Emotional Health and Your Body

Food for Thought

Have you every considered how your emotional health affects your body? For those of us that live in overstimulated environments (media, stress, etc.), this article from the University of Minnesota offers some research to help us understand how we can contribute to our good health by taking a closer look at our emotional health.

Pour yourself a cup of tea, relax for a few minutes, and happy reading,
Nancy Newman, LMT

How Do Thoughts and Emotions Affect Health?

Your thoughts and emotions can affect your health. Emotions that are freely experienced and expressed without judgment or attachment tend to flow fluidly without impacting our health. On the other hand, repressed emotions (especially fearful or negative ones) can zap mental energy, negatively affect the body, and lead to health problems.

It’s important to recognize our thoughts and emotions and be aware of the effect they have—not only on each other, but also on our bodies, behavior, and relationships.

Poorly managed negative emotions are not good for your health.  Negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can create chronic stress, which upsets the body’s hormone balance, depletes the brain chemicals required for happiness, and damages the immune system. Chronic stress may actually decrease our lifespan. (Science has now identified that stress shortens our telomeres, the “end caps” of our DNA strands, which causes us to age more quickly.)

Poorly managed or repressed anger (hostility) may also be related to a slew of health conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and infection.

The importance of positive emotions

Because we are wired to defend against threat and loss in life, we tend to prioritize bad over good. While this is a tidy survival mechanism for someone who needs to stay hyper vigilant in a dangerous environment, the truth is that for most of us, this “negativity bias” is counter-productive.

Our “negativity bias” means that we spend too much time ruminating over the minor frustrations we experience—bad traffic or a disagreement with a loved one— and ignore the many chances we have to experience wonder, awe, and gratitude throughout the day.

In order to offset this negativity bias and experience a harmonious emotional state, Fredrickson proposes that we need to experience three positive emotions for every negative one. This, she claims, can be done intentionally for those of us less “wired” to positivity. These positive emotions literally reverse the physical effects of negativity and build up psychological resources that contribute to a flourishing life.

The role of forgiveness

Forgiveness means fully accepting that a negative event has occurred and relinquishing our negative feelings surrounding the circumstance. Research shows that forgiveness helps us experience better mental, emotional and physical health. And it can be learned, as demonstrated by the Stanford Forgiveness Project, which trained 260 adults in forgiveness in a 6-week course.

  • 70% reported a decrease in their feelings of hurt
  • 13% experienced reduced anger
  • 27% experienced fewer physical complaints (for example, pain, gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, etc.)

The practice of forgiveness has also been linked to better immune function and a longer lifespan. Other studies have shown that forgiveness has more than just a metaphorical effect on the heart: it can actually lower our blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health as well.

The benefits of gratitude

Ten ways to be a more thankful person.   Brené Brown discusses the relationship between joy and gratitude.  Acknowledging the good aspects of life and giving thanks have a powerful impact on emotional wellbeing. In a landmark study, people who were asked to count their blessings felt happier, exercised more, had fewer physical complaints, and slept better than those who created lists of hassles.

Brené Brown has found that there is a relationship between joy and gratitude, but with a surprising twist: It’s not joy that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us joyful.

Positive emotions lead to emotional resilience

Positive emotions have a scientific purpose—to help the body recover from the ill effects of persistent negative emotions. Thus cultivating positivity over time can help us become more resilient in the face of crisis or stress.

Emotional resilience is like a rubber band—no matter how far a resilient person is stretched or pulled by negative emotions, he or she has the ability to bounce back to his or her original state.

Resilient people are able to experience tough emotions like pain, sorrow, frustration, and grief without falling apart.  Resilient people do not deny the pain or suffering they are experiencing; rather, they retain a sense of positivity that helps them overcome the negative effects of their situation. In fact, some people are able to look at challenging times with optimism and hope, knowing that their hardships will lead to personal growth and an expanded outlook on life.

Article Source: https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-do-thoughts-and-emotions-affect-health    (Images added separately)