It’s 2:35 a.m. As I lay awake staring at the clock, the only sound I hear is the light thumping of my heartbeat in my pillow. I place two fingers on the inside of my wrist. Watching my clock, I count the beats of my pulse for 60 seconds.

This is one of the methods I use to measure the performance of my heart. With external stress factors running high, I need to keep tabs on any effects that stress may have on my health. There are internal factors that can adversely affect my health as well. Factors that cause a great deal of stress. Webster’s defines stress as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.” According to Don Colbert, M.D., the body’s stress response brings about an excessive release of “stress hormones” that damages cells, tissues and organs.

The stress factor I want to address is the heart. Not your physical heart, but the very core of your being — where your thought processes and attitudes come from. It’s the person you are inside. When all is quiet and you are listening, what are the issues in your heart?

In his book, The Seven Pillars of Health, Dr. Colbert speaks of a patient in her mid-30s who had suffered from asthma for many years. Her other problem was she was easily offended. Anytime she was stressed over an offense she had an asthma attack. They discovered that she was angry and offended by a “perceived offense” by her parents as a little girl and she rehearsed the offense in her mind over and over. Once she quit repeating her grievance story and forgave the offense, her asthma attacks decreased dramatically.

Unforgiveness is a secret cause of stress that plagues millions of people. I spoke with a dear woman who was burdened by the fact that she and her best friend hadn’t spoken in nearly eight months over a perceived offense. I suggested she go to her friend and ask for forgiveness. Recently I received an e-mail from her that said, “I sent my friend a card and told her I was sorry for making her feel like I wasn’t there for her in her time of need and to please forgive me. What a relief! I felt so good after I did and set free!” One night as I reflected on an incidence where I knew I had offended someone, I felt ill about it. The next morning I contacted them to ask forgiveness. It released me from damaging my health by sweeping it under the carpet. Equally important is to forgive others who have caused you pain or hurt. Don’t expect them to come to you. They may not even realize they hurt you. When you take your painful experiences and rehash them over and over it will result in resentment and bitterness. Internalizing these offenses and holding a grudge will cause your health to spiral downward. There are many hurts that I have experienced by people I have loved and trusted, but I must let them go. I’m truly hurting myself if I don’t. Check the pulse of the emotional state of your heart. Are you rehearsing the offense? Are you angry? Do you have a sour look on your face?

If you are struggling with issues of unforgiveness, here are a few tips:

• Step back. Consider whether the offense is real or perceived.

• Resist the urge to allow the feeling of being wronged to turn into an offense.

• Forgive immediately. This is the simplest form of letting go of old and new hurts.

• Read Deadly Emotions by Don Colbert, M.D., for further insight.

• The heart of the matter, matters to your health. Make forgiveness a healthy habit! n