Everyone has had toxic relationships at one point or another, whether with family members, partners, friends or colleagues. Everyone knows how stressful and upsetting it can be and that it can even lead to physical health issues in the long-term. However, it seems the effects of a toxic relationship that isn’t consigned to history can be more harmful to one’s health than most people presume.
According to a study carried out by the school of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, the stress from toxic relationships that aren’t terminated can cause inflammation, which in turn can lead to all sorts of health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. The results of the research were published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on 23rd January 2012.
Although the link between stress caused by negative relationships and physical ill health has long been known, the researchers wanted to investigate the scientific basis for this. To do so, they looked at the relationship between positive and negative social interactions and pro-inflammatory cytokines, proteins that cause inflammation in the body.
It wasn’t easy to measure the impact of stress and toxic relationships, but the researchers managed to do it in the following way. They recruited 122 healthy participants and asked them to keep a diary, setting out any stressful occurrences from social interactions and how they were dealt with. Participants were also asked to take part in a maths quiz and a public speaking assignment under laboratory conditions. A few days afterwards, swabs were taken from the inside of their cheeks to measure the level of cytokines. The results of the study showed that those who suffered from the most stress at the beginning of the study period had higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Science Daily quotes a psychologist from Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Nicholas Rohleder, who wasn’t part of the research group, but believes that this could all be linked to evolution and people’s need to fight for a living in the past: “Inflammation has a useful short-term role in fending off pathogens, so triggering inflammation as a response to stress may have been a way the body fended off infections caused by those encounters, which often resulted in some form of injury.” Of course, personal altercations don’t often result in violence these days, but inflammation could be a way of coping with the stress of arguments and poor relationships.
It simply isn’t possible to get through life without some stress; even for those who rarely leave the house. However, repeated stress isn’t always necessary, particularly if the cause of the stress – a particular person – is all too obvious. It can be difficult to wipe a person out of your life, especially if the relationship has been long and not always toxic. However, you really do owe it to yourself and to your family to try and extricate yourself, or at least keep your distance. Toxic relationships just aren’t worth the stress – or the health implications – that they could bring.