How our emotions can affect our bodyKarina Stewart - Kamalaya
Our emotional state is not only pivotal to our happiness and experience of life; it also has an immense impact on our physical health as every emotion affects the biochemistry in our body in a certain way. Like everything in nature our body is designed to keep its systems in homeostasis, a balanced state that allows optimal health and wellbeing. Extremes are not healthy over a sustained period of time, no matter if we are experiencing hyper stimulated (positive) excitement, anger or a depressive mood. Emotional imbalances weaken our immune system and deplete our energy levels. Therefore, it is very important to keep our emotions balanced, as this in turn gives stability to our physical condition.
"Fight or Flight!" – The Stress Response
Everyone will have experienced some obvious physical symptoms caused by strong negative emotions. If in fear, anger or high stress our heart beats faster and we might start feeling hot. Such emotions trigger the so-called "stress response", an innate mechanism seen in all mammals that prepares our body to either fight or run away in a dangerous situation. The adrenals secrete the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol and the blood moves from the body’s core into the arms and legs. This was essential for our survival when we were still living out in nature, and exposed to predators and dangers of all kinds.The stress response also affects our neurotransmitters in a way that our lateral thinking and decision-making abilities become impaired. While it was once important to quickly narrow our perspective to where the perceived danger is – like a wild animal hiding in the bushes – today we rarely need to act in life threatening situations anymore. What remains is our inability to solve problems in a creative and constructive way when experiencing strong negative feelings like anger and fear.
Anger has been found the most "toxic" of our emotions. One single outburst of anger produces an extremely toxic chemistry in the body, so it is particularly important to learn how to control this emotion. In anger we think we might hurt others, but we really just hurt ourselves.
The Healing Response
If we are in a relaxed state - feeling well, loving, joyful and safe - our mind will be open to respond to situations, challenges and people in a much healthier way. We are able to see the big picture and all our resources to solve problems creatively and constructively are available to us. The healing response allows our body to function at its optimum, so it is important to keep our emotions calm.
How to maintain emotional balance
- Become friends with your mind
Our mind is constantly creating stories. Its nature is to be active and constantly seeking to find any possible threats to ourselves and to ensure our safety. It will fill in any ‘gaps’ of knowledge with stories as part of this effort to guarantee our survival. In most cases, the stories it creates are not entirely positive, often the stories are heavily skewed towards the negative in an attempt to preempt any potential dangers and threats. In order to not become emotionally caught up in these stories and gain a more objective view on situations, we have to retrain the mind, observe our thinking patterns and learn how to "catch the story". By creating a habit where we can observe ourselves and observe the stories we are creating, we can become more aware of the workings of our mind in different situations. In doing this, we can create just enough space between ourselves and the story so that we will be able to respond in more appropriate and healthy ways. Since it is very hard to gain perspective on ourselves when already in an emotionally charged situation, we have to create a new habit of self-observation when we are not under stress so we can make use of it in those times when we do find ourselves caught up in a less than optimum story. A wonderful way to become self-aware and gain perspective is the practice of meditation.
- Mood food
It is important to mention that diet has a huge impact on our nervous system and our emotions too. A good nutritional foundation that is low in stimulants like sugar and caffeine is crucial for a balanced state of mind and emotional stability. High sugar foods and drinks cause a sudden peak in blood sugar levels, which stimulates hyper activity as well as aggression. Those "highs" are followed by a steep decline resulting in mood swings.
That also means you can use food as a powerful tool to balance your emotions. For people with anxiety conditions for example I always recommend drinking mulberry tea, which is high in naturally occurring ‘GABA’, a neurotransmitter that slows down the impulses on the nervous system, calms us down and promotes sleep.
- Fill your lungs with oxygen
Daily exercise or movement is essential for maintaining equilibrium as it moves a lot of oxygen through the body and into the brain, which has been found to be extremely beneficial in calming the mind. 45 minutes of walking, cycling, hiking or swimming per day is ideal, but 20 minutes will already have a positive impact on your peace index. Gentle disciplines like Yoga, Pilates or Qi gong that bring mind, body and breath together are recommended for people that need to calm down from stress, whereas lethargy is best counter-acted with more dynamic practices like jogging or gymnastics.
*This is a guest blog post by Karina Stewart, a practitioner of Chinese medicine and co-founder of Kamalaya.