Moods are powerful. Not only do they affect our mindset – that is, our sense of optimism and pessimism – they also play a role in our overall health. Studies have shown that people in depressive states have greater instances of heart disease, and there is also a strong correlation between negative moods and other diseases like autoimmune disorders.
To understand how moods affect health, let’s explore something called the fight-or-flight response.
Stress causes a very specific set of physical symptoms including:
- Dry mouth
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shallow breathing
- Cold sweats
- Clammy extremities, and
- Gastro-intestinal distress.
Stress can also trigger your immune system to stop making the antibodies that help you fight disease. That’s because when your brain registers stress, it triggers the fight-or-flight response, which causes the body to direct all its energy toward survival.
Fight-or-flight is only intended to be a temporary response. Once the danger has passed you should release hormones that allow you to relax and return to normal. Unfortunately, many of us live in a constant state of fight-or-flight, and that takes a direct toll on our health.
Interestingly, your body will go into fight-or-flight regardless of the source of stress. So, a saber-toothed tiger will trigger that response, but so will a stressful work environment, riding a rollercoaster, and sexual arousal. The only difference is our perception of the stress, and there are even different words to describe the different perceptions: eustress and distress.
- Eustress is stress that causes positive emotions. The rollercoaster and sexual arousal are generally considered fun or exciting, and they create a positive association and positive emotions.
- Distress is stress that causes negative emotions. The tiger and stressful job are generally considered dangerous or unpleasant, and they create negative association and negative emotions.
Eustress doesn’t usually have the same effect on health, even though it triggers the same physiological response as distress. So it appears that the actual emotions, or moods, associated with the stress play an important role.
Improving Mood and Health
Improving your mood is about more than just positive thinking. In fact, positive thinking is really the last part of the process – something that happens after you have overcome other obstacles. For many of us the biggest obstacle could be learning to recognize negative though patters and turn them around. However, there are also those who need a little more help.
Most human beings are emotional creatures, and those emotions play a large role in how we perceive ourselves and relate to others. While it’s easy to say “just let it go,” it’s often much harder to do. For one thing, much of our emotional response is directly tied to a complex, and delicately balanced, series of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. There are people for whom those neurotransmitters become unbalanced, and no amount of mental exercises can help them release negative emotions. They have to correct the chemical imbalance before they can get their heads into a positive space, and that usually involves taking medication.
There is also the issue of energy. The entire human nervous system is a complex electrical grid that transmits electrical impulses between neurons, and also creates an energy field around your body. This energy field is why machines like the electrocardiogram (EKC) and electroencephalogram (EEG) can read your heart beat and brain waves just by placing electric sensors on your skin. However, the same way that neurotransmitters can become unbalanced, so can the electrical energy field around your body become disrupted, making it difficult to release negative emotions. People with disrupted energy often need an energy healer before they can get their heads into a positive space.
Serious or Chronic Illness
In the introduction we mentioned that there was a correlation between certain diseases and depression. One thing that you have to remember is that correlation does not always mean causation. That is, while it could be said that people with bad mindsets get sick, but it could also be that people who are sick develop bad mindsets as a direct result of their diseases.
For example, stress might trigger heart disease, but heart disease can also cause fatigue, pain, and shortness and other symptoms that can interfere with daily life, which can be emotionally depressing. Autoimmune diseases can also cause fatigue and, depending on the organs affected, can also cause chemical imbalances that lead to depression.
People coping with serious or chronic illnesses often need to focus first on getting a handle on their illnesses before they think about changing their head space. In fact, trying to force positivity might actually create more distress and negative emotions.