Researchers have long understood that too much stress is bad for the body, and that practicing forgiveness has health benefits.
But now scientists from Luther College and the University of California system have pursued new research that suggests forgiveness may actually help combat how stress hurts our bodies.
Scientists asked participants to fill out detailed surveys about their health, stress and forgiveness.
“The thing that I don’t think anyone had looked at prior to the study that we did is the extent to which forgiveness might buffer, that is protect you, against the negative effects of stress,” said Loren Toussaint, a professor of psychology at Luther College.
Within the sample of around 150 people, Toussaint said, “People who are the most forgiving are the folks that seem to have the weakest impact of stress on their overall health and well-being.”
While the study finds a strong connection between the two, he said, it does not explain how this plays out in our bodies.
People interested in becoming more forgiving can do so by simply practicing a short meditation.
Drew Angus, director of spiritual outreach at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, leads workshops every week on forgiveness for cancer patients, their families and their caregivers.
A cancer diagnosis can add “Miracle-Gro” to existing stress, Angus said. While he’s very clear that forgiveness can’t cure anyone of their illness, he said it can help free up emotional resources.
“People, especially people with cancer, they really need all of the powers that their body can muster to fight the disease,” he said.
Angus and Touissant both caution that being forgiving isn’t tantamount to acting like a doormat — it’s about making peace with the past.