Can Emotions Affect Your Health Blog 101

Can Emotions Affect Your Health

Bottom line, Yes. Many people think that hormones control our emotions, but actually, it’s the other way around. Emotions control our hormones through biochemical changes in the brain.

Various spiritual teachings say that there are only two fundamental emotions: love and fear.

For the body, this is true. All mammals, including humans, have two opposing hormonal responses to stimuli. Threatening stimuli cause an increase of stress hormones—adrenaline and cortisol. Soothing or reassuring stimuli cause an increase in the hormone oxytocin.

A sudden threat triggers the fight-or-flight response associated with adrenaline. Adrenaline steps up heart rate, increases respiration, activates muscles, and promotes hyper-alertness. Longer-term stress (from a few minutes to days and weeks) increases a different stress hormone: cortisol. Cortisol, too, makes us hyper-vigilant, but its evolutionary functions are quite different than the temporary jolt of adrenaline designed to propel us out of danger.

When cortisol stays at high levels, it automatically digests bones, muscles and joints to obtain these key nutrients. The result is elevated blood fats and sugar, which are related to many disorders. Another side effect is hunger; we reach for high-calorie foods.

Today our biggest long-term stressors are emotional and mental, not physical. In effect, we are a “new” scientific experiment. We face threats in the form of potential job loss, the pressure of commuting in heavy traffic, a barrage of fear-producing media, relationship disharmony, monetary concerns, etc. Even though these are not physical threats, our body has only one, automatic response: more cortisol. Cortisol is very hard on the body; so all these threats indirectly become physical threats.

 

Fortunately, we have a built-in mechanism for countering stress, which forms the basis of our alternative response to stimuli. This entails another hormone, called oxytocin. Apart from its functions of inducing emotional bonding, labor, and lactation, oxytocin counters the effects of cortisol. This anti-stress effect of oxytocin is a recent discovery, and very exciting, because it points the way to better health by entirely natural means.

 

Fear & Stress – Cortisol Love & Harmony – Oxytocin
Aggression Anti-stress hormone
Anxiety, Feeling stressed-out Feeling calm and connected, Increased curiosity
Activates addictions Lessens cravings & addictions
Suppresses libido Increases sexual receptivity
Associated with depression Positive feelings
Can be toxic to brain cells Facilitates learning
Breaks down muscles, bones and joints Repairs, heals and restores
Depresses immune system Faster wound healing
Increases pain Diminishes sense of pain
Clogs arteries, Promotes heart disease and high blood pressure Lowers blood pressure, Protects against heart disease
Obesity, Diabetes, Osteoporosis

 

As you can see from the chart above, nearly all the negative effects of continued stress on the body and mind are related to elevated levels of cortisol. These include: chronic anxiety and depression, emotional over-reaction, negativity, weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, and weakened immunity.

Oxytocin, by countering cortisol, can ameliorate all of these conditions—as well as some others.

Numerous activities produce more oxytocin: meditation, yoga, exercise, massage, caring for a pet, joining a support group, worshiping, and so forth. Yet one of the most important avenues for decreasing stress and increasing levels of oxytocin lies in our intimate relationships

One might wonder why we can’t just take oxytocin pills to increase levels of this helpful hormone. Unfortunately, oxytocin doesn’t cross the body’s “blood/brain barrier,” To gain its benefits, we must produce it naturally in the brain.

We produce it naturally when we love, are loved, nurture another, give selflessly, or engage in affectionate touch. It is not the neuro-chemical behind lust or burning sexual desire, although it is associated with sexual responsiveness.

Oxytocin equates with love; we could not fall in love without it. Cortisol equates with fear. These different hormones generate these opposing emotions, just as the emotions of love and fear trigger the production of these respective hormones. In other words, neuro-chemicals and behavior are circular. This means that with a bit of awareness and determination we can consciously direct our behavior toward the maintenance of our ideal hormonal balance.

By the way, oxytocin is a very unique neuro-chemical; the more oxytocin we make, the stronger our body and mind respond to it. Our nerve cells actually sprout more oxytocin receptors, making them more sensitive to its effects. It grows easier and easier to be loving.

Oxytocin is the neuro-chemical basis for the adage, “The more you give, the more you get.”

Love tends to breed more love, and fear tends to breed more fear. It’s up to us.

 

 

Thought for the Week:

“Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” ~ Mother Teresa