Thanks to social media and smartphones and eager techies, we have an emoticon to communicate each and every feeling of ours. That’s fun for the soul. But real emotions have a much bigger impact on physical; health, according to research. The healthy mind, healthy body is not a slogan that just applies for people trying to move towards a spiritual bent, making a change in your outlook can have more benefits than one, and for all.
When you’re angry...
your body experiences a surge of testosterone and your heart rate and blood pressure increase.
The health risk You’re almost five times more likely to have a heart attack in the two hours after an angry outburst, and your risk of stroke is three times higher. And anger motivates us to seek rewards, which is why a glass of wine might look more appealing than ever.
Regain control by Asking yourself if you’re hungry. Hunger reduces the brain’s serotonin levels, which affects our ability to regulate anger, so to avoid losing your temper, don’t skip meals. And try using your non-dominant hand as much as possible – people who did that for 14 days were better at controlling their aggression.
When you worry...
about things before they happen or when you make a mistake, the decision-making part of your brain struggles, forcing other brain regions to work harder.
The health risk Your brain won’t perform as well on everyday tasks and gets fatigued more quickly. Plus, if worrying raises your stress levels, your risk of Alzheimer’s disease rises, with research proving that women who tick both of those boxes double their dementia risk.
Regain control by Writing down what’s worrying you, which physically clears brain space for other tasks. And don’t shelve the worry – suppressing it increases anxiety.
When you feel jealous...
or envious, your brain’s anterior cingulate cortex fires up. The same region is activated by socially painful situations, like being ostracised by friends which explains why jealousy evokes such strong reactions. And if you’re taking a contraceptive pill that contains oestrogen, your response could be even greater.
The health risk Jealousy makes you blind to objects in your line of sight because your brain is distracted by processing its green-eyed thoughts. That’s dangerous during tasks that demand attention and carry a risk, like driving.
Regain control by Turning “malicious envy” (the bitter variety) into “benign envy” (think: “If they can do it, I can too”). Dutch research confirms the shift in thinking translates into real results. And have a social media detox. More than 30 per cent of users feel frustrated when they visit Facebook and the biggest reason is envy of friends’ posts.
When you’re stressed...
your body is flooded with adrenalin and norepinephrine, which makes your heart beat faster, and cortisol, which shuts down non-essential body functions. And your brain’s prefrontal cortex suffers, so paying attention and thinking clearly become difficult. Long-term stress switches on genes that are normally silent, upsetting the body’s balance of hormones.
The health risk You’ll make riskier decisions and might develop sleep bruxism, so you grind your teeth at night. You’ll also get more headaches and are more likely to catch a virus. In the long term, stress increases the risk of age-related memory loss, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression.
Regain control by Doing more exercise. Physical activity reorganises the brain to be more resilient to stress, by training it to automatically switch off regions that promote anxiety when it’s exposed to stressful situations.
When you feel hopeful....
the parts of the brain responsible for being able to think positively (the rostral anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala) fire up.
The health kick Feeling hopeful improves how your immune cells respond when confronted by a virus or bacteria. You’ll also find making healthy food choices easier because feeling optimistic about the future boosts self-control.
Increase the feeling by Watching a funny movie. After just 15 minutes your “hopefulness score” will be higher. Researchers say it works because humour inhibits negative thoughts.
When you’re happy...
your brain releases a combination of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins. And levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, fall.
The health kick You’ll stay healthier and live longer, with one study saying happiness’ effect on longevity can be compared to the difference between smoking and not smoking. Plus, compared to happy people, unhappy ones are 80 per cent more likely to develop age-related health problems.
Increase the feeling by Playing some upbeat music and making a conscious decision to be happier – done together, it’s a combination that works. Or catch up with a friend. That increases production of progesterone, a hormone that boosts feelings of wellbeing.
When you’re In love...
your body produces adrenalin and norepinephrine in the early days, which make your heart race, and dopamine to make you feel euphoric. Oxytocin and vasopressin, which create feelings of well-being and security, take over in established relationships to maintain the bond.
The health kick Newly paired couples have a higher pain threshold because intense love stimulates areas of the brain targeted by painkillers. In the long term, love reduces your heart-disease risk and protects against a middle-age decline in life satisfaction. It also minimises how much cortisol you produce under stress.
Increase the feeling by Watching and talking about movies with your partner where relationships are the focus. When couples did this five times for one month they improved their relationships and halved their risk of splitting up. Single? Book in for a massage or hug a dog – both strategies increase oxytocin levels, the hormone responsible for a lot of love’s health benefits.
This article originally appeared in the July issue of The Singapore Women’s Weekly
Text: Bauersyndication.com.au / Photos: 123RF.COM