Do We NEED a Listening Ear?
Could Simply Confiding in Others Makes us Healthier? Measurably Healthier?
Turns out, talking to people about our challenges is very important. Numerous published studies have shown that talking to somebody may improve our physical and mental health, reduce our pain level and improve our success.
A psychology journal published an intriguing study that investigated if talking about ones problems could improve physical disease and function. They took people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and randomly assigned half of them to talk privately about "stressful events" they had experienced and the other half to talk about trivial topics. They met privately to have these discussions, 4 days in a row.
The people that talked about the stressful events had an immediate increase in negative mood, but it only lasted a few days and was not measurable at 2 weeks. At 3 months, the patients that discussed the stressful events had improved mood and better physical functioning in daily activities. Those that had the most marked increase in negative mood, had measurable improvements in joint condition. Those that talked about the trivial topics showed no change. (Health Psychology, 16(4), 331–340. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-622.214.171.1241)
Talking about Previous Stressful Events
Does Improve Physical Health!
These types of findings suggest that stressful events create some type of "baggage" that hinders physical and emotional health. Disclosing or talking about the stressful event seems to reduce or eliminate the baggage, leading to measurable improvements in health.
The American Medical Association published another interesting study of people, some with asthma and some with rheumatoid arthritis. Half of them were assigned to disclose the "most stressful event of their life", vs the other half, the control group that disclosed emotionally neutral information. Four months later those with asthma had on average, a 19.5% improvement in lung function on pulmonary testing and those with rheumatoid arthritis were evaluated by an arthritis specialist and found to have a 28% decrease in disease severity (less joint pain, tenderness and swelling), compared to no improvement in lung function or rheumatoid arthritis in the control group. (JAMA. 1999;281(14):1304-1309.doi: 10.1001/ jama. 281.14.1304)
The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, published a study involving college students that were assigned to talk about stressful events during 3 weekly, 20 minute sessions, vs students assigned to talk about trivial events. At the end, blood tests showed significantly reduced antibody levels, indicative of a stronger immune system, in the group that talked about stressful events, and no change in the control group. Psychological testing also showed improved cognitive function and self esteem, in comparison to the trivial talkers that showed no change. (J Consult Clin Psychol. 1994 Feb;62(1):130-40.)
The Journal of Personal and Social Psychology published a study involving students disclosing prior traumatic events, vs the control group that disclosed trivial events. Those that disclosed traumatic events reported fewer physical symptoms in the months following the study. Interestingly, this benefit occurred even if they had previously disclosed the traumatic events. (J Pers Soc Psychol. 1992 Jul;63(1):75-84.)
The Journal of Educational Psychology, published a study to see if disclosing stressful events would benefit the students grade point average (GPA). The disclosure was done by writing about their stressful experiences vs the other students that wrote about time management. Writing about stressful events led to a significantly better GPA the next semester compared to those who wrote about time management. Because the disclosure was done through writing, it suggests the process of disclosure itself is therapeutic even without a face to face conversation. (Journal of Educational Psychology. 95. 641-649. 10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.1991.)
These Studies Show that Confiding in Others May Help our Physical and Mental Health,
Strengthen our Immune System and
Improve Academic or Vocational Performance.
Now let's bring this down to the the personal level. Think about the stressful and traumatic events in your life, the trials you've endured. This might include the death of a loved one, a social embarrassment, a betrayal, an estrangement, your own or your parents divorce, a rejection or a failure of some type. Perhaps some of these events happened years ago and some just recently.
If you are like many people I have counseled with over the years, you have never been able to really talk about these events. Nobody has ever really listened to you, has never really heard everything you wanted to say about these experiences. You may have talked to one or more people about these things, but they seemed uncomfortable, and wanted the conversation to move on. You knew they were anxious to end this part of the conversation, or to reach an "all's well that ends well" artificial conclusion.
If what I have said in the above paragraph is anywhere near true for you, answer these questions.
Is it possible you are carrying baggage that is holding you back?
Would your physical and mental health improve if you confided in somebody?
Is it possible that you might be happier, if you were to talk about some of your baggage?
Does this apply to any of your family or friends?
All of Us Need Somebody to Confide in.
Whether we call it "Stressful Events" or the "Most Stressful Event of our Life" or "Traumatic Events" We Need to Talk about the Stresses and Trials in Our Daily Life. When We Talk About These Things Our
Health Improves, on All Levels.
Failing to talk about these issues creates baggage, or what some call unfinished business. This unfinished business will weigh us down, preventing us from reaching our full potential, in terms of mental, physical and spiritual health. We can deal with our unfinished business, generally through discussions with a friend or family member, and sometimes with a professional counselor. But not just any discussion will work. These discussions need to meet certain criteria to have this healing effect.
Next week: How to Have the Types of
Healing Conversations We all Need.
Take care and BE HEALTHY!
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