We often hear about public health crises related to poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. But what about chronic stress? Canadian physician Gabor Mat\u00e9 studies the mind-body connection. He argues that chronic stress plays a big role in the development of disease. It should come as no surprise that that emotions can impact physical health. When we\u2019re sad, we cry. When we\u2019re embarrassed, we blush. When we\u2019re nervous, we might have lumps in our throats or butterflies in our stomachs. Clearly, our feelings aren\u2019t just experienced in our heads. When we\u2019re stressed, our bodies release cortisol and adrenaline. These two hormones impact our entire bodies. They stop digestion, suppress our immune systems, and mobilize energy to gear up for fight or flight. This is extremely useful if you\u2019re faced with a deadly physical threat, like a predator about to eat you. But it\u2019s extremely harmful if your organs are bathed in stress hormones day after day after day. It causes disease. Many of us are so used to living like this that we think it\u2019s normal. We interpret the lack of stress as \u201cboredom,\u201d and we often find it intolerable. In our society, those who go go go are applauded. Self-care is discouraged. Taking some time off to recharge is seen as indulgent and lazy, rather than responsible and healthy. According to Mat\u00e9, how we handle our emotions is a key indicator of health. Healthy individuals consciously feel angry when they\u2019re violated in some way \u2014 and they react assertively to protect themselves. But many of us bottle up our feelings instead. \u201cIt takes tremendous energy to suppress emotions,\u201d Mat\u00e9 observes. \u201cThe act itself is stress producing.\u201d That behavior can go all the way back to childhood. \u201cDon\u2019t cry,\u201d parents might tell children. Perhaps they even shame the child for crying, or threaten to give them \u201csomething to cry about\u201d if they don\u2019t stop. So kids learn to bury emotion. \u201cWhen you\u2019re a child and your parents can\u2019t handle your feelings,\u201d Mat\u00e9 explains, \u201cyou learn to suppress them to maintain your relationship with your parents. But what was a coping response in the child becomes a source of illness in the adult.\u201d On a physiological level, in other words, we don\u2019t cease to feel the emotions we bury. Hormones are still released \u2014 only now the growing child or adult is unaware of it. This can lead not only to health problems, but to people taking advantage of them \u2014 even violating them \u2014 because they don\u2019t know when to trust their own anger or fear. I\u2019ve suffered chronic health problems since age 14, despite never smoking or indulging other obvious no-nos. Improving my diet and exercising regularly never helped. I saw specialist after specialist with no progress whatsoever. But maybe the problem wasn\u2019t with my body alone. In the past year, with the help of therapy, I\u2019ve learned how to cry again. I\u2019ve gotten the hang of getting angry again. And I\u2019ve watched my physical health improve at long last. The road I\u2019ve taken isn\u2019t easy. It\u2019s painful. I\u2019m feeling all of the repressed anger, fear, and sadness stored in my body in order to finally let it go. It\u2019s overwhelming. But it\u2019s also the most worthwhile thing I\u2019ve ever done. There\u2019s a richer, healthier, happier life waiting for me on the other side. Why did it take two decades of searching to find the answer? Why isn\u2019t this common knowledge among all physicians, or publicized as widely as recommendations about diet and exercise? If we wish to become a healthier society, we can\u2019t have tunnel vision that only focuses on fat, calories, or smoking. Nor should we shame those who express emotion or practice self-care. As Mat\u00e9\u2019s work shows \u2014 and as I can tell you firsthand \u2014 our minds and bodies aren\u2019t as separate as we think they are. OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.