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Why a stiff upper lip can let you down

We’ve all dealt with stress but a recently published Australian study questions whether the way many of us do this could be damaging to our health.

Nineteen women with arthritis — average age 62 —were interviewed about the way they coped with the stresses of life. 

As it turned out this was different from the way they coped with arthritis.

They dealt with their stiffness and soreness by being physically active, distracting themselves, getting support from others, using positive self-talk and drawing on their spiritual faith.

But when it came to dealing with their lives, 15 of the women relied heavily on a trait they’d learned in childhood: stoicism. 

It’s not that they didn’t use any other strategies, but the authors of the study were struck by the women’s ‘just get on with it’ attitude to life. 

This shouldn’t be too surprising since the women were born in the early 1950s to parents who’d lived through wartime and mothers who probably had to be strong to survive. 

But what the women themselves observed was that as they got older it got harder to keep up their tough front and keep repressing their emotions.

Stoicism, as the authors point out, is vastly different from resilience. Resilience has an adaptive quality. 
One aspect of being resilient is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Author and social worker Brené Brown (in her book Daring Greatly) describes vulnerability as feeling. 

A lot of us grew up thinking vulnerability was weakness. 

Brown says it’s about truth and courage. These mightn’t be comfortable but they certainly aren’t weak.

Stoic women avoid feelings. As one of the interviewees in the study explained, “you don’t dwell on things or else you’ll go under”. 

Some of us fear that if we were to really feel our feelings they’d be the end of us. We’d fold and not be able to get back up again. Which isn’t true, of course.

But rather than taking the risk we numb ourselves with food, alcohol, busyness and other addictions. 
If this resonates, Brown’s books could be a valuable read. 

The authors of the study queried whether suppressing emotions could be a factor that gives rise to arthritis, which is almost radical for a mainstream medical journal.

But since our thoughts and emotions trigger the release of hormones, and they affect our body, it’s not such a wild suggestion.

Photo Source: (PS. This post is not meant to imply that HRH has arthritis. If anything she's a poster girl for stoicism!)

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Thursday, October 27, 2016 | Rhonda Anderson