Emotions and anxiety seem to go hand in hand with sensitivity. Minds and senses that are easily over-stimulated seem to generate big feelings and deep worry. The good news is we also develop beautiful thoughts and inspiring ideas.
I read 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy, According to Neuroscience in Time’s online ideas/psychology section months ago. Its suggestions are simple and truly make a difference. I have practiced them and seen real success.
More ways gratitude amazes and rewires our thinking
We’ve talked about gratitude before and the wonderful way it interrupts anxiety. Now 4 Rituals That Will Make You Happy... tells us that reflecting gratefully increases dopamine production in our brain. Dopamine makes us want, desire, seek out and search. It motivates us. It makes us feel good.
Not only is gratitude a lovely practice to enjoy in solitude it works equally well when we apply gratitude to another person or relationship. Being grateful for someone and/or telling them also creates a burst of dopamine, which makes social interactions more enjoyable. We introverts benefit greatly from positive, non-draining social experiences.
Relationship maintenance behaviors and acts of responsiveness lead to expressions of gratitude and reciprocal responsiveness. Gratitude is part of a positive feedback loop that enhances relationships. I read somewhere that we should say “Thank you” as much as we say “I love you” in our close relationships.
Taking power away from negative emotions
A study mentioned in the book, Upward Spiral, found that simply naming feelings experienced while looking at images of emotional facial expressions moved the processing of the emotions from the amygdala (the brains emotional processor, linked to the expression of fear and pleasure) to the prefrontal cortex (brain region responsible for executive functioning like decision-making and organization), thus de-escalating reactivity.
I often have clients experiencing stress, label what they are feeling. I ask them to put names to the emotions passing through their mind and body. It’s one way to help them move from feeling upset to feeling in control.
Stopping the ruminating our internally focused minds do, can help us feel happier. Coming to a conclusion and making a decision allows our mind to rest and calms our limbic system (complex system in your brain that controls moods and drives).
My favorite mantra, Action dissolves fear, relates to decision-making. Decision-making puts an end to worrisome thoughts. Now I am the first to admit, making decisions can be difficult. I’ve definitely struggled with it because of my need to please as many people as possible and my hope to appear smart and competent by using logic. Often those two intentions contradict each other, so I stew.
Upward Spiral has a solution to that stewing — make a ‘good enough’ decision. It does not have to be perfect. Think of your decision as being 80% satisfying. Once we make a decision we feel good. We feel like we are in control. We actually get a shot of dopamine just for coming to a conclusion.
In MRI experiments social exclusion activates the same parts of your brain as physical pain. Warm and loving touch makes us feel cared for and accepted. Even small touches like handshakes and pats on the back benefit our nervous system. More intimate relationships allow for more deep touching, which reduces our physical and emotional pain.
Touching releases the hormone, oxytocin, often called the cuddle drug because our bodies produce it during cuddling, social bonding, orgasms and breastfeeding.
If you don’t have someone to hug or touch right now, get a massage. The touch of a massage therapist increases serotonin and dopamine levels in your body. It also reduces pain and helps you sleep. What do you have to lose??
Softening the tension
The last few months have been full of political negativity and conflict. The outcome of the election has left many of us stunned. I hope a few of the suggestions in this post bring you peace. Thinking of all of you and hoping you continue to spread loving light. I will.