We all know that letting go of a perceived slight is a lot better than harboring a grudge, but let’s be real here—forgiving someone can be very, very hard to do. However, holding onto all the times that someone has wronged you can have a negative effect on your health, and people who forgive others often report that they later feel happier, and even lighter, in a sense.
In fact, a 2015 study on forgiveness and physical activity showed that when participants who remembered a time when they refused to forgive someone, they judged hills to be about 5 degrees steeper than those who recalled making amends. Forgivers also jumped an average of 3 inches higher in a fitness test than their still-bitter counterparts, suggesting that ill will can literally bring you down.
Plus, when you hold a grudge, you tend to stew over it. This can deplete the availability of certain cognitive-boosting resources in your body—like blood sugar—that help you cope with physical challenges, says lead study author Xue Zheng, Ph.D.
So how do I let go of a grudge?
Forgiving someone who betrayed your trust isn’t easy. But you can start by following what many experts call the REACH model of forgiveness:
1. Recall the event as accurately—and objectively—as you can.
2. Then try to empathize with the person who did you wrong by looking at what happened through his or her eyes.
3. Remember that forgiveness is an altruistic gift. Think about a time when the roles were reversed and someone forgave you.
4. Commitment is crucial. If you spend too much time mulling over your plans before acting, you can stress yourself out even more. So follow through now: Tell a trusted friend your game plan, or work things out with your wrongdoer face to face.
5. Then hold on to that forgiveness. Your pain is likely to bubble up again at some point, but when it resurfaces, remind yourself you’ve chosen to reap the rewards of reconciliation instead of sulking.