The mind-body connection can work for you or against you. Learn how stress and emotions can affect your body and how to improve your mental/physical health.
How Your Emotions Affect Your Health
Mind and body are inseparable, which means your state of mind and emotions can impact your physical health and wellness, both for better and for worse. Fortunately, you can skip the negative side of this equation once you understand how this dynamic works.
Let's take a close look at the delicate two-way relationship between emotions and health and explore some effective strategies for optimizing your health and quality of life by restoring your emotional well-being.
Common Emotional Triggers
A wide range of life events can impact health. Even such happy events as childbirth or marriage can create stress responses in the body. A new job might bring welcome income and career advancement, while also imposing new worries and responsibilities. Relocation to a new residence can trigger both excitement and stress. An optimistic attitude that includes unrealistic expectations can lead to big disappointments, flipping the script to trigger stress, anxiety, or depression.
You probably won't have trouble recognizing blatantly negative emotional triggers. Examples include:
• The death of a spouse, parent, child, close friend, or pet.
• Loss of income or housing.
• Injuries or illnesses.
• Chronic pain.
• Financial pressures.
• COVID-related situations such as a prolonged quarantine scenario.
How Emotions Affect the Body
As noted above, both happy and unhappy situations can create stress responses in the body. When the brain senses an acute crisis, it signals your endocrine system to release stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. This flood of stress hormones raises your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, a "fight or flight" reaction that helps you escape danger more quickly.
However, some emotional triggers can create chronic or recurring stress. When the "fight or flight" response never lets up, the results can include:
• Aggravation of underlying breathing problems such as asthma.
• Chronic pain from tight, stiff muscles.
• Elevated risks of heart attack, stroke, and hypertension.
• Metabolic imbalances, obesity, diabetes, and related disorders.
• Digestive problems, from stomachaches to bowel irregularities and poor absorption of nutrients.
Stress Versus Your Immune System
Even if your heart, lungs, and bowels handle emotional upheavals well, those emotions can still make you more vulnerable to illness by inhibiting your immune system. Studies have shown that people who lose spouses may suffer from suppressed immunity for up to a year afterward. If you get sick frequently, ask yourself whether you've struggled with chronic stress lately.
The opposite response can also occur. Chronic emotional stress can overstimulate the immune system, raising your risk for psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders.
Negative Emotions Versus Your Everyday Life
Negative emotions can sabotage everyday productivity and quality of life. Employees distracted by fear, anger, depression, or anxiety may simply go through the motions with little enthusiasm and make critical errors they normally wouldn't make. They might also suffer from destructive relationships with bosses and coworkers.
Emotional stress can distance you from your loved ones and friends in many ways. Physically, it can reduce sexual desire and performance, interfering with intimate relationships. Psychologically, your emotional burden may make you feel irritable, anxious, or in need of isolation. These effects can make you distance yourself from others.
The Good News: Positive Emotions Support Good Health
After all the bad news about negative emotions and human health, you'll feel better knowing that positive emotions have opposite effects. Studies have shown that people who feel happy and engaged in their everyday lives enjoy a 20 percent lower risk of heart disease than those who lack that emotional vitality. Additional research has linked positive emotions and attitudes to better weight control, more stable blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and increased longevity.
Scientists admit they don't understand all the underlying mechanisms that make positive emotions good for human health. However, they believe it may have something to do with a particular part of the brain called the ventral striatum, which produces feelings of well-being while suppressing stress hormones. In any case, it only makes sense that focusing on positive emotions could take your mind off the negative ones, freeing you from the resulting health complications.
How to Improve Your Emotional Wellness
Now that you've seen how emotions affect your health, you understand the importance of gaining control over your responses to them. Consider the following mood-boosting strategies.
Meditation can help you gain firmer control over your reactions to different emotions. You can learn to note the thoughts and feelings as they occur, allowing them to pass without reacting. Other techniques to manage your mood and relax your body include exercises to control your breathing and gentle stretches to loosen tight muscles.
What you eat affects every aspect of your health, including your mind and mood. Foods that may enhance your positive outlook include fatty fish, bananas, fermented foods, dark chocolate, berries, oats, beans, and coffee. As you grow emotionally healthier, you may also give up binge eating, junk food sessions, and other unhealthy eating habits spurred by negative feelings. Good nutrition can even help with other health issues that make you feel anxious or depressed.
Social and Professional Support
Life feels more manageable when you know you can turn to someone for emotional support and understanding. Reach out to loved ones, your social circles, or a licensed therapist to help you cope with difficult emotions. Even technology can provide some welcome support in the form of apps that track your efforts and results.