How Emotions Affect Our Health
Millions of people simply don’t take good care of themselves. They invest in
everything imaginable except themselves. I believe God gives us an allotted amount of energy for our lives, and if we use it all up in the first forty years, we will probably experience lots of health issues later in life. In Look Great, Feel Great, I share my own journey of doing it all wrong in the hope that I can help others avoid the mistakes I made.
Excessive stress over a long period of time negatively affects our health and
emotions. We have heard endless times how we need to eliminate unnecessary
stress from our lives, yet most people never do it until they have a health crisis.
When I don’t feel well, I find that it’s much more difficult to be stable
emotionally. I recently returned from a conference that was the culmination of
three weeks of travel and hard work. I was very tired but wanted to see all my
children, so we invited them and their families to meet us for lunch as soon as
we got back home. Twelve of them were able to come, and although getting
together with them sounded like a great idea at the time, it turned out to be the
straw that broke the camel’s back. The restaurant was very noisy, so we had to
talk loud in order to be heard—hardly relaxing. Then someone brought up a
situation that had caused a lot of trouble in our lives. You probably know what I
mean when I say, I just didn’t want to hear anything else about it, and especially not when I was tired. The more they discussed it back and forth, the more emotional I felt. I thought, If they don’t shut up, I am going to scream!
Ordinarily, none of this would have bothered me, but because I was so tired,
anything that even sounded remotely negative or sad was almost more than I
could handle. I wanted to hear happy things!
My two sons were teasing me, as they often do, and usually we have a lot of
fun with it. But because I was tired, most of what they said came across as insulting. I took offense, even though they weren’t trying to offend me, simply because I was exhausted. On that particular day I felt like I wanted everyone in my family to give me compliments, tell me how they appreciated all my hard work, tell me how much they loved me, and perhaps even pay for my dinner. But none of that happened, and by the time I left, I was a borderline basket case. My thoughts were in the sewer, and my emotions were paying a visit to the pity-parlor where I once lived. It was clearly one of those situations where my own
expectations had caused the problem. I had an expectation that my family did not
even know I had, and when they failed to meet it, I became emotional.
Thankfully, I was able to get out of the restaurant before my children realized I
was deteriorating rapidly.
I could have avoided the whole scene by simply having a quick and quiet
dinner with Dave. But I let the enemy in through a lack of wisdom, and the
entire rest of the evening and even most of the next day was a game of me trying
to keep my emotions under control, and I have to say that I was not totally
successful. I am certainly glad that the Bible says we have a High Priest (Jesus)
who understands us because He was tempted in all respects just like us, yet He
never sinned. He was in total control of His emotions, but He still understands
us; therefore, we can boldly approach His throne of grace and receive the help
we need even though we behave less than perfectly (see Heb. 4:15–16).
We got home after the dinner fiasco, and within thirty minutes our electricity
went out due to a storm. For the rest of the evening, we were in the dark except
for candles. My plan for rest, relaxation, and a good movie was failing in front of
my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it. I ended up going to bed at
6:00 p.m., which was not very exciting after having worked all weekend.
I woke up the next morning in a sad, weepy, self-pitying mood and spent my
time with God crying and moaning about my woes. I did stop at regular intervals
to tell God that I knew how very blessed I was, and I knew I was acting
ridiculous, but I was so tired that I didn’t even have the energy to resist. I
suggest that you stop for a moment and think about how you feel, think, talk, and
behave when you are extremely tired or sick. If we don’t face the truth about
where we are in our behavior and spiritual maturity, we can never get to where
we need to be!
I knew that I needed quiet, rest, and a good, hot meal. I also needed a cookie
and a new pair of shoes! (If you have no idea why I made that statement, then
you need to read my book Eat the Cookie… Buy the Shoes, which talks about
how we need to make an investment in ourselves and reward ourselves for our
successes in life.)
I had just successfully completed three weeks of hard work, and I needed to
celebrate. We all want to be rewarded for our hard work, and it is very wise to
do something for yourself that you enjoy as part of your restoration program.
When Dave is tired, he likes to play golf or watch a baseball game, and doing so
actually energizes him. I need rest, a good meal, a dessert, and a good movie.
One of the most important things I need after a hectic schedule with tons of
people around all the time is to simply be quiet. I did not need to plan another
party in a noisy restaurant with lots of people the moment I returned home. It
was my fault and no one else’s. I have enough knowledge and experience to
know better, but knowing what we should do is one thing and applying what we
know is quite another.
Are You Ignoring Warnings?
I believe God has designed our bodies in such a way that they often warn us
when something is going wrong before it gets really bad. This warning is our
opportunity to take some positive action and prevent a major crisis. If you have
children, you’ve probably said thousands of times, “I’m warning you, if you
keep doing that, you’re going to be in big trouble.” We are giving them an
opportunity to make a change before they have to suffer. I believe our bodies are
built in such a marvelous way that they give us the same opportunity. Have you
ever had pain in an area like your neck, back, or shoulder and let it go until
suddenly you had a major problem? I know I have, and I have done just that (let
it go) more than once. I have also watched other people do it time and again. If
you hear yourself or someone you love talking regularly about an area of her
body that hurts, then that is a warning sign that something needs to be checked.
For years my feet hurt after my conferences. Sometimes they hurt so badly I
could have cried. I rubbed them, soaked them, and used a variety of cooling foot
rubs on them. Then I got up the next morning, put on high-heeled shoes, and
persecuted my feet again all day. I had worn high heels for many years. I love
pretty shoes, so I opted for cute instead of comfort. It was unwise, and I
eventually paid the price for it. I define wisdom as “doing now what you will be
satisfied with later on.” I did what I liked at the moment and suffered for it later
on. Furthermore, I did it for years and eventually developed bunions and corns
that required surgery.
My feet got better, and I did start wearing shoes with lower heels, but only a
little lower. It helped, but my back started giving me trouble. So I ignored that—
until I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk without assistance. That day I
began going to the chiropractor and have visited him regularly ever since. I
finally started a workout and exercise program with a trainer so I wouldn’t hurt
myself even more, and that has helped a lot. But over the years that I ignored the
pain in my back, I was systematically damaging it. My body was warning me to
do something now, but I put it off.
By now you may be thinking, Joyce, you are not very smart. Before you
judge me, let me ask you what you’re ignoring. Are you tired all the time? Do
you have pain in your head, neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, or feet and the
only action you take is to complain? Is your blood pressure high, but you do
nothing to lower your stress? Is your blood sugar high, but you keep eating lots
When the gas gauge says your automobile is low on fuel, you don’t ignore it.
And if you do, you end up on the side of the road with no gas and no
transportation. If your oil gauge says your car is low on oil, then you add oil. My
car has a “brain.” It is some kind of fancy computer that does lots of things I
really couldn’t care less about. Two weeks ago it went crazy and believe me, I
paid attention to it quick. I got all kinds of messages on the dashboard gadgets
that sounded really scary. In fact, I refused to drive it another mile until it was
fixed because I was not going to take a chance of being out somewhere and
having it break down. If we respected the warnings we get from our bodies the
way we do the ones from our cars, we would be a lot healthier.
If you don’t feel well, there is a possibility that you are grouchy, easily
offended, and excusing all your bad behavior by saying, “I don’t feel well.” Ask
yourself, Are there some things I can do that could change this situation or at
least help it? I believe if we do what we can do, then God will do what we
cannot do. When we are sick, we pray and ask for help and healing from God,
but are we doing what we can do to keep ourselves healthy? Sometimes when
we ask God for help, He tries to show us something we are doing that is causing
our problems, but we don’t want to change anything—we just want the pain or
exhaustion to go away. Wisdom knows that if we need a change, we will not get
it by continuing to do the same things we have always done.
It is amazing how much better you might feel if you do some simple things
like eat healthier, drink plenty of water, get adequate rest, balance out your work
with rest, and laugh, laugh, laugh.
The Mirth Diet
It is scientifically proven that laughter improves our health, and if it improves
our health, our moods will be better.
A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a
broken spirit dries up the bones.
Did you know that it takes a lot more muscles to frown than it does to smile?
One website said it takes four muscles to smile and sixty-four to frown. I think I
will save muscle energy and start smiling more! When we laugh it stimulates the
parts of our brain that use the “feel good” chemical, dopamine. The immune
system is triggered, and laughter even seems to help diabetics keep their glucose
levels in check.
Researchers at the University of Maryland learned that when we laugh, the
inner lining of our blood vessels expands, and “good” chemicals are produced
that reduce clotting and inflammation. When the blood vessel linings contract,
stress hormones (cortisol) are released. A hearty laugh tenses all your muscles
for seconds or minutes at a time, and your heart rate and blood pressure go up
while you laugh and fall below your baseline afterward, just like exercising. I
have heard that laughter is equivalent to internal jogging.
People who are happier in their daily lives have healthier levels of key
chemicals than those who are unhappy. A study in England showed that the
happier people are, the lower their levels of cortisol are, which is linked to
diabetes and heart disease. A Carnegie Mellon University study confirmed that
people who are happy, lively, calm, or exhibit other positive emotions are less
likely to become ill when they are exposed to a cold virus than those who report
few of these emotions.
This research states that laughter increases good health, and I believe that
both of those things help us be more stable emotionally. So why not laugh,
laugh, and laugh some more?!
Dave has enjoyed extremely good health in his seventy years of life, and he
has exercised for fifty years and has a knack for enjoying everything. I noticed
just this morning that within the first hour we were up, he found humor in at
least ten things. They were simple things that a more intense person would not
have found funny at all, but Dave did. His silliness made me laugh, and that is
good for me because I am a more serious-minded individual—especially when I
have work to do.
Try it! You can even make it a game to see how often you can laugh in one
day, and I believe it will help relieve tension that in turn will help your overall
health and emotions. Are you an intense person who stresses over things that
wouldn’t make any difference at all to you if you knew this was your last day on
earth? If I had one day left, I would certainly want to enjoy it, wouldn’t you?
More than likely some of my readers are thinking, Joyce, I just don’t have
anything to laugh about. My life is a mess and I have problems everywhere I
look. That may be true, but I believe we can find some humor in almost
everything if we are determined to do so. I realize there are tragic things that
happen, like terminal disease or the death of a loved one, and I am not
suggesting there is anything humorous about those things. The Bible says that
there’s a time to laugh and a time to weep and mourn (see Eccl. 3:4). Trying to
be funny at the wrong time can be hurtful to people who are already hurting.
However, I strongly suggest that we all find as much humor as we can in
everything we can, as often as we can. If we do, then even the more difficult and
tragic times in life will be easier to handle. We don’t laugh at our problems, but
in spite of them. The Bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength (see Neh.
8:10), and we would do well to remember that.
Joy, temperance and repose slam the door on
the doctor’s nose.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Controlling Emotions When You’re Sick
It is definitely more difficult to manage your emotions when you are sick or
exhausted, but it is not impossible. When feeling bad is a once-a-month event, I
tell women to get extra rest, avoid making big decisions, and say as little as
possible. But what if a serious illness is involved? Diet changes, exercise,
laughing, and some of the other things I have suggested won’t change a thing for
people who are very sick and need healing. During the waiting time, whether
you’re waiting for the doctor, waiting to get a prescription, or waiting for a
miracle from God, you have to deal with life. I have noticed that things don’t
stop happening just because I don’t feel like dealing with them.
Can you manage your emotions during these times? Absolutely! It will be
more difficult, it may require extra prayer and more determination, but you can
do it with God’s help. The first step toward being able to manage your emotions
during times like this is to believe that you can. If we could not remain stable in
every kind of situation, then God’s Word would say, “Be stable, except when
you feel bad.” It doesn’t say that, but rather we are taught to remain stable
during every storm of life. It has helped me immensely to learn that God will
give me the ability to do anything I have to do if I trust Him and spend lots of
time with Him.
Psalm 91:1 teaches that if we dwell in the secret place of the Most High, we
will remain “stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty [Whose power
no foe can withstand].” That means if we spend lots of time in God’s presence,
waiting on Him, praying and meditating on His Word, then we will receive the
strength we need to accomplish whatever we need to do.
The first mistake we often make is listening to the “this is just too hard” lie.
Satan is a liar, and he always puts thoughts into our minds that say we are not
capable, can’t, won’t, and never will be able to. The devil is a glass-half-empty
guy, but God always sees the glass as full and overflowing. We can choose to
adopt God’s attitude and be an “I think I can” person, instead of an “I think I
can’t” person. If you believe you can remain stable and control your emotions
even during times in which it is difficult to do so, then you will find God
working through your faith and enabling you to do what you believed.
I know people who have been sick for an extended period of time and have
the most beautiful attitudes. They never complain, are not grouchy, don’t act as
if the world owes them something, and they don’t blame God or even feel sorry
for themselves. But I also know people with the same circumstance who talk
only about their illnesses, medical appointments, and how hard it all is for them.
They are easily offended, bitter, and resentful. Every situation in life requires
making a decision about how we are going to respond, and if we respond the
way God would, then our trials are much easier to handle. I highly respect and
admire people who are able to be stable even when they are in tremendous pain
and discomfort. I think they are a wonderful example to all of us.
I am going to quote a scripture that you have probably heard hundreds of
times, but this time I am asking you to look at each word and really think about
what it is saying:
I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for
anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength
into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].
Wow! What an encouraging verse that is. We don’t have to be afraid of
upcoming things, we don’t have to dread them, and we don’t have to let
circumstances defeat us before we even try to conquer them. God is on our side,
and His grace is sufficient to meet our every need.
Perhaps you have never even thought about how important it is to manage
your emotions during times of crisis. I imagine we all think, I can’t help how I
act right now; I am having a hard time, and that is all there is to it. That is a
normal human reaction, but with God on our side helping us, we don’t have to
behave the way a “normal” person would. Satan is our enemy, and his goal is to
get us so emotionally rattled that we start saying a lot of things that will provide
him with an opening into our lives. Or he hopes we will make a lot of unwise
decisions during painful times and create messes that we will have to deal with
for a long, long time afterward.
The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote in Philippians that we
should not even for one moment be frightened or intimidated by anything our
opponents and adversaries would heap on us. He said that our fearlessness and
constancy would be a sign to our enemies of their impending destruction, and a
token and evidence of our deliverance and salvation from God (see Phil. 1:28).
In other words, it seems that when we have trials, the spiritual world is watching.
God is watching and Satan is watching, and how we respond and what we say
and do are very important. I have believed for years that if I can hold my tongue
and remain emotionally stable during times of difficulty, then I am honoring
God and letting the devil know he is not going to control me.
I’m not always successful, but I’m certainly a lot better than I once was. As I
often say, “I am not where I need to be, but thank God I am not where I used to
be.” I am still growing, but at least I’ve learned the importance of managing my
emotions, and I hope you are also seeing how important it is to do that.
There is no doubt that it is more difficult to manage your emotions when
you’re sick, but hopefully you are learning that it is an option.
Don’t Deny Emotions, Just Control Them
It is important to me that you understand I am not saying to deny your emotions
exist, but deny them the right to control you. We all have loads of feelings about
hundreds if not thousands of different things. As I said, it seems that emotions
have a mind of their own. If your health is not good, your emotions may possibly
scream louder than normal, and that is to be expected. Pain is not easy to deal
with. Being told by medical professionals that you have a disease is not a fun
thing. I know because I’ve had my share of times like that, but I have discovered
it is much easier on me if I don’t let my emotions go wild. The more you stay in
control of your emotions, the better your decisions will be.
Out-of-control emotions wear me out, and I am sure they affect you the same
way. Anger makes me tired; guilt makes me tired; frustration and wild thoughts
all make me tired. I even get exhausted if I talk all day about problems and
negative things. The very fact that these things drain us should be proof that they
steal from us rather than add to our overall wellness. The next time you hear bad
news of any kind and feel yourself starting to get upset or discouraged,
remember this book and the principles I am sharing, then make a decision to
remain calm and ask God to give you direction.
Decision and confession: When I am tired or sick, I will manage my emotions
and not allow them to control me.