The Chemistry of Positive Emotions

The Chemistry of Positive Emotions

The Chemistry of Positive Emotions

The Chemistry of Positive Emotions

In years past I have written about physical healing that comes from a positive feeling state. Now I want to explore whether there are measurable chemical changes in our bodies from positive emotions and discuss ways to use this natural healing medicine.

Chemistry and emotions

Positive or negative emotions change your body chemistry.

Think for a moment about this. How does it feel to communicate/show kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, or love? You should feel an energy shift inside your body. We call this shift an emotion, which is literally…an energy in motion (e-motion).

Similarly, negative emotions such as fear, anger, or frustration cause tension in your jaw, limbs, chest, or gut. That’s because they change your body chemistry. Moreover, we know that negative emotions held too long are harmful to your physical health.

For example, depression causes internal sensory impulses in the brain and gut via neurotransmitters. If it weren’t true, antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) would not work.

Take heart disease as another example. Heart disease is now recognized as having a highly significant psychosomatic component. In fact, based on a 20-year review of the medical literature,[1] emotional disturbance has been proven to impact both heart disease development over time and also acute myocardial events (heart attacks).

Are there measurable chemical changes from positive emotions?

Consider the various ways that physical healing chemicals are produced by positive emotions, specifically from music’s positive emotions:

1. Dopamine is your “feel good” brain hormone. In 2001 Harvard scientists found on imaging studies that certain areas of the brain will release dopamine when you listen to your favorite music; music has been shown to relieve anxiety and depression. Good mood from music therapy was found to be comparable to prescription medications for reducing anxiety before surgery.

2. Good mood (positive emotions) boosts immune function.

3. Good mood improves sleep quality. A study of 94 students with sleep complaints found that those who listened to relaxing music for 45 minutes at bedtime for three weeks had significantly improved sleep and also decreased depression.

4. Good mood increases your exercise stamina (every athlete knows this)

5. Positive emotions turn on sensuality. Dopamine sets the stage for enjoyable sex.

6. Positive emotions have been shown to improve cognitive tasks and test-taking by students.

7. Good mood reduces pain. This is why some serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and duloxetine (Cymbalta) that are mood boosters are also successfully used to control chronic pain.[2] We know that serotonin and norepinephrine play a major role in both nociception (pain) and mood regulation. They are linked.

8. Good mood improves recovery from a heart attack. It decreases blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of anxiety because of endorphins (natural morphine-like molecules) that are spontaneously released.

How to harness this natural medicine

There is a multitude of ways to bring into you this natural medicine called positive emotions.

While I was running in my neighborhood this morning, I felt little shots of this natural medicine by simply waving to passersby runners. Just that friendly gesture shifted chemicals inside me that really felt good.

Then I returned home to tell my wife how I love and appreciate her, which again gave me a shot of this natural medicine called positive emotion. In fact, it naturally releases whenever I communicate friendly words, use safe humor, or do acts of kindness. It's great to know we I can generate positive emotions whenever I choose to do so.

To heal and feel positive emotions,

Michael Cutler, M.D.

[1] Tennant C, McLean L. The impact of emotions on coronary heart disease risk. J Cardiovasc Risk. 2001 Jun;8(3):175-83. Pubmed ID 11455850. [2]

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