sick

The opposite is true, too: Positive feelings promote physical wellness

Marc Brackett, Ph.D.
Elemental
Published in
5 min readNov 26, 2019

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Credit: tadamichi/Getty Images

YYou lie awake at three a.m., staring at the ceiling, anxious about some serious problem. Impossible to sleep. We’ve all been there. You’re too pressured and distracted to even think about working out, and besides, you have too much else on your plate, so you skip the gym, even though you know going to the gym makes you feel good. Can’t be helped. Meals are erratic. Instead of thinking about dinner and planning to shop and cook, you grab a pizza on the way home from work. It’s been happening a lot lately. And after that’s done, you need to decompress, so it’s a pint of ice cream in front of the TV for an hour. Until it’s finally time for bed and another three a.m. staring at the ceiling. . . .

For a moment, forget about your emotional health—imagine what you’re doing to your physical health.

When considering the influence of emotion on our well-being, we must first remember that our brains — where most of our feelings originate — are as much a part of our bodies as any other organ, fed by the same flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients. Our emotions are linked to physiological reactions in our brains, releasing hormones and other powerful chemicals that, in turn, affect our physical health, which has an impact on our emotional state. It’s all connected.

That’s why physical sickness can be caused by a mind under emotional stress. But there’s also the opposite phenomenon: physical wellness that’s fostered by positive feelings. Both kinds underscore the importance of managing our emotional lives.

Even our mindset about stress can influence health outcomes, from weight loss to insomnia. In one study, Alia Crum, an assistant professor at Stanford University, randomly assigned 300 employees at a finance company to watch two different three-minute videos about stress. Half of the participants watched a video that reinforced the negative aspects of stress; the others watched a similar video, but the messaging reinforced the positive side. After four weeks, the employees were surveyed. The “stress is bad” group experienced more negative health symptoms than those in the “stress is good” group.

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Marc Brackett, Ph.D.
Elemental

Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence; Professor, Yale Child Study Center; Author of: Permission To Feel; www.marcbrackett.com