Gratitude: The Emotional Powerhouse
One of the most interesting things about human behavior is how we can be affected by emotional responses. Emotions are neurophysiological responses to a sensory stimulus that causes us to change how we “feel” about a situation. It is easy to understand this concept when we think about sports. If you have a favorite team think about how you “felt” the last time your team won! Were you excited, happy, or jubilated? Did you feel empowered or connected to fellow fans? Now think about how you felt the last time the team lost? Were you sad, deflated, or depressed? Did you just want to be alone?
Emotions are not a new thing in the evolution of species. Emotions are felt by many types of animals, however not as complexly as we experience them as humans. Emotions are controlled by a very old aspect of our nervous system called the limbic system. The limbic system is located in our thalamus, which sits on top of our midbrain. For those of you who are not up to date on your neurology, these structures are in the very middle of our brain and can be found in many animals. We as humans have all the same aspects of the nervous system of animals developmentally below us, but we have a much larger cortex that allows us to think and process thoughts much more complexly. The limbic systems primary purpose is to respond to pain or pleasure so we can then react accordingly.
Emotional behaviors are re-actions to a stimulus. As children we learn and are conditioned that when we have an emotion there are certain responses that are acceptable, like clapping our hands when we are happy. We always have motor (or movement) responses from sensory stimulus. Our nervous systems are wired to take information in from the world around us, and then respond to that stimulus by making different movements. For example, if you touch a hot stove you pull your hand away from it, if there is something that smells good in the kitchen we move towards it to eat. Those same stimuli that cause us to feel emotions also cause us to move our bodies differently. If your emotions cause you to feel scared you curl up in a ball to protect yourself, If your emotions make you feel happy, you open yourself up and smile ready to embrace what makes you happy. You can take every emotion and correlate it with a certain movement pattern and see for yourself how reactionary humans are to how we “feel”.
Not every emotion carries a big response but certain emotions are very powerful in how our body reacts. If you’re scared and think you will be hurt you will run away. If you are excited because you just won the lottery, you will jump up and down. Emotions not only have physical responses but they have physiological responses too. They affect our hormones like cortisol, which is the stress handling hormone, and they affect endorphin levels, which are neurotransmitters that makes us feel good.
There is one emotion that has the most powerful healing effect on our body, and that is feeling grateful. When we feel grateful we change so much of our physiology we can actually alter our biochemistry and help to change disease states and return to normal physiology. This has been studied extensively and if you check out the Heart Math institute you can learn more about it too: visit www.heartmath.com.
Along with feeling grateful you can increase the effectiveness of the feeling of being grateful by doing a mindfulness exercise every day that is really very simple. To start you sit quietly and focus on your breathing to calm your body down, as you breath rhythmically start to focus on anything that you feel grateful for. Next imagine your heart in your chest as a challis and then imagine trying to fill that challis up with the feeling of what you are grateful for, just as you would fill a cup with a pitcher of water. Continue to take slow rhythmic breaths and as your challis starts to overflow imagine that feeling of gratefulness filling up your body, flowing all the way down to your feet and then filling you up all the way to the top of your head. Once the feeling of gratefulness has reached the top of your head, hold yourself in that state of feeling grateful for as long as you would like, a couple minutes is recommended. When you are finished this mindfulness exercise evaluate how you “feel”, I know you will be pleasantly surprised.
There are many other tools that can be very helpful in balancing emotions. The simple act of meditating and slowing the mind down is wonderful to help stabilize emotions. Emotions are never bad things! Everyone has emotions but it’s when some emotions become like skips in a record and continue to play over and over in our minds is when the emotion is becoming toxic and problematic to our nervous system and our physiology.
Other tools that can be very helpful in treating emotions are essential oils and Bach flower remedies. Essential oils have sensory stimulation effects by the way they smell affecting our brains, but they also have physiological effects, as they will alter our biochemistry too. Used consistently essential oils can make huge differences in our bodies. Bach flower remedies are homeopathics for emotions. The energetic aspect of the homeopathic remedy causes our body to become more aware of what our body is dealing with emotionally and then helps our body to process that emotion and move through it instead of constantly being stuck on that emotion like Chinese water torture going on and on over and over and never leaving us alone.
Emotional balance and health is one of the key factors to living a long happy life. We all suffer from disappointment or hardships from time to time, but we also have many good things to be thankful and grateful for in our lives too. When we focus on those things we are grateful for instead of the things that are bringing us down we will live a much more healthy fulfilling life. When you need a little help to get through the tough times remember to stop and focus on something you are grateful for and also remember there are tools
like the Bach flowers and essential oils that can really help you to rebalance your emotions faster and help you live a more natural, more healthy, more optimal life!