How many times a day do you find yourself in these scenarios?
You’re standing in line at the bank. A line so long you can barely even see the bank tellers! And you’re already late! You anxiously tap your foot and find yourself huffing and puffing. How DARE these people to lollygag when you’ve got an important meeting to catch!
You’re driving home from work and some jerk cuts you off and slows down. Instantly your blood pressure is through the roof. You’re shouting obscenities and pounding your steering wheel. You grind your teeth and find yourself hating a total stranger!
Or you’re waiting in line at your favorite coffee shop, and the person in front of you is taking forever! It’s like they’ve never ordered coffee before, sheesh! Before you know it your eyes are shooting angry lasers at the back of this person’s head. You impatiently shuffle your feet. Maybe you make a point to sigh really loudly, so they’ll “get it” and hurry up. Your inner voice is screaming “GET OUT OF THE LINE!”
Now, step back and take a look at what you’re feeling right now.
Did you get anxious just reading about those scenarios? Did you feel your breathing change? Did your pulse jump? Did your chest tighten? Did you see yourself shouting “GO!” at the speedracer-turned-slowpoke in front of you?
What just happened??
Turns out, a lot goes on underneath your skin when your thoughts and emotions turn negative.
Now, see if you feel any different reading this scenario:
You’re sitting on a balcony overlooking the ocean. A breathtaking sunset is turning the sky a gorgeous orange pink. The sea glitters with a thousand points of amber light. Your skin glows in the warm rays of the setting sun. You take a deep, calming breath of the fresh air. It’s so peaceful. The only sounds you hear are the crashing of the waves as they roll in and out. You have a sip of your favorite sundowner cocktail. Ahhh…
Now how do you feel? Are you more relaxed? Did you forget about the stressors you read about just a moment ago?
Not only does your mind feel more at ease, but your body is also physically more at ease as well.
In fact, science is discovering more proof, EVERY DAY, that what we think and feel has a direct impact on our physical health.
You’ve probably heard the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “You are what you think all day long.”
If not, maybe you’re more familiar with how the Buddha put it; “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts.”
Perhaps Proverbs 4:23 rings a bell? “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.”
Throughout human history, the wisest have always known that our inner thoughts shape our outer lives.
And, increasingly, scientific studies are proving that this belief is, in fact, truer than we have previously thought.
Did you know…
That every physical part of your body – down to each tiny cell! – is influenced and changed by your emotions? Your feelings are messages to your cells, which in turn deliver those messages to the rest of your body.
Think of it like this: Your brain is the post office. Your emotions are pieces of mail. Your cells are the mail carriers. Their job is to deliver the mail to the rest of your body, and the mail tells your body how to feel.
What does this mean?
Well, first the bad news…
When you feel depressed, anxious, or worried, your cells literally, physically feel depressed, anxious, or worried too.
How this works:
Mental stress impairs your endothelium, which is the protective coating that lines your blood vessels.
Your blood vessels are like highways, and the endothelium regulates your blood flow by expanding and contracting your blood vessels (it decides when rush hour traffic is and when it isn’t.)
Your blood vessels constrict in response to stress (rush hour) and expand in the absence of stress (free-flowing traffic.)
When you feel angry, scared, or sad, your blood vessels constrict. In response to your pain certain chemicals are released into your bloodstream (like “cortisol,” which is also known as the “stress hormone.”)
Too many of these negative emotions and chemicals cause a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol build-up in coronary arteries.
And too much fat and cholesterol can lead to heart attacks, heart disease, and a basket-full of other illnesses.
Okay, so what is there to do? It’s not like you can just escape the everyday emotions of stress, worry, anxiety, sadness, and anger!
That’s why it’s time for the good news.
If negative emotions = negative chemical changes in the body, then…
Does that mean positive emotions = positive chemical changes?
The answer is a scientifically proven, all-out HELL YEAH.
Here’s an example. Remember those scenarios you read? The ones about being cut off in traffic, getting stuck in long lines, or relaxing on your own private beach balcony? Remember how each of those made you feel?
How Watching Movies Can Improve Your Health
The University of Maryland’s medical center did a study to show the short-term effects of emotional stimuli on the body. Three groups were each shown parts of three emotionally different movies: a comedy (“Something About Mary”), a stressful drama (“Saving Private Ryan”), and something emotionally neutral. They took the vital signs of the volunteers both immediately before and after they watched the movies.
The stressful movie increased blood pressure and blood vessel constriction in the viewers. 14 out of 20 people showed a 35% decrease in blood flow (that’s bad).
The funny movie actually helped dilate blood vessels and increased blood flow by 22% in 19 out of 20 people, while blood pressure remained stable.
By simply just watching a movie, their blood pressures were immediately and directly affected.
Similarly, a study from the University of California in LA showed that professional actors who spent the day practicing a depressing scene had decreased immune responsiveness, while actors who spent the day on a happy scene showed increased immune responsiveness.
By just concentrating on a certain emotion, people can immediately and directly influence the strength of their immune systems.
What does this all mean?
Like the old saying goes, and like scientists are beginning to confirm now: Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine.
Studies have repeatedly shown that:
Laughter leads to positive changes in heart rate, blood pressure, pulmonary ventilation, skeletal muscle activity, and brain activity.
Laughter blocks the body’s production of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and improves immune function by increasing the release of beta-endorphins and immuno-enhancers.
Laughter triggers the secretion of catecholamines from the brain, which increase alertness, reduce inflammation, and promote the release of endorphins, the body’s natural opiates.
- It also accounts for the reduction of pain often reported by patients after bouts of laughter, due to muscle relaxation and a decrease in stress hormones.
“We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.” – William James
The Physiological Effects of Emotions on the Body, or, The Health Benefits of Laughter
Norman Cousins published his book “Anatomy of An Illness” in 1979 after he survived a spine-degenerating collagen disease. (Collagen being the glue that binds cells together.)
This meant that the connective tissue in his spine was disintegrating, causing his body to literally “fall apart.” His doctors predicted that he had a 1 in 500 chance for survival.
The cause of the disease was unclear, but Cousins was convinced that adrenal exhaustion had triggered the disease.
Adrenal exhaustion lowers the body’s immune efficiency and resistance to diseases and toxins.
The exhaustion can be caused by tension, stress, frustration, and anger. “If I was to be that 1 in 500 I had better be more than a passive observer,” he declared.
Cousins checked himself out of the hospital and into a hotel room. He watched nothing but comedy movies, read humorous books, and in addition to strategic doses of Vitamin C, “laughed his way back to health.”
Cousins felt that every person must accept a certain measure of responsibility for his or her own recovery from sickness or pain. His book was revolutionary and helped to inspire the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the body.
In fact, his book is what inspired the real-life Patch Adams and the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI).
“There is no twisted thought without a twisted molecule.”
Emotional states have long been known to affect the secretion of certain hormones from the thyroid and adrenal glands.
All emotions, regardless of their content, lead to activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
Cancer has been connected to intensive or prolonged states of grief, anger, or fear.
Mental stress is associated with the impairment of the endothelium – the protective barrier lining the blood vessels that regulate blood flow adjusts blood coagulation and secretes chemicals in response to irritations such as pain or stress.
This constriction of blood vessels causes a series of inflammatory reactions that lead to fat and cholesterol buildup in coronary arteries, which are symptoms related to heart attacks and heart disease. Mental stress is indeed harmful to the endothelium, but laughter has been found to offset the impacts of mental stress.
Neurons that wire together fire together
Scientists from Biozentrum, University of Basel, have recently reported findings that the neurons in our brain are connected to each other much like we’re connected to friends and acquaintances within our social network.
Like attracts like
Each individual nerve cell possesses links to many other nerve cells, but the strongest bonds to be seen are those formed between cells that are most similar to one another.
Our nerve cells are comprised of a dizzyingly vast web of connections, also known as synapses. There can be up to thousands of synapses per cell. And as many connections, as there are, they are surprisingly not all equal to one another in strength.
You’ve got to know the rules to play the game
Overwhelmingly, our synaptic connections are relatively weak, peppered with only a few very strong connections.
Researchers wanted to discover the rules to how neurons connect to one another within a millions-strong network. One rule they found was a remarkably simple one, and that is that, “like-minded” neurons possess strong connections, and un-like-minded neurons – those very different from one another – had either very weak connections or no connections at all.
The study revolved around the visual region of the cerebral cortex, which translated data received from the eye into a recognizable visual perception. Neurons here respond to certain visual patterns, but until recently it was hard to see which cells were connected synaptically because of their 100,000 per cubic millimeter density.
These are your brain cells on social media
By way of MRIs and highly sensitive electrical measurements, the scientists found that connections function like social media.
With your profile, you’re able to keep in contact with a wide range of people, but you mainly keep in regular contact with a much smaller circle of “main” friends.
These friends are most likely people you have the most in common with, and whose opinions also have the biggest impact on our own views.
The same can be said for our neural connections.
Weaker connections, even though they make up the majority of our connections, have much less impact than do our stronger but fewer connections.
They also exhibit strong influences over each other, which helps them work or “fire” together to amplify and highlight certain incoming signals and information.
In other words, neurons that wire together really do fire together.
Keep an eye on your thoughts. Because they ARE your reality.