Surprising Bodily Links to HappinessSubmitted by Bernhardt Wealth Management on April 29th, 2019
Here’s today’s earworm: “Don't worry; be happy.” Many might be thinking at this point, “Sure, if I just had a ‘happy’ button to push, wouldn’t life be great?” But actually, recent research suggests that there are some actual behaviors—things you can do—that promote feelings of contentment and satisfaction and combat feelings of anxiety and depression.
Exercise. A few readers may be groaning at the thought, but neurological and psychological studies suggest that exercise—especially a good cardiovascular workout—actually produces anti-depressant effects on the order of antidepressant medications for some forms of depression. One study found that exercise releases a compound in the muscles, cathepsin B, that appears to migrate to the brain and stimulate the growth of neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain most often associated with depression. In other words, exercise can promote not only better brain chemistry, but possibly better brain structure.
Cut back on processed sugar. Research indicates that Western diets in general, which tend to be sugar-rich and high in processed foods, are associated with higher incidence of depression. There may even be a connection between the stress placed on the body by the processes necessary to break down processed sugars and increased feelings of depression. Not only that, but evidence is accumulating that our gut microbes—our internal flora and fauna—have an impact on our mental health. Thus, the foods we eat, including the sugars we consume, by their promotion or suppression of certain strains of bacteria, can play a part in determining our disposition.
Keep to a schedule. For most of us, having some sort of routine is comforting, in itself. And when we’re feeling down or worried, sticking to a familiar pattern can provide some guardrails for our mental wellbeing. Especially when the routine includes regular interchanges and conversation with coworkers, friends, or even the checkout clerk at the grocery store, it can help us get through the tough days in better shape.
Social interaction. Speaking of staying in communication with other people, nothing is more beneficial for overall mental and physical wellness than regular social interaction. Researcher and writer Susan Pinker studied the common characteristics of people who lived into their 90s and beyond and made a surprising discovery: the number-one predictor of longevity is the availability of a strong social network. More than lifestyle, more than diet, more than any other single factor, regular interaction with other significant persons in one’s community and home was shown to be associated with longer life.
Be nice to yourself. This one can seem a little self-indulgent, but research shows that it really matters how you talk to yourself. Try turning down the constant self-criticism and allowing yourself to enjoy the small victories. Conversely, one of the chief characteristics of depression is the inability to believe in oneself, in one’s future, or in others. So, one way you can turn the odds more in your favor is by being nicer to yourself. In turn, chances are, you’ll also be nicer to the people around you.
Without a doubt, there are times when medication and the intervention of trained medical and psychological practitioners is necessary. But when the situation is less severe or acute, try pressing one or more of the “happiness buttons” in the list above. After all, our minds and our bodies are intimately linked. It’s not all in your head!