YOUR MIND HAS A VERY STRONG INFLUENCE ON YOUR PHYSICAL BODY. Just the thought of sour pickles can make your mouth salivate. Does your nose crinkle when talking about dirty diapers? Did you know that holding a pen between your teeth horizontally will create a smile expression that can actually make your mood more positive?
Positive mood offset occurs when people feel a positive mood without any strong emotional event occurring. Positive mood offset is virtually universal in every nation around the world, even among people who live in extremely difficult circumstances .
It has been shown to improve fertility, reproductive success and health, and increase ancestral adaptive behaviors, such as creativity, planning, mating, and sociality. Because of the ubiquity and advantages of positive moods, a reasonable hypothesis is that humans were selected for positivity mood offset in our evolutionary past .
Our daily habits and thoughts contribute to a positive or negative mood, regardless of your situation or environment. Many of us have living conditions (ie. physical disease, abuse, financial stressors, mental disorders, etc) that are not ideal, but this doesn’t mean you cannot live a rewarding and empowering life.
- Creativity and hobbies
- Human touch and contact
- Perception and empathy
- Positive self talk, while avoiding gossip and comparisons
- Smiling and laughter
- Electronic impact
- Physical activity
- Intention and optimism
- Wholesome entertainment – Music, books, movies, cognitive games
- Community and social support
- Completing tasks
- Food for mood
Picking up knitting, drawing or a musical instrument could have major positive impacts on your physical health, mental well-being and build resilience to overcome future stressors.
With the growing body of evidence, health policy communities have recognized the health and well-being benefits from creative arts . A dominant theory recognizes creative arts as a strategy to build self-esteem, self-awareness, social confidence and connectedness, especially in children .
From music engagement to visual arts therapy and movement-based creative expression to expressive writing, the arts empower people to fulfill the basic human drive to create and allows a sense of possibility. Also, the ambiguity and playfulness inherent to creative expression strengthen a person’s flexibility and resilience .
A study with long-term care facilities showed maintaining independent hobbies and lifestyle to be one of the most important factors in improving the lives of elder residents .
Five benefits of the arts and hobbies include :
- making the truths of life more real for us
- fulfilling a basic human need to be creative
- helping one to become a more whole person
- having the opportunity to experience joy
- building bridges across diverse backgrounds
Preventive coping are the efforts taken to reduce the likelihood of experiencing, or lessen the impact of, stress in the future. The most commonly and frequently endorsed preventive strategies, especially for people living with mental illnesses, are accessing social support and engaging in activities or hobbies. These 2 strategies resulted in more positive end-of-day mood .
Evidence suggests that creative activities has a healing and protective effect on mental well-being. The therapeutic effects promote relaxation, provide a means of self-expression, reduce blood pressure while boosting the immune system and reducing stress .
Meditation is a family of emotional and attentional regulatory practices to cultivation a sense of well-being and emotional balance .
The most common forms of meditation are :
- Focused attention meditation (FAM)
- Open monitoring meditation (OMM)
- Loving kindness (or compassion) meditation (LKM)
FAM is typically the starting point for any novice meditator, in which the focused attention is on a chosen object or event, such as breathing or a candle flame. Constant monitoring of concentration on the chosen event is required to avoid mind wandering .
Once practitioners are familiar with FAM and can easily sustain focused attention on an object for a considerable amount of time, they often progress to OMM. During OMM the focus becomes monitoring of awareness itself. In contrast to FAM, there is no object or event that the meditator has to focus on. The aim is rather to remain in the monitoring state, being attentive to any experience that might arise, without selecting, judging, or focusing on any particular object .
Loving-kindness meditation (LKM) incorporates elements of both FAM and OMM, whereby meditators develop love and compassion for themselves first and then gradually extend this love to ever more “unlikeable” others (e.g., from self to a friend, to someone one does not know, to all living beings). Any negative associations that might arise are to be replaced by positive ones .
While meditation reduces stress and induces a relaxing state of mind, it can also have significant effects on how people perceive and process the world around them, and alter the way they regulate attention and emotion .
Research suggests these meditations have differential, dissociable effects on a range of cognitive processes, such as attentional selection, conflict monitoring, divergent, and convergent thinking. Different kinds of meditations are associated with different neural structures and different patterns of electroencephalographic (EEG) activity .
Regional brain stimulous in more practiced meditators correlate with better sustained attention and a significant reduction of self-reported unpleasantness of painful stimuli while practicing open monitoring meditation (OMM) . The brain regions associated with attention vary with length of a meditation session and between long- and short-term meditators .
A study with solid organ transplant recipients showed meditation improved outcomes while taking immune suppressive medications . These drugs have unpleasant side effects, cause complications, and lead to distressing symptoms that reduce health-related quality of life. Psychosocial stress is one of the most prominent negative sequelae of organ transplantation, and symptoms of depression, anxiety and insomnia are common. Non-pharmacologic interventions, such as meditation, prove to provide transplant recipients relief from some of these distressful symptoms .
The neuroscientific study of meditation is still in its infancy, but the initial findings reviewed above promise both to reveal the mechanisms by which such training may exert its effects and explain the plasticity of the brain that underlie complex regulatory mental functions .
Experiencing and expressing gratitude can lead to increased positive affect, life satisfaction and overall well-being.
Positive psychologists aim their interventions to increase individuals’ happiness and life satisfaction by noting positive events in daily life, expressing gratitude, and identifying personal strengths .
These strategies and perspectives not only aid in times of stress and helping prevent future difficulties but can also lower blood pressure, improve immune function, promote happiness and well-being, and spur acts of helpfulness, generosity, and cooperation . In addition, gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders .
Gratitude is a feeling that occurs in interpersonal exchanges when one person acknowledges receiving a valuable benefit from another. Gratitude is a cognitive-affective state that is typically associated with the perception that one has received a personal benefit that was not intentionally sought after, deserved, or earned but rather because of the good intentions of another person .
Gratitude anchors two important perspectives :
- An affirming of goodness or “good things” in one’s life
- Recognition that sources of this goodness lie, at least partially, outside the self
People who experience high levels of gratitude exhibit more positive states and life satisfaction. Similarly, expressing gratitude has also been linked to greater optimism, higher energy, and fewer reported physical symptoms due to the ability to savor positive experiences, people, and things, while simultaneously preventing the perceiver from taking these positive aspects of life for granted .
Experiencing gratitude provides the opportunity to receive the greatest satisfaction and joy from positive circumstances, while expressing gratitude can serve as an adaptive coping strategy by re-framing difficulties in a positive light .
Contact with other humans and animals trigger a release of oxytocin in the body, which improves stress and overall well-being. So start hugging and kissing one another more often.
Oxytocin is released in response to sensory nerves activation during labor, breastfeeding, sexual activity and food intake. It is not only released during interaction between mothers and infants, but also during positive interaction between adults or between humans and animals . In addition oxytocin is released in response to low intensity stimulation of the skin (ie., in response to touch, stroking, warm temperature, etc) .
Oxytocin is a hypothalamic nonapeptide and has been linked to increased levels of social interaction, well-being and anti-stress effects :
- induce well-being by stimulating dopamine release (reward motivation)
- increase social interaction
- decrease anxiety
- decrease stress reactions in the hypothalamic-pituitary—adrenal axis (HPA-axis)
- decreasing noradrenergic release (stress hormone)
- decrease the sensitivity to pain by increasing opioidergic activity
- modulates serotoninergic activity (feel good hormone)
Our perceptions influence how we think, feel and act towards ourselves, objects, situations and other people. Empathy is developed from a deep reflection of self, which allows one to imagine the experience of another.
Are you the type of person who gravitates towards gossip? Do you journal each night about all the bad things that happened to you in the day? Do you feel like you have ‘bad luck’?
If so, you might be pre-selecting to acknowledge and remember negative events in your life, as opposed a more accurate representation of positive and negative events.
Our perceptions control our reality. We unconsciously associate words, thoughts and feeling to the things we perceive with our senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch). Humans are biased in nature and often don’t even realize that there are infinite ways to interpret the same object, person or scenario.
It helps to put things in perspective when we understanding that our past experiences dictate our thoughts and reactions. It also helps to recognize why someone else may see life differently, which develops into empathy.
Empathy reﬂects an inter-subjective induction process by which positive and negative emotions are shared, without losing sight of whose feelings belong to whom. Empathy has evolved with the mammalian brain to develop social bonds necessary for surviving, reproducing and maintaining well being .
Empathy is composed of multiple facets :
- Affective sharing– the capacity to become affectively aroused by the type and intensity of others’ emotions
- Empathic understanding – entails the conscious awareness of the emotional state of another person
- Empathic concern – refers to the motivation to care for someone’s welfare
- Cognitive empathy – is similar to the construct of perspective taking, where one has the ability to put oneself into the mind of another individual and imagine what that person is thinking or feeling
We all have control over our perceptions, but rarely acknowledge this ability. It takes consistent and conscious awareness of our motivators and choice in memories. A child-like curiosity in the ways in which we think, speak and act will help guide self-reflection. Keeping a gratitude journal is one way to reinforce positive memories and experiences as opposed to remembering negative, emotionally fueled occurrences.
Recent studies show self-induced changes in mood can increase the production of serotonin, which is your feel good hormone . So start your daily affirmations.
Mindfulness—as a state, trait, process, type of meditation, and intervention has proven to be beneficial across a diverse group of psychological disorders as well as for general stress reduction .
One of the original translations of mindfulness, was in 1882 from the Pali root, sati (Sanskrit: smṛti), meaning “memory,” and closely related to the verb, sarati, referring to the process, “to remember” .
As seen previously, traditional emphasis of most meditation practice is that of mental development. A focus on cultivating a general sense of well-being and virtue along with a level of deep familiarity with one’s inner mental landscape, and one’s patterns of behavior .
Mindfulness can be described as the continuous discriminative attentional capacity for encoding and recollecting experiences efficiently—without forgetfulness or distraction, and in the appropriate context .
Mindfulness can lead to positive changes in emotional regulation during distress or physical suffering and cultivation of an open, non-judgmental, non-reactive form of awareness .
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs have been shown to improve mood and health-related quality of life for patients with cancer, anxiety, depression and to improve stress management abilities .
Mindfulness emphasis four qualities:
- A balanced intensity of effort and diligence
- Wisdom of clear discernment or phenomenal clarity
- Mindful awareness
- Freedom from desire and discontent, a form of equanimity
Equanimity (Pali, upekkhā) is translated as “on-looking” or “watching things as they arise” and describes the balance of arousal without hyperexcitability or fatigue .
Mindfulness reduces biases related to self-processing and creates a sustainable healthy mind through self-awareness, self-regulation of one’s behaviours, and a positive relationship between self and others that transcends self-focused needs and increases pro-social characteristics (self-transcendence). This framework of self-awareness, -regulation, and -transcendence (S-ART) illustrates a method for becoming aware of the conditions that cause (and remove) distortions or biases .
Relevant perceptual, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral neuropsychological processes are supporting mechanisms for S-ART, including intention and motivation, attention regulation, emotion regulation, extinction and reconsolidation, prosociality, non-attachment, and decentering .
Negative self talk, gossip and comparing ourselves to others or our past selves poisons our minds and diverts our attention away from being mindful.
Lack of security, control and inclusive feelings are a breading ground for gossip and judgement. Gossip and rumors refer to a piece of information about the private lives of others, relevant and unverified, that circulate among people .
Conditions of anxiety and uncertainty favor the spread of rumors, especially if they are negative in context. Within a group of like-minded people gossip tends to polarize opinions, create biases, and further solidify judgements . Filling in informational gaps by rumors provides a sense of security and cohesion from being an insider .
Such security is especially needed in organizational cultures governed by lack of open communication. Gossip creates a sense of power that is derived from having control over information in relationships.
Rumors have destructive consequences that include creation of conflict, victimization, and decrease in productivity and morale. It also has a direct impact on the quality of the environment and also on productivity and creativity, especially at the workplace .
A study revealed that participants were happier to hear positive gossip and more annoyed to hear negative gossip about themselves than about celebrities and best friends . Although subjective ratings did not show they were particularly happy on hearing negative gossip about celebrities, the neural activity measured in the reward system of the brain suggested that they were indeed amused .
Moreover, pleasure ratings signaled from the reward center according were based on social norm compliance, rather than natural true feelings . This study shows the dangers of participating in negative gossip towards others due to our perceived enjoyment based on social pressures and our desire to belong to a polarized group. Gossip serves as self-evaluative functions and triggers self-conscious emotions.
RICO describes remedies to reduce undue rumors and gossip in the workplace [AC]:
- R: Review of historical details: the culture and patterns of communication of the psychiatric department
- I: Information: inform repeatedly about rumors and their destructive consequences (psychoeducation)
- C: Contagion control
- O: Organizing of new communication channels
Smiling and laughter can support positive affect under stressful conditions while also improving heart health, immune function, pain tolerance and long-term anxiety.
A study on the effects of smiling compared 3 naive groups while completing stressful tasks:
- holding chopsticks in the mouths in a manner that produced a Duchenne smile
- a standard smile
- a neutral expression
Half of all participants in the smiling groups were asked to smile, while the other half had no instructions related to smiling). Findings revealed that all smiling participants, regardless of whether they were aware of smiling, had lower heart rates during stress recovery than the neutral group did, with a slight advantage for those with Duchenne smiles.
During a stressful task, participants in the smiling groups who were not explicitly asked to smile reported less of a decrease in positive affect than the neutral group. There are both physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress .
Humor and laughter have beneficial effects, including improved immune function, increased pain tolerance, and decreased stress response . Humor therapy, laughter therapy, laughter meditation, and laughter clubs all have unique implications as group and independent stress management tools.
A study used a 20-minute laughter intervention involved breathing and stretching exercises, simulated laughter (ie, unconditional laughter that is not contingent on the environment), chanting, clapping, and a meditation .
Participants practicing the laughter intervention showed an immediate positive mood (vigor-activity and friendliness) and improved heart rate variability afterwards. Both the laughter and control interventions appeared to improve longer-term anxiety based on the Profile of Mood States, Beck Anxiety Inventory, and Beck Depression Inventory-II .
Radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMF) have gained some attention for their potential negative effects on disrupting cellular function, sleep, mood and over all health.
Although findings are inconclusive of the negative effects for chronic low frequency EMF exposure, I recommend minimizing your long-term intake. Due to potential concerns of EMF-related tumor activation, avoid close-contact exposure of your devices to your body for more than 30 minute intervals (ie. sleeping with your cell phone under your pillow) [5, 22].
Animal studies have shown even low level exposure to EMFs for 45 minutes can affect serotonin levels and potentially cause retarded learning and a deficit in spatial memory .
Meanwhile, human studies of daily occupational EMF exposure was positively associated with poor sleep quality . Unplugging all electronics in your bedroom especially before going to bed (or keep them out of the room completely) has shown to improve sleep quality and distractions .
Turning off mobile cell phones, cordless phones along with their base stations, wifi devices, microwave ovens, television and radio transmitters when not in use is especially important for people with a high sensitivity to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) [5, 16].
Being active has so many positive benefits on your physical health and mental functioning, yet more than half of the American population don’t even get the minimum amount.
It has been well documented that physical activity has several short- and long-term health benefits. Short-term benefits include reductions in anxiety, depression and stress, while long-term benefits include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and diabetes .
Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting regular physical activity, less than 50% of the population fails to reach recommended levels of weekly activity (30 minutes of moderate activity 5 times a week) [28, 32].
Setting daily positive intentions can increase productivity, happiness, mindfulness, and overall optimism and quality of life.
Intention is the motivation to perform a behavior and is determined by three variables :
- Attitude– which is reflected in an affective (enjoyable–unenjoyable) and instrumental (beneficial–harmful) evaluation of performing the behavior.
- Subjective norm– reflects the perceived social pressure that individuals may feel to perform or not perform the behavior.
- Perceived behavioral control (PBC)- represents the perceived ability of performing the behaviour when holding motivation as a positive constant.
Setting daily intentions can lead to increased optimism and hope during stressful events.
A study found that dispositional optimism improved patient recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery . Information was obtained regarding the patient’s rate of physical recovery, mood, post-surgical quality of life, and coping strategies with the stress of the surgery and its aftermath.
As expected, dispositional optimism proved to be an important predictor of coping efforts and of surgical outcomes with a positively correlated manifestations of problem-focused coping and negatively with the use of denial . Optimism was also associated with a faster rate of physical recovery during hospitalization and rate of return to normal life activities subsequent to discharge. Finally, there was a strong positive association between level of optimism and post-surgical quality of life at 6 months .
Replacing negative stimulation with wholesome entertainment has been shown to increase creativity, improved medical symptoms and encourage positive attitudes to manage future stressful events.
A study took participants ranging from 10 to 13 years old and had them play a computer game based on the television show Survivor. They were randomized to either peer rejection (being voted out of the game) or non-rejection control. In response to rejection, more than one third of the participants displayed a marked worsening in state mood. 
Meanwhile, positive mood influencing entertainment such as music, books, movies and cognitive games can increase a sense of well-being and resilience to stress.
Interactive music making with a music therapist (MT) and listening to pre-recorded music without the presence of a therapist (MM) improves psychological outcomes and pain in cancer patients .
Qualitative data indicate that music improves symptom management, embodies hope for survival, and helps connect to a pre-illness self, and may also access memories of loss. MT sessions helped participants tap into inner resources such as playfulness and creativity to allowed for emotional expression .
Books and movies that are educational, increase positive emotional expression, encourage laughter and relaxation can have significant benefits on your mood and health. Even distraction-based entertainment can be positive when used in moderation.
Cognitive games such as sudoku, problem solving puzzles, crosswords, and specific cognitive enhancing video games can increase working memory and cognitive function . Perceptual learning (PL) has identified numerous mechanisms (including attention, reinforcement, multisensory facilitation and multi-stimulus training) that promote brain plasticity .
Serious games are defined as games that have a primary purpose other than entertainment. Social cognitive theory has been used to create video games that encourage positive behavior outcomes to create engaging, immersive learning experiences .
Pets, spouses and social communities provide a vital role in influencing mood, cardiovascular health, positive perception towards life and quality of life.
Compared to people without pets, studies show people with pets have significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure levels, less reactivity during physical and mental stressors, and recover faster from stimulation . People perceive pets as important, supportive parts of their lives, and significant cardiovascular and behavioral benefits are associated with those perceptions .
Cats and human companionship have been shown to influence the moods of singly living people by decreasing negative moods. Only the human partner, but not cats, enhanced positive moods, so make sure to interact with your fellow human species and avoid becoming a cat lady .
A study with long-term care (LTC) facilities showed the following 9 categories are the most important factors to improving the lives of older residents :
- a sense of community
- feeling at home
- social contacts between residents
- maintaining own hobbies and lifestyle
- interpersonal conduct between residents and caregivers
- being informed
- security within the LTC facility
Five of the 9 categories that improve quality of life require direct social support between the residents, staff, and caregivers.
Humans have a natural desire for immediate reward-based motivation. Breaking up larger tasks into more manageable steps increases motivation, task completion success and positive associations with the task.
Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior . Dopamine has been implicated in the encoding of reinforcement, learning, influence initiation of behavior and goal-directed behaviour . Almost anything we choose to do or think is driven by our reward mechanism whether it’s conscious to us or not.
The dopamine system is most often associated with the rewarding effects of food, sex, and drugs of abuse , however it is possible to manipulate our reward centers by breaking up large, difficult and complex tasks into smaller, more manageable and simple steps.
For example, if you wanted to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks, breaking up this goal and rewarding yourself at each step will encourage and motivate you to complete the goal:
- Step 1: drinking 6 glasses of water each day
- Reward 1: putting a check mark beside each day that you completed this step
- Step 2: eating at least 5 servings of vegetables a day
- Reward 2: having a glass of wine with dinner
- Step 3: exercise for 1 hour at a moderate intensity 5 days a week
- Reward 3: purchase a new workout top after the 5th day
Breaking up tasks and rewarding or acknowledging yourself for the accomplishment is key to long-term mental and physical well-being and sustainable health.
Many natural foods, supplements and botanical herbs are beneficial for improving daily mood and cognitive functioning.
Creativity in divergent, deep thinking tasks is promoted by the food supplement L-tyrosine. L-tyrosine is an amino acid precursor of dopamine, which is assumed to drive cognitive control and creativity . The body also uses this amino acid to form epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are important adrenal hormones to manage stress .
Foods that contain L-tyrosine include:
- Meat, poultry, turkey, salmon
- Dairy, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese
- Wheat, yeast
- Peanuts, almonds,
- Avocados, bananas,
- Lima beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soy protein
- Raw spirulina, seaweed
Other mood altering and cognitively supportive foods, supplements and herbs are:
- Foods: Fish oil, coconut oil, soy, nuts (ie. almonds, walnuts)
- Supplements: Phosphatidylcholine (PC), Phosphatidylserine (PS), Glycine, Branched chain amino acids (BCAA- valine, leucine, isoleucine), Magnesium
- Herbs: Gotu kola, Ginkgo, Rosemary leaf, Bacopa
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