There is much research that shows the links between exercise and enhanced mental health. Exercise has been found to help decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia, and trauma. In addition, performing exercise helps us create a more positive thought structure about ourselves, our abilities, and our strength to care for ourselves. This translates into a concept called Mastery.
Mastery is important because it helps us build a healthy self-esteem – or how we see ourselves in the world and as worthy of love and belonging. Love and belonging matter because as humans we are hard wired to need other humans. We build our brains off each other, our somatic system picks up on the connection we have with other humans (and animals) and we regulate each other – for better or worse.
By participating in regular exercise you are building the systems of the body, mind, and spirit that enhance the human existence, thus creating a more positive disposition and coping in everyday life. (Just so you know … you still have free choice, choosing to participate in activities or with groups that hurt you in some way. Will not make your life better just because you are moving. Make sure you choose wisely when choosing who you surround yourself with and how you balance your workouts to meet your individual needs).
Have you ever thought about your emotions as chemical reactions in your body? For many they feel emotions come out of nowhere or are stupid and confusing, but in reality emotions are a source of intelligence and create chemical trails within your body. As a result, emotions shift your physical system and impact physical health structures.
As a source of intelligence emotions give us information. They are a quicker and often more true source of information than our thinking mind. Those who are both emotionally intelligent and intellectually intelligent come out as the winners in our society. They can discern and utilize information along side reading social cues. This allows them to engage people in their goals and methods as well as make on the spot corrections to their language, presentation focus, and examples. Many studies show that those who invoke emotion during a presentation are viewed more favorably by the audience. Thus their information and call to action may be better remembered and given more importance than those who only present data and reason.
Every emotion you have creates a chemical – electrical pattern within the body. This chemical electrical pattern is read by your endocrine system. The endocrine system then determines what hormones to move into the system and at what level to keep homeostasis going. Your body is always working to balance you. In contrast, hormones determine what you focus on. Let’s use sex hormones as our examples to help outline how our chemical nature determines our ability to engage with our environment. Before, I get feed back that this is too stereotypical, please remember that we all have differing levels of both testosterone, estrogen and progesterone – male or female, and that having a balanced endocrine system can help decrease many of the mental health issues we experience. For example, Olsson, Kopsida, Sorjonen, and Savic report:
“In sum, our results showed that females treated with testosterone, compared with the placebo, displayed an enhanced tendency to rate low-dominant faces as dominant, and this hampered the ability to accurately attribute mental states to others. In contrast, estrogen administered to males did not affect social–cognitive performance but affected vicarious emotional reactivity”. (p. 520, 2016)
The presence of more or less testosterone has been shown to help us focus on particular emotional states and ignore others. Emotions considered to be low on status help (disgust and sadness) can be more difficult for those with higher testosterone levels to discern, especially at lower levels of intensity (Rukavina et. al, 2018). This may be helpful for those who have high levels of fear and anxiety, as testosterone supplementation can help reduce the responsiveness to these emotional states. However, one must be careful as too much can lead to higher levels of aggression and stress on the cardiovascular system. Remember the “Type A” syndrome of men who have coronary problems midlife? The reactivity in their endocrine system around anger and aggression created stress on their cardic systems.
In addition, Toffoletto et al. state,
“Ovarian hormones are pivotal for the physiological maintenance of the brain function as well as its response to environmental stimuli. There is mounting evidence attesting the relevance of endogenous ovarian hormones as well as exogenous estradiol and progesterone for emotional and cognitive processing” (p. 28, 2014).
In a meta-analysis of over 30 studies looking at fluctuations in female hormones, brain activation, and emotional and cognitive processing they showed how differing levels of endogenous hormones impacted focal points and reactions to social and cognitive stimuli.
We like to think … we just think, but in reality everything we are is a chemical – electrical pattern inter-woven into our core being. It is both a physical and a cognitive process. Last week we looked closely at our thoughtsand saw that what we think influences how we feel (physically and mentally). This week we flip to recognize that how we feel influences how we think. And how we feel is moderated by what is going on around us and inside of us. It is so important to care for your body. By looking at our differing sex hormones we see that we may over or under react to external factors based on levels of hormones in our physical system. We didn’t decide to focus more on one or the other, it is what our body mandated. As a result, we can shift how our bodies are operating by caring well for ourselves on a physical and mental level.
We need to pay attention to things like good foods – we need the nutrientsto make the neurotransmitters and hormones we need to calm our nervous systems and help our brain activate areas needed for particular focus.
We need daily movementas it helps us metabolize stress hormones effectively and helps us make the feel good states our endorphins and endocannaboids can provide. We are calm and alert, but not overly focused or hyper vigilant – neither are helpful for intelligence states, learning, relationship, or creativity.
We need positive sleep and enough of it. Sleep helps our system reset and restore. Without it we are shortening our telomeres and shortening our lives. Sleep helps make sure our physical structure has what it needs, and as we saw above we need our physical structures to operate well for us to modulate where our attention goes.
We need solid, strong, and positive relationships. By cultivating good social relationships we activate our interpersonal dependance system which helps us regulate well, builds our brains, and helps maintain our grounding in present moment situations. It helps us to check-in and check ourselves when one of the above self-regulators is off.
So today, stop thinking about your emotions as random things that happen to you and take control of this powerful system by feeding yourself well (good self-regulation about all you allow into your system and your environment) and activating the ability to gather the intelligence your emotions give you through your chemical – electrical system. Then use that intelligence to act on those influences doing just what is needed in this moment, based on the moment you are in, not the one you wish you were.
Once you get the information and act upon it, emotions dissipate and you do not have to carry them forward as evidence of past experiences. They are just informational pieces to be used right now, help you survive your experiences, and connect deeply to what is around you. They are not the enemy, they are just information. Use them wisely.
Rukavina, S., Sachsenweger, F., Jerg-Bretzke, L., Daucher, A., Traue, H., Walter, S., & Hoffmann, H. (2018). Abstract: Testosterone and its influence on emotion recognition in young, healthy males. Psychology,09(07), 1814-1827. doi:10.4236/psych.2018.97106
Toffoletto, S., Lanzenberger, R., Gingnell, M., Sundström-Poromaa, I., & Comasco, E. (2014). Emotional and cognitive functional imaging of estrogen and progesterone effects in the female human brain: A systematic review. Psychoneuroendocrinology,50, 28-52. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.07.025