Thankfully, researchers are finally beginning to understand and accept the link between mind and body. Even though the physiological make up of emotions themselves have not yet been identified, some researchers suspect that a small portion of the brain called the insular cortex may be the key.
The insular cortex regulates the autonomic nervous system which controls the automatic functions of our body such as breathing, heartbeat and blood pressure. It also plays a role in higher brain functions and helps to process anger, fear, joy, happiness and sexual arousal.
Laboratory experiments with animals indicate that when the insular cortex is stimulated for long periods of time, that causes damage to the heart muscle that is similar to sudden cardiac death. Other experiments with people who have epilepsy who were undergoing brain surgery that exposed the insular cortex found that stimulating the area with mild electrical pulses changed the person’s heart rate and blood pressure.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that years of sorrow, anger and other negative emotions may cause a malfunction of the insular cortex? The research continues.
Whatever happens in those six inches between your ears, one thing is certain. Optimism, laughter, love and other positive emotions can counteract many harmful effects at any age, even in your sixties, seventies, eighties and beyond!
A happy outlook appears to trigger the release of endorphins. Endorphins relax the cardiovascular system and cytokines which alert the immune system to pay attention in detecting abnormalities like cancer cells.
The University of California, Riverside began a research project in 1921 whereby they followed the aging process of over 1,500 people who were preteens when the study began. The researchers concluded that among those subjects, such positive attributes as dependability, trust, agreeableness and open-mindedness were associated with a two to four year increase in life expectancy.
Let’s explore some tips for developing a better outlook on your world.
1. Listen carefully to yourself. If you have put yourself down since childhood, a lifetime negative subliminal messages can take their toll by turning you into a pessimist. Spend one week writing down the phrases you use in your “self talk.” Chances are you will find that you repeat a dozen or so phrases over and over again that reinforce that negative image. If you know about them, you can change them.
2. If an issue is not resolved it will continue to plague you and you will relive the negative emotions tied to that issue over and over again. Write yourself a letter spending about 20 minutes a day for four days and write about what you feel. Forget grammar, punctuation and so on. No one else will see this but you and you can throw it away when finished. Once you begin to write, don’t stop until the time is up. This exercise will help you organize your thoughts and get them out of your system. By the end of the four days most people feel much better about themselves.
3. Seek out new challenges and opportunities. Always have something that is a goal just over the horizon. When you begin to close the gap and reach that goal, set another and another. Keep yourself consistently moving ahead.
4. Try and do one new thing every week or month. Visit a museum, go to the zoo, go to a book signing or lecture. The goal here is to eliminate monotony which is a sure killer of optimism.
5. Look for a new marvel of nature each day. Discover an abundance of happiness. Spoil your pet or if you don’t have one, visit the human society and adopt one. Learn to laugh at yourself. Allow yourself to experience grief but don’t let it control you.
6. Find someone who is worse off than you and lend a hand. Volunteer at a hospital; visit a nursery or a shelter.
In a preliminary study, researchers at the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, California, a biomedical research center that examines mind-body connections, asked 30 men and women to think for five minutes of either a compassionate moment in their lives or a time when they were upset or angry. “We found that simply recalling one episode of anger depresses the immune system for up to seven hours — but one episode of feeling compassion or caring enhances the immune system for about the same amount of time,” says Jerry Kaiser, the Institute’s director of health services.
Armed with that information, stop for a moment and think about how often you feel either end of that emotional spectrum. Makes you think a bit deeper about how we have the power to actually destroy ourselves through our emotions, doesn’t it?
Here are a few quick tips for increasing joy, hope and optimism that will work no matter what your age:
- Make a list of at least 50 great things that happen to you every day.
- Laugh a lot. You’ll heal your body and your mind.
- Discover a new challenge each month.
- Try meditating for just five minutes each day.
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