Many studies have shown that our stress levels negatively impact health. Stress can increase just about every health issue such as brain, thyroid, immune, and weight problems. But even more specifically, the Whitehall II study, (1) a landmark body of research followed more than 10,000 people for over 12 years, confirmed that the link between toxic relationships, stress, and health is real.
According to this study, those who were in negative relationships were at greater risk of developing heart problems, including dying from heart attacks and strokes, than those whose close relationships were not negative. Humans have adapted (2) something called conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), and a type of gene expression that’s associated with inflammation and low immunity. If you were being chased by a predator, CTRA allows for some helpful short-term benefits, such as increased healing, physical recovery, and the increased likelihood of survival.
However, the chronic stress of an unhealthy relationship can cause a long-term activation (3) of the brain’s CTRA, contributing to chronic inflammation and increasing the risk of health problems like adrenal fatigue.
Is your relationship toxic?
Most people know when their relationship with someone is not positive, but for some, the toxicity can be so pervasive that it begins to feel normal. Everyone has good days and bad days and all relationships go through hard times, but this quiz can help you figure out whether your relationship is truly toxic.
Toxic Relationship Quiz
When you are with the person, or after you are with the person, do you feel any of the following most of the time (or more than half of the time?:
Do you need a relationship detox?
I am a big advocate of integrating “detox” practices to all aspects of life because clearing out the refuse and stepping back from what is not serving your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being will help you find better balance so you can thrive and stay healthy.
In the past I have written about smartphone and digital detoxes to simplify your life, as well as food detoxes to heal your body, but you can do a relationship detox, too. Here are my six tips for giving yourself a relationship detox and setting healthy boundaries:
1. Ponder these four choices you have to deal with this negative relationship:
Since every relationship is different, these options will mean different things to each person, but I encourage you not to choose “feel miserable” anymore. You are hurting your health and everyone around you by harboring that negative energy.
2. Foster your own mindfulness
You may not be ready to make a decision right away. To determine the best course of action for your toxic relationship, you first need to deal with yourself. Start consistent mindfulness meditation to bring peace into your life and grow in presence. By becoming more present and less worried about perceived future events or the mental replaying of past events with this person, you will anchor yourself in the only place of effective change which is right here right now. There are great apps like Inscape’s new app that will guide you to grow your mindfulness muscle.
3. Cultivate your inner strength with yoga
In addition to mindfulness, I find that other practices of calm strength can be a catalyst for positive change. My friend, yoga superstar Liz Arch, found her strength and clarity in the midst of a very toxic relationship through yoga. The movement, mindfulness, and breathing of yoga can be healing in that it helps release negative energy, clarifying the body and mind from the inside.
4. Talk about it
Consider going to a qualified mindfulness-based counselor. While there are many beneficial schools of therapy and counseling, I like this one the most. Talking to a qualified therapist who has an objective view and can remain neutral will give you the space to share your perspective and get more clarity as well as practical tools to apply to your unique situation. If your toxic relationship is personal (family member, friend, or spouse), consider asking them to go to counseling with you, if they are willing. They might be feeling the need for guidance, too.
5. Set appropriate boundaries
Whether you are going to accept, change, or leave a negative relationship, setting boundaries can help you clarify your path and re-establish your autonomy. Consider these three levels of boundaries:
6. Create the tribe you need
Just as negative people are linked to hurting your health, conversely, recent research (4) shows that people with good friends has lower inflammation levels and blood pressure compared with those with poor relationship ties. Surround yourself with people who edify you and challenge you to be the best version of yourself. If you don’t have those people, go out and seek them in your community, or even in online groups of like-minded people. Your health depends on it!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.