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Scientists Link Emotions with Physical Health

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Happy and healthy

According to News in Health (NIH), individuals full of optimism are potentially benefitting their physical health. NIH-funded scientists are looking into the connection of an individual’s attitude with his or her body, finding evidence of improving emotional wellness by developing certain skills.

Optimism

The key to positive and negative emotions is finding a balance between the two, said Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D., psychologist and expert on emotional wellness at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in the report.

Positive emotions expand our awareness and open us up to new ideas, so we can grow and add to our toolkit for survival,” said Fredrickson.

Research has shown practicing various forms of meditation leads to more positive emotions. Research also suggests humans have control over emotions, added Fredrickson.

Emotionally well individuals are resilient with negative situations. They also hold onto positive emotions longer and focus on what is important to them and what keeps them happy in life. Using brain imaging, positive emotions trigger “reward” pathways, which leave lasting activation in the ventral striatum.

Research found those who are generally happier have shown a few health benefits including:

  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Reduced risk for heart disease;
  • Healthier weight;
  • Lower levels of a stress hormone;
  • Better blood sugar levels and
  • A longer life span.

Further research must be conducted to determine whether positive emotions lead to better health, vice versa or if other factors are involved.

Gloominess

In addition to the positive emotions, negative emotions are vital to humans as well.

“People need negative emotions to move through difficult situations and respond to them appropriately in the short term,” explained Fredrickson. “Negative emotions can get us into trouble, though, if they’re based on too much rumination about the past or excessive worry about the future, and they’re not really related to what’s happening in the here and now.”

Negative emotions can activate a brain region known as the amygdala, which plays a role in fear and anxiety.

“We’ve shown that there are big differences among people in how rapidly or slowly the amygdala recovers following a threat,” said Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the report. “Those who recover more slowly may be more at risk for a variety of health conditions compared to those who recover more quickly.”

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