Stop Holding Grudges — It's Bad For Your Health

by Emma Cueto

It can be really hard to let go of grudges, but it turns out that holding on to them might have some consequences to make it worthwhile. According to a new study out of Erasmus University, holding a grudge can act like a literal weight on your shoulders. And this is only one of several studies that suggest there are negative consequences to staying angry.

In the study from Erasmus University, which was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers asked participants to reflect either on a time when they had forgiven someone or on a time they had not forgiven someone. Afterward, subjects were asked to jump five times in the air as high as they could without bending their knees. Those who reflected on forgiveness jumped 30 centimeters on average; those who thought about holding a grudge only jumped 22.

In other words, holding grudge makes it as though something really were literally weighing you down.

I mean, in reality of course it's all in your head, but it functions as though it's real. Which sort of begs the question whether expressions like "carrying the weight of the world" or "that's a weight off my mind" exist because humans subconsciously picked up on this phenomenon, or if our minds only act this way because of our language. But that's a chicken and the egg problem for another day.

As strange as the Erasmus study may seem, however, it is certainly not alone in suggesting that holding a grudge has consequences well beyond whatever it might happen do to your relationship with that person. In fact, there may even be health consequences to holding grudges.

In a study from Hope College that measured facial muscle tension, sweating, heart rate, and blood pressure, researchers found significantly higher stress responses from participants when they were asked to imagine holding a grudge against someone or seeking revenge than when asked to imagine having empathy with offenders or forgiving them. "When people think about their offenders in unforgiving ways, they tend to experience stronger negative emotions and greater [physiological] stress responses," one of the researchers explained to WebMD. And while they were only measuring short term effects, it's possible that there could be similar long-term effects as well, which is not at all good considering the health effects long-term stress can have.

Another study from Concordia University found that staying bitter towards other people could also have consequences for physical health. One of the researchers explained, "Persistent bitterness may result in global feelings of anger and hostility that, when strong enough, could affect a person's physical health."

In fact a 2009 survey from the University of Georgia found that people who were more likely to hold grudges were also more likely to have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, arthritis, back problems, headaches, and chronic pain (though no link was found between grudges and other ailments such as cancer or stroke).

So what does this mean? Well, probably that it isn't healthy to hold onto negative emotions about other people and that doing so doesn't just weigh you down but can have real consequences for your health. So if you find yourself holding onto petty grievances a lot, you might want to figure out a way to forgive and forget.

And if you're grappling with people who have hurt you in more serious ways...well, I'm definitely not going to tell you that you have to forgive them before you're ready — or forgive them ever for that matter, especially if they haven't changed their behavior or expressed sincere remorse. But for your own sake, see if you can find a way to let go of the bitterness. Because you deserve to feel better and to stay healthy.

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