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Relationships: The Secret Ingredient for Better Health

Human beings are relational by nature. Therefore, interpersonal relationships, past or present, personal or professional, represent a primary source of stress in our lives. Chronic stress is a major factor in the breakdown of our immune system, and has been found to be the source of many emotional and physical disorders.

Numerous studies have linked stress to illnesses including heart disease, fibromyalgia, migraines, cancer, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, low back pain, and many more.
Stress management strategies often suggested include deep breathing, relaxation exercises, physical exercise, meditation, and yoga, among others.

But how often have you heard someone suggest that it is important to evaluate your relationships and reduce your interpersonal stress in order to effectively improve health?

In my practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist more than 90% of my clients suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses have one primary complaint 'relationship problems at work or at home.

We have heard that we must quit smoking to reduce risks of cancer and enhance health. Have we heard the results of divorce studies that indicate that the stress related damage to a man going through divorce is equal to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day? It appears from this study that reducing conflict in our relationships could equal our quitting smoking as a health strategy.

We have heard that we must exercise, eat healthy and watch our cholesterol if we want to avoid a heart attack. But have we heard that an element closely linked to heart disease has been defined as the 'hostility 'factor, or 'cynical mistrust of others.' It appears from this that improvement in conflict resolution skills and dealing with interpersonal anger may be more helpful than other strategies in maintaining good cardiovascular health.

We know that most individuals surviving cancer will try many complementary and alternative options to lengthen their lives. But did you know that studies have shown that women surviving breast cancer can double their survival time if they are involved in a close, intimate support network?

These and many other studies confirm the fact that healthier relationships lead to better health, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Most of us did not learn effective interpersonal skills at home. So why do so few individuals consider relationship skills training right from the start, before the stress becomes chronic? Probably because we haven't been made aware of the facts.

The good news is that anyone can improve their relationships through learning simple skills including active or reflective listening, conflict resolution, behavioral changes, and thought management, among others.
If you want less stress, and more fun and fulfillment in your life, consider exploring options for relationship skill building. Whether the relationship is past or present, personal or professional, you can make it better and get healthier in the process.

Pat Swan, M.S., CMFT: Life & Relationship Coach, Speaker, Trainer, Author of 'Watch Out! Your Relationships Can Be Hazardous To Your Health.'

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