How Forgiveness Boosts Immunity and Reduces Stress

How Forgiveness Boosts Immunity and Reduces Stress

Are you harboring a grudge? Maybe against the neighbor who sideswiped your mailbox and never fixed it? Or that ex who stomped all over your heart? Or the boss who laid you off? Saying "I forgive you" and meaning it (even if you only say it to yourself) could have major payoffs for you, including a tougher immune system and a healthier heart.

Why? Holding onto bitterness and hostility is like living with chronic stress: It releases a brew of feel-bad chemicals into your body that increases heart rate, blood pressure, stomach acids, muscle tension, and inflammation-triggering compounds. None are good, but the inflammation is the worst. It encourages plaque buildup in your arteries, which causes heart attacks, impotence, wrinkles, and strokes. 

By contrast -- this is news, gang -- true forgiveness bolsters levels of T cells. They're your immune system’s crucial warrior brigade, battling viruses and other dangerous invaders. That’s not all. Letting go of big grievances can help fight depression and anxiety, ease the toll of stress, and relieve chronic pain.

So how do you get over a big hurt? It isn’t about pretending that you weren’t treated badly, and you don't have to become best buds with someone who did you wrong. Like we said, you don't even have to tell them you’re over it. Start by recognizing that holding a grudge hurts you, not them. Whenever you find yourself tensing up about it, take some deep, calming breaths, and move on. (Learn ways to give your morning mood a boost.) If it takes a while, fine. The person you're letting off the hook is you.

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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