Releasing forgiveness toward others and yourself not only lightens your emotional burdens; it provides amazing health benefits, too, according to some studies.
One such study, conducted by US researchers and published June 2016 in the Journal of Health Psychology, compared the effects of stress and forgiveness on an individual’s mental and physical health.
The researchers recruited 148 young adults, whom they asked to answer questionnaires to evaluate their stress levels and their willingness to release forgiveness. They looked at the relationship of these two factors with the individuals’ physical and mental health.
The researchers found that increased levels of stress resulted in “worse mental and physical health.” However, this effect was weakened among individuals who released forgiveness more easily, indicating that adapting a lifestyle of forgiveness could lessen the impact of strress on mental health.
The researchers concluded that “developing a more forgiving coping style may help minimize stress-related disorders. “
Another study, published 2014 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, looked into the “unburdening” effects of forgiveness, or the actual feeling of being physically released from carrying a burden.
The study had two parts. In the first part, the researchers recruited 46 students and divided them into two groups. Half of them were told to think and write about “a time when they were seriously offended by another person, and ultimately forgave them,” while the other half was told to think and write about a similar situation but did not forgive or carried a grudge against the person who offended them.
The students were then told to walk a hilly terrain and were asked to describe how steep the slope was. Those who held a grudge or unforgiveness perceived the slope to be steeper than those who forgave.
In the second part of the study, the researchers recruited 160 students from two universities and divided them into three groups.
The first group was asked to write about a hurtful or offensive situation in which they forgave the person who offended them. The second group was asked to write about a similar experience except that they have not forgiven the person who hurt or offended them. The third group was simply asked to write about any recent interaction that wasn’t offensive.
All participants were then asked to jump, and the height of their jumps were measured. The researchers found that the first group or those who forgave jumped higher compared to the second group or those who held a grudge.
Interestingly, the jumping height of the first group and the third group only had minimal difference, which indicated that holding a grudge or not forgiving someone made a person feel physically weighed down.
“Metaphorically, unforgiveness is a burden that can be lightened by forgiveness,” the researchers wrote, citing the results of the hill climbing and the jumping.
“These findings suggest that forgiveness may lighten the physical burden of unforgiveness, providing evidence that forgiveness can help victims overcome the negative effects of conflict,” the researchers concluded.