We’ve all been there. Maybe it was the popular cheerleader in high school who seemed to have it all: perfect hair, teeth, and her hunky boyfriend made you wonder if you’d ever outgrow your awkward stage. Or maybe it was the rising star at work who beat you out for the plum promotion you wanted without seeming to break a sweat. Perhaps it’s your facebook ‘friend’ who is chased by a never-ending stream of “Amazing!” selfie-narrated experiences.
Whatever your source of envy, the green monster is no fun companion. Jealousy can not only debilitate your relationships with others, it can also wreak serious havoc on your health. According to Donna Fremon-Powell, certified Guided Imagery Therapist in La Habra, California, emotions like anger, jealousy, hate and resentment produce a chemical that’s very similar to arsenic. “Simply put, your negative emotions are poisonous.”
Catch a whiff of mystery musk on your lover’s jacket and your stomach drops as if it’s in free fall. Hear a competitor’s gloating acceptance speech and your heart pounds. Watch a confident pal steal your crush and your hands may suddenly begin to tremble. When it comes to your health, jealousy is no joke. Here are some of the effects this poisonous emotion can have on different parts of the body:
Your Brain. Imagine your partner in bed with a new lover or compare your resume to that of a longtime rival and your amygdala, insula, and anterior cingulate cortex–the neural nodes of fear, anger, and disgust–swing into high gear, explains neuroscientist Hidehiko Takahashi of Kyoto University. Courtesy of the anterior cingulate cortex, the social pain of jealousy is experienced in much the same way as physical pain.
Your Stomach. Overhear your boss praise the company’s new wunderkind and your lunch looks a whole lot less delicious. The threat of a challenger who could leave you jobless–or single–activates a fear reaction in the amygdala, triggering the fight-or-flight response that ramps up production of adrenaline and noradrenaline, explains Frank John Ninivaggi, a psychiatrist at Yale’s Child Study Center. The result? Lack of appetite and nausea.
Your Eyes. Worried your spouse might be unfaithful? If so, you’re likely to find yourself staring down potential rivals–especially attractive ones. According to recent research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who are consistently jealous of a possibly philandering partner pay closer attention to good-looking members of their own sex and form stronger memories of what they look like than those who are not.
Your Heart. According to Jonathan Dvash, neuroscientist at the University of Haifa, the sympathetic nervous system buckles under the stress of jealousy, quickening the heart and spiking blood pressure. Left unchecked over time, this could lead to hypertension and heart disease.
Holding onto jealousy isn’t worth heart failure. By managing your emotions more consciously, you can work to overcome envy and step into a more empowered, amazing you. Here’s how:
Start Living Your Dream. Each one of us is put on this earth to fulfill a special purpose, big or small. Some call this dharma, or sacred duty: a unique, divinely appointed gift you were born to share with the world. If you don’t know your purpose, or aren’t willing to risk taking the journey to find out, it can be emotionally debilitating to witness someone else fulfill theirs. Instead, do the work to start building your own special dream. Start by taking any step in the right direction, and you’ll soon find yourself too busy pursuing your unique talents, passions, and interests to keep score of anyone else’s.
Be Authentic. Being fake is a sure sign you might be suppressing your best self, which can trigger a desire to suppress others’ success, confidence or good fortune. By becoming more aware of your authentic thoughts, feelings and attitudes in the moment, and giving yourself permission to honestly express them – even if unpopular – you’ll free yourself to let your own light shine.
Practice Self-Care. The saying goes: if you don’t love yourself, it’s impossible to love someone else. Self-care includes anything that nurtures your mind, body and spirit. For me, yoga, meditation, and aromatherapeutic baths make me feel happier, grounded and secure. For you, it may be cooking, gardening, finger painting or going on long walks in the woods. Self-destructive behavior, like getting drunk or high or spending time with negative people, doesn’t count. Do what truly nourishes you and you’ll find yourself feeling too happy to hate on someone else.
Surround Yourself with Positive People. Experts agree that you become an average of the five people you spend the most time with, so if you’re not happy with any part of your life, it’s time to take a closer look at your social circle. Be honest: how many are positive, life-affirming individuals who want nothing more than to see you reach your fullest potential? How many are chronically unhappy, gossiping, haters? If you find yourself surrounded by negative Nancy’s, it’s time to press the refresh button on your social circle.
Keep a Gratitude Journal. It may sound hokey, but each day it’s important to schedule time to write down at least ten things in your life you’re grateful for. Maybe it’s your health, your family, the sunshine, or just being able to get out of bed another day. For extra credit, list 10 things about yourself that you appreciate. Practicing gratitude makes it easier to focus on what you have, instead of what you don’t.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. We live on a planet with over 7 billion other human beings, so statistically, it’s likely there will always be someone smarter, skinnier, richer, cuter, more spiritual and more “fabulous” than you. But this is simply how they appear on the outside. No one’s life is as perfect as it seems on the surface – or on facebook. Behind the scenes, their life could be a total mess, so why compare your insides to someone else’s outsides?
Let Go of Entitlement. As infants, we’re taught that the world revolves around us: all we have to do is frown or cry and our needs are met without having to lift a finger. While this lazy worldview works wonders as a baby, it can be disastrous as an adult. No one is entitled to anything they didn’t work for. If you want something, be willing to sacrifice, be disciplined, take the risk and work hard to get it, or you will inevitably begrudge someone else who has. Behind every jealous person is someone fundamentally angry at themselves for falling short of their own personal best.
Practice Detachment. There’s nothing wrong with having desires, but attachment to them creates suffering. Unhealthy attachments to people, places, and things cause us to live in a constant state of false control and fear that we might lose the object of our desire. This creates a perfect breeding ground for envious thoughts and behaviors, like keeping score with others. By moving through life freely, detached to the outcome of our actions, we remain free, unencumbered and at peace.
Give Props. Instead of secretly sinking into the miry clay whenever you meet someone with blessings you wish were yours, get it off your chest. Don’t hate, congratulate! Tell them exactly why you admire them. It’s your ego, not your divine Self, that wants to withhold affirming another’s goodness. Stop hoarding the love! Give someone deserving their props. Being honest and getting these feelings off your chest will prevent them from festering into resentment and envy, freeing up the energy you will need to create great things in your own life.
Meditate. Going inward with even a brief daily meditation practice will help you get in touch with some of the deeper issues that may be weighing on your heart more than Mr./Miss Perfect or having more money or fame. By focusing on your Spirit – the eternal part of you that transcends personality, your resumé, outer success and failures – you’ll be less drawn to look outside for external, short-lived validation that will always fall short of satisfying the deepest yearnings of your soul.