Being comfortable and loved in a relationship can help us feel confident and fulfilled. Yet some relationships, specifically toxic relationships, can provide us with some of the highest levels of stress of our lives, even leading to chronic health problems. Dr. Will Cole explains how to tell when your relationship is toxic and shares 6 tips for a relationship detox.
Toxic relationships: when a relationship is bad for your health
It’s true! A toxic relationship can wreak havoc on your desire to live a healthy lifestyle. As a functional medicine provider, many of my patients over the years have said that their health declined when they had a toxic and stressful relationship or environment. Any relationship, even marriage, family members, friends and colleagues, can be toxic and not good for your health!
The Whitehall II Study, a historic, ground-breaking study, followed 10,000 people for more than 12 years and confirmed that there is a link between toxic relationships, stress and our health. In the study, those who were involved in negative, difficult relationships were at greater risk of developing heart problems, which included dying from heart attacks and strokes, than participants who had positive, close relationships.
It’s time to take inventory of your social network.
How to spot a toxic relationship
Most people know when a relationship is not positive, but how do we pinpoint a “toxic relationship”? Take the quiz below.
Toxic Relationship Quiz
Is your relationship truly toxic? If you consistently feel bad or experience any of the feelings listed below after spending time with a person, then yes, the relationship is toxic.
- Bad about yourself
- The relationship “give and take” is not equal
- Shunned, like an outsider, or simply not accepted as yourself
- Emotionally or physically unsafe
You might need a relationship detox:
Clearing your life of people who are not enhancing your mental, physical and spiritual well-being will leave space for you to thrive and to find positive, fulfilling relationships. Follow these six tips for a relationship detox.
1. You have four choices for a negative relationship.
- Accept it as it is, and be at peace with it.
- Change it by creating boundaries. You can’t change people, but you can change your level of interaction.
- Leave the relationship.
- Feel sad and miserable.
Every relationship is different and the options will mean something different to everyone. However, I encourage you not to choose misery anymore! Misery is hurting your health and those around you by bearing negativity.
2. Be mindful and reflect on what will bring you peace
Before fixing a toxic relationship, you’ll want to focus on yourself. Practice consistent mindfulness meditation to be peaceful and present. When you’re aware of the moment and worrying less about the future and past interactions, you’ll find you will be able to focus on the present and take control of your relationships.
3. Find strength within
In addition to mindfulness, other practices that focus on inner strength can push us toward positive change. Consider yoga—its movement, mindfulness and focus on the breath can help release negative energy and bring clarity.
4. Talk about it!
There are many types of therapy and counseling, but I recommend a qualified mindfulness-based counselor. Talking to a neutral professional will give you a place to share your thoughts and give you ideas for handling your challenges.
If your toxic relationship is a family member, friend or spouse, maybe he or she will attend a counseling session with you.
5. Set boundaries that make sense for you
Depending on whether you’re planning to accept, change or leave your toxic relationship, consider these tips for creating boundaries.
- Build your inner circle of loved ones who encourage you and provide positive energy for optimal health.
- The next level of friends should be people who are kind and positive, but are not necessarily as close to you as your inner circle.
- Your outermost circle should be those people who negatively affect your life if you let them get too close. It’s okay to be kind and keep your distance.
Above all, trust your intuition. Your “gut feeling” can help when you need to decide who to spend your time with. You know in your gut if the relationship is positive and deserving of your time or not.
6. Create the tribe you want
It’s been shown that negative people can hurt your health. But there’s good news. Recent research shows that positive people can do the opposite! People with good friends have lower inflammation levels and blood pressure, compared to those with poor relationship ties, research says. So, take it to heart and surround yourself with people who encourage you to thrive.
Ultimately, the relationships you make or break are up to you. And it’s a fine line to walk when it’s a toxic relationship with a family member or your marriage. But your well-being is important: so don’t rule out the power of a relationship detox and the ways that positive relationships can benefit your health and your life. Your health depends on it!
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