We all know that negative emotions can lead us to a dark place of sadness, unhappiness and depression. But they can also negatively affect the nervous system by increasing the heart rate, constricting blood flow and increasing the blood pressure. Over time, when we stay in this negative state, keeping our bodies in constant sympathetic state – that fight or flight, we can negatively impact immune system to cause long health issues such as heart disease or even cancer. In contrast, positive emotions can undo the lingering cardiovascular effects of these negative emotions by calming the nervous system and slowing the heart rate to its baseline activity.
According to Barbara Fredrickson, renowned researcher on positive emotions and author of Positivity: “experiencing positive emotions broadens people's minds and builds their resourcefulness in ways that help them become more resilient to adversity and effortlessly achieve what they once could only imagine.”
While this is encouraging and we may even know this already, how do we get there? And then, how do we stay there consistently? Life is stressful. Sometimes even messy. Just the day to day stuff seems to send us over the edge, but there are so many things beyond our control – illness of family members, trauma, financial or work-related challenges. Sometimes we sink into that place of negative emotion and it seems like it sucks us in like a dark pit. And of course, when we have had trauma in the past, we begin to anticipate or even create a future trauma event in our mind. It may not even be reality, but because our bodies believe and react to it, it becomes our reality.
So where do we begin. This is definitely part of a life-long lesson for me. But as I experience each birthday, apart from being grateful for another healthy year, I have started an internal quest on how to make such changes for my own well-being – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. But then it’s all part of the same whole, isn’t it? As much as we try to separate one aspect of ourselves from the other, we quickly realize that everything is interconnected within us. While I strive for healthy living, I don’t profess to know all the answers. But I do know what works for me.
- Connecting to the present moment. It seems like this phrase is used so often but I’m not sure if everyone understands what it means or how to do this. For me, it means acknowledging how I am feeling right at this very moment. When it involves anger or tears, there is usually a fair amount of judgment sometimes directed at someone else or even myself. And because I am conflict adverse, it is difficult for me let go of these emotions. Sometimes it means allowing the emotion to surface – anger or sadness – and then hopefully let it go. But I usually have to dig a bit deeper.
- Breathe. I use this word a lot when I am teaching a yoga class. And I have had it directed to me when I am in a state of panic. When I’m in that negative place, someone telling me to breathe doesn’t help much. It only aggravates my emotion. But when I take a moment, close my eyes and tap into conscious breathing, it’s like taking a magic pill. Everything comes into focus. My body calms. My head stops spinning. The colour red raging within me dims to a gentle soft pink. Nothing seems quite so urgent.
- Gratitude. When we have a sick child, lost our job or our own health is at risk, it may be challenging to find gratitude. I have discovered that there are always blessings if you look more closely. When our son was sick, the blessings were the incredible care he received, the support of family and friends and the beautiful blessing of our own little unit closing ranks and taking care of each other. Those blessings have become the backbone of underlying respect and love among our family. The worry was real. But the love and the blessings turned out to be stronger. I find truth in the words of Walt Disney: “The more you are in a state of gratitude, the more you will attract things to be grateful for.”
- Meditation. “The most significant health benefits of meditation are stress reduction, better sleep, lower blood pressure, improved immunity and the ability to stay centered in the midst of all the turmoil that's going on around you. Meditation helps you do less and accomplish more,” says Dr. Deepak Chopra, renowned author, public speaker and spiritual leader. I began incorporating meditation into my daily habits after following a 21-day guided meditation series offered by Dr. Chopra and Oprah. From there my practice started slowly, but has gradually evolved over the last few years. There are days when I don’t feel as though I am truly meditating. I can’t seem to shut out the morning noise of our home, people shuffling around the house making breakfast and chatting over coffee. Setting distractions aside, every morning I begin by setting an intention for my day. I connect with what’s going on in my body, my mind and my heart. Yes, somedays are a little precarious, but then others are a peaceful, gentle way to start off the day. On the days I don’t have time to meditate, I feel off-balance. It was only in comparing these off-balance days to the others that I realized my daily meditation practice has positively impacted my daily mood. It sets the tone for my entire day.
- Lifestyle changes. We all know physical activity has many health benefits – it strengthens the heart and improves lung function, it reduces risk factors for coronary disease and diabetes. Also, people who are physically active have reduced risk of depression and declining cognitive function as we age. For me, yoga is my magic potion. And I also walk. It doesn’t really matter what you do, just keep moving. Any sort of body movement is like an instant jolt of happy for me. Diet is also important. Not only does it help with our weight, which can negatively impact our heart on overall health, there is so much new research on the foods we eat and how it affects our brain health. Over the last few years, I have made some drastic changes in my diet which have positively impacted my mood and well- being. At first it was eliminating a few things, and then adding more healthy options but it has been a gradual transition. And I definitely savour the treats when I can, although not as often.
- Changing the movie in our head. This has been a work in progress. I have a tendency to go over events and situations in my mind, as I’m sure we all do. Usually these movies are negative events. When we do this, we are definitely not living in the present moment. In fact, we are actually bringing the past into the present and allowing it to also impact our future. Dr. Joe Dispenza, author of Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, says “We are capable of reliving a past event over and over, perhaps thousands of times in one lifetime.” He says this unconscious repetition trains the body to remember the emotional state better than the conscious mind so that this becomes a habit. Now when I find myself doing this, I try to push the stop or pause button right away, take that deep breath and redirect my thoughts. With each breath, I try to release and let the negative thought and subsequent emotion go. Sometimes it may involve forgiving someone or even myself. If I’m walking, I connect to my surroundings. The fun part is creating a new story to replace the old negative thought pattern, but the key is in believing your new story. Now I focus on what’s good in my world, what I am working on and why it will succeed. I’m a sucker for movies with happy endings, so that’s the story I have started telling myself in my mind. There are still many days when that same old drama seems to play on rewind, but I’m optimistic I can change that habit much like I have with the other positive habits I have introduced into my life.
- Letting go of Guilt. This one has been a challenge as well. I was brought up Catholic and I am a woman, sometimes it feels like guilt was built into my DNA at birth. But I am becoming more aware of why I do things. Now if there is something I feel uncomfortable in doing, I take a moment to ask myself why I’m doing the task or attending a function. If it’s not coming from my heart, I have to ask myself some tough questions. Sometimes saying no, has repercussions so I give in to the guilt and do things despite my misgivings. But I am slowly reaching the point of understanding that saying no often means saying yes to me and my personal well-being.
These are just a few things that have worked for me on my quest to welcome more positive emotions into my life, rather than dwell on the negative. They aren’t hard and fast rules because I am human and I definitely falter. Not every day is a ray of sunshine, but I can honestly say that I have more happy days than unhappy. And when I slip into the negative emotions, I can usually catch myself before I get too deep into the rabbit hole.
I agree with Dr. Dispenza when he says: “if we want to change some aspect of our reality, we have to think, feel and act in new ways; we have to “be” different in terms of our responses to experiences. We have to “become” someone else.” But it doesn’t have to happen overnight. In fact, I believe for change to last, it has to be gradual, an exploration of who you are, where you are right now and who you would like to become. Hopefully, when we make these changes it becomes easier to tap into more positive emotions to embrace well-being and a happier approach to life.
*The opinions expressed in this blog are strictly my own. Material presented is provided for informational purposes only. It may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice.
Catherine Mattice is a Director and a Member of TQS Lifestyle Association. She has over 25 years of experience as a communications specialist and writer within the travel and health care sectors. Catherine has been practicing yoga since 2001 and completed her 200 RYT Hatha Yoga with Barb Leese in 2012. In addition, she has completed a 50-hour Therapeutic Yoga Intensive Workshop with Susi Hately of Functional Synergy. She is also a certified Master Reiki practitioner. Catherine holds a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism from Ryerson University.Website: www.tqstransformation.com