“What drains your spirit drains your body. What fuels your spirit fuels your body”. Carolyn Myss (Mind-Body researcher, author).
Think back to the last meal you really, really enjoyed. The aroma and flavours, the setting, the people you were with, the conversation. Do you feel your mood shift, more relaxed, or perhaps feeling a little peckish?
Reflecting back on happy memories brings back the positive emotions tied to the original experience. Cortisol (stress hormone) levels decrease, which allows your body to relax, while mood improves. Our mental state and thought patterns impact our physical and emotional health, and quality of life. Understanding the mind-body connection, and using our minds and thought life to impact our physical health, is a powerful practice to help relieve stress, and it’s related ailments, such as insomnia, depression and anxiety.
Studies show that people who generally have a more positive attitude are more resilient to illness, recover faster, manage stress and challenges better, and are happier, compared to those with a tendency to dwell on negative thoughts. This is because our brains are constantly releasing neurotransmitters, (chemical messengers), in response to events, interactions, thoughts and emotions we face in our daily life. These neurotransmitters control different parts of the brain, cardiovascular system, skeletomuscular, neuroendocrine, and autonomic nervous systems, and in turn, most of our bodily functions. The impact of emotions on our body is commonly expressed in the way we speak - if you’re feeling excited, you may have ‘butterflies in your stomach’, walk with a ‘spring in your step’ when you’re happy, while feeling doubtful may give you ‘cold feet’.
East Asian medicine considers emotions and emotional disorders through the body, and associates emotions with different body systems and organs. According to Huangdi Neijing, the fundamental source of East Asian medicine for millennia, the liver is believed to be linked to anger, and anger damages the liver. Poorly managed or suppressed anger, is believed to be related to a host of ailments, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and infection. As such, practitioners not only look at presenting physical symptoms of an illness, but also associated emotions.
Negative thought patterns, feelings of hopelessness or depression, may result in chronic stress – one of the biggest contributing factors in poor health and illness. Not only does stress drain your brain of the neurotransmitters responsible for happiness and excitement, it also suppresses the immune system. There is research suggesting that stress shortens our telomeres (the ‘end caps’ of our DNA strands), causing us to age faster.
Since our brains are wired to protect and defend us against a threat, or loss in life, we tend to remember the bad more than the good. While this may be an effective survival mechanism, it makes us prone to ‘negativity-bias’, which is the opposite of cultivating a positive attitude and thought life.
Psychologist Dr Barbara Fredrickson explains negativity bias as ‘spending 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’. To offset negativity bias, Dr Fredrickson advises that we need to experience three positive emotions for every negative one. This 3:1 should be practiced daily, especially by those of use who are less ‘wired’ for positivity.
Dr Fredrickson’s list of the ‘big 10 emotions’ for positivity is:
These positive emotions literally reverse the physical effects of negativity, helps you maintain physical and mental wellbeing, and opens your mind to new possibilities. A landmark study showed that people who were asked to count their blessings felt happier, exercised more, had fewer physical complaints, and slept better, compared to those who were asked to create lists of hassles. As Brene Brown states, ‘it’s not joy that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us joyful’.
Start to look at your body as a dynamic group of parts that interact, influence and affect one another, rather than focusing body parts in isolation.
Learning how to use your psyche and thought habits can be a powerfully effective and natural way to cultivate good health and longevity. This will help you build a stronger foundation to good health that you will continue to enjoy for years to come.
About Alina Uchida
Alina is a Clinical Herbalist and founder of Abundant Earth. She consults for health and wellness brands, providing support in brand and product development. Longevity science, and the application of botanicals for increasing lifespan and healthspan are her key areas of focus.
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