How emotions affect your health — a direct correlation

Original article by Gemma Tarlach | December 30, 2013 2:00 pm | Image from Discover Magazine online

By Gemma Tarlach | December 30, 2013 2:00 pm | Image from Discover Magazine online

We all know how it feels–a deep sadness feels like a catch in the throat. Anger burns in your face,  and the feeling of surprise hits you right in the chest.

Turns out these physical responses to emotion are universal, and now scientists are proving that they also map directly to certain parts of our bodies. New research reveals that emotional states are universally associated with certain bodily sensations, regardless of individuals’ culture or language.

In the study, more than 700 participants from around the globe participated in experiments which mapped both positive and negative emotions in response to stimuli. These emotions were then computer mapped by coloring in two computer-generated silhouettes — one to note areas of increased bodily sensation and the second to mark areas of decreased sensation. The results are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What is considered “good” emotional health and hygiene, and how does that effect our physical body?
According to most psychologists, people who are emotionally healthy are in control of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They feel good about themselves and have good relationships. They can keep problems in perspective. In other words, they maintain a good balance between life stressors and reactions to those same stressors. Stressors directly affect our health in terms of heart rate, release of stress hormones that affect weight gain and obesity, and stress that affects sleep and the ability to relax.

Tips on dealing with emotions:

  • Think before you act. Emotions can be powerful. But before you get carried away by your emotions and say or do something you might regret, give yourself time to think.
  • Strive for balance in your life. Make time for things you enjoy. Focus on positive things in your life.
  • Take care of your physical health. Your physical health can affect your emotional health. Take care of your body by exercising regularly, eating healthy meals and getting enough sleep. Don’t abuse drugs or alcohol.

Positive emotions can actually improve our health (original article by By Lauren Klein | June 20, 2013 |
Now a new study goes one step further, not only showing that positive emotions improve health but identifying precisely how they have this effect: by making people feel more socially connected. 

In the study, published online in Psychological Science, researchers divided 65 people into two groups. One received training in the ancient practice of loving-kindness meditation; the other was put on a waiting list for the meditation training. The participants in the meditation group attended one hour-long class per week for six weeks, which they were asked to supplement with daily practice at home. The researchers also assessed participants’ health before the training started and after it ended. To do that, they took readings of participants’ heart rate and breathing patterns—a way of measuring their “vagal tone,” or the activity of their vagus nerve, which regulates heart rate. Vagal tone has been linked to cardiovascular health, and the researchers viewed it as a good objective measure of physical well-being.

People in the loving-kindness meditation group showed greater increases in positive emotions like amusement, awe, and gratitude over the course of the training. And the people who showed greater increases in positive emotions were also more likely to feel more socially connected over time, saying they felt closer and more “in tune” with the people around them. Those feelings of social connection, in turn, were linked to improvements in vagal tone.

Want More Positive Emotions? Learn how to practice loving-kindness meditation from the GGSC’s Christine Carter, or download the audio for a compassion meditation created by Helen Weng of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.