Richard G. Petty, MD

Stressful Marriages Can be Damaging to Your Health

There is an extremely interesting article in the month’s Archives of General Psychiatry, which was picked up by the media that examined how marital stress effects healing.

Most people now accept that the mind has powerful effects on the body, though as recently as the 1970s this was still regarded as rank heresy by many in the medical community. This new study is important for our understanding of the relationship between stress and physical health, and gives us further insights into how we can help ourselves stay well.

The study was done at Ohio State University and examines 42 married couples. Each person was given small skin lesions, and the startling finding was that in hostile couples, the wounds healed 60% more slowly than they did in non-hostile couples. The investigators even identified an inflammatory mediator called interleukin-6 (IL-6), as the biochemical link between hostility and slow wound healing. IL-6 levels are linked to long-term inflammation, which is in turn implicated in a number of illnesses, including diabetes mellitus, arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

A thirty-minute disagreement with a spouse could push back wound healing for 24 hours. The skin is the largest organ in the body and is exquisitely sensitive to stress: just thing of blushing and getting zits when under stress. So it is difficult to extrapolate from these findings in the skin, to try and predict what would happen with healing of internal organs. But we do have enough information already to say the following:

1. Allowing yourself to become involved in an argument may have long-term physical effects on you.

2. Some years ago I worked with a group of fine people who did just one thing that I did not like: they were wedded to the idea that it is a really good idea to vent your feelings. They would go as far as allowing patients to hit walls and other inanimate objects. I was never keen on this, feeling that expressing a lot of negative emotion could be counter-productive. After a patient broke bones in his hand after striking the wall, I quietly put an end to the practice. This new research indicates that I was correct to do so.

3. If you are going to have surgery, it is a good idea to be in a calm and peaceful frame of mind.

4. Stress is often unpredictable so it is a really good idea to be engaged in some ongoing stress management practice, so that you are better able to deal with the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," as Shakespeare put it over four hundred years ago. Clearly this doesn’t mean that you have to walk around like a burned out hippy on Quaaludes. Unless you really want to…. The best techniques that I know of for dealing with stress are the Sixty Second Peace Technique, Qigong and Yoga Breathing. If you have your own method, then stick with it. Otherwise you may want to check out some of the materials that I have written and recorded.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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