A good argument can be good for your heath
“A day without an argument is like an egg without salt” so said the novelist Angela Carter. It helps if it is an argument you win; although as someone once said, “I have never won an argument, but I have enjoyed all of them”.
What is the point of all this, you may ask. Well, research recently published has shown that some forms of stress we face are good for health and others, not so good.
Scientists at UCLA (The University of California, Los Angeles) School of Medicine studied the effects of what they termed ‘positive, negative, and competitive social interactions’ on the immune system of 122 healthy adults. They found that ‘negative social interactions’ (ie. bad stress), increased the levels of inflammatory chemicals produced by the immune system. These situations included arguing at home, confrontations or competition at work(1).
On the other hand, those participating in competitive sports, even sports for recreation, did not show the same rise in inflammatory chemicals. Although exposed to ‘stress’ these people were seen to be facing ‘good stress’.
Increased levels of inflammatory chemicals in our bodies can lead to a greater likelihood of developing a whole variety of health disorders – ranging from a simple susceptibility to colds and flu, to rheumatism, rheumatic and autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure and even cancer.
So what should you do with this information?
- Firstly, don’t take life too seriously. We accept that this counsel is readily given but not so easily followed, but it probably applies to most people in the Western world. When you are stuck in a traffic jam, do you compete negatively against the red car next to you, making sure that you reach the end of the queue before he does? Why don’t you take your next traffic snarl-up as extra down-time, tune-in to your favourite radio station and relax?
- Secondly, avoid negative situations. Don’t put yourself in a position which will expose you to negative stress. The mantra of ‘count up to 10’ before answering a combative question is an excellent one, at work or home, especially if you combine it with ‘take 3 deep breaths’ before you respond. There is no point entering into an argument or discussion which makes you feel lousy.
- Lastly, seek out positive things to do, even if these are positive stresses. We know that physical activity can be enjoyable and is used by many people to ‘de-stress’ after a hard day at work. Regular exercise is not only good for the body but for mental health and the soul. Competitive sports such as 5-a-side football, a round of golf, tennis or seeking to be the fittest in your gym class are all good for your immune system, body and soul.
And, don’t forget that competitive sports don’t always have to be physical – just look at darts or snooker. This is why a good, robust, enjoyable, combative and competitive argument can be good for your health. Even if you don’t win the argument.