The art of letting go: How dwelling on the past can make you physically ill

Sometimes we go through things we wish we could have handled differently, but it is easy to get stuck in a cycle of regret and other negative emotions if we do not process our mistakes in a healthy manner.

Letting go the past ruminating dwelling
© @felipepelaquim/Unsplash
Letting go the past ruminating dwelling

Most of us have moments in our lives that we wish we could change. While some people process these, try to learn from them, and move forward, others find it much more difficult to do so—leading them to be frozen and unable to let these instances go. Modern research has shown that our body’s health is intimately connected with that of our minds and each emotion should be experienced, expressed, and processed healthily to ensure our general wellbeing.

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What happens when we simply cannot move forward?

The constant dwelling on situations or memories that incite negative emotions within us can create heightened stress, anxiety, anger, fear, or even depression. One initial negative emotion can multiply, breathing life into others thereby forcing the person to seek unhealthy coping mechanisms and potentially developing chronic diseases or autoimmune unbalances.

According to Dr. Liji Thomas from News Medical, neuroticism which is the tendency for the display of aggressive, hostile or angry behavioural patterns is known to cause physical health ramifications such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and asthma. While a tendency for depression can cause disturbances in our cellular immunity.

Psychological factors have been shown to have a direct effect on the body via the production of inflammatory chemicals in the body. It is no wonder that stress is noted as a cause of many diseases such as Crohn's disease, gastrointestinal disease, IBS, and some eating disorders. Lingering within negative emotions is akin to willingly bathing in stress which can flood the body with all types of inflammation that incrementally destroys the body from the inside.

Furthermore, the more time we linger in our past, the more we rob ourselves of any opportunity to move forward, further cementing ourselves as the version of us that caused these negative emotions in the first place. This creates a never-ending cycle that traps people in a constant flow of negative thoughts which has been proven to change the chemical nature of the brain should this trigger a depressive episode.

How can we let go?

‘Letting go’ is easier said than done. Oftentimes times we are stuck because we are too hard on ourselves. We grow used to talking to ourselves in harsh ways, and while we may show other people kindness we somehow forget that we are also deserving of that same kindness.

Understanding that we are humans and mistakes are a deliberate part of our programming is the first step in learning how to forgive ourselves for them.

Acceptance of the imperfections that make us who we are is a second step that can allow us to move forward as it is an essential element from which we can work on ourselves.

Dwelling and ruminating without action is similar to torturing ourselves indefinitely. Taking action is the most important step towards making a change or just simply finding productive solutions to the sources of the negative emotions.

Finally, sometimes we have to realize that we cannot deal with everything ourselves, seeking help from a professional can provide a different perspective, new coping techniques and may lead to important behavioural changes.

Read more:

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Sources used:

Everyday Health: 9 Ways Stress Can Make You Sick

Verywell Mind: How Emotional Pain Affects Your Body

Healthline: How to Let Go of Things from the Past

News-medical: How Do Your Emotions Affect Your Physical Health?

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