1. Name the emotion
If you’re feeling a negative emotion like sadness or anger, label that emotion. It may seem simple, but your brain responds when you put your feelings into words.
One MRI study showed that when a participant was shown images of people expressing emotions on their faces, their amygdala activated to the emotions they were seeing. When they were told to name the emotion, “the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity.” This essentially means that when you consciously recognize the emotions you are having, it can reduce the impact of those emotions on your brain.
You will start to realize that for the most part our day-to-day emotions are not really connected to anything specific. They can be caused by anything. That outburst at someone or could be because of waking up with a headache, indigestion, or forgetting your keys on your way to work. We can also pick up energies from other people. Have you ever been in your car and gotten angry for no reason? It can be helpful to ask yourself, is this anger or other emotion (name the emotion) mine or someone else’s?
2. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for.
In The Upward Spiral, Korb says that the benefits of gratitude “start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable.” Gratitude can also boost the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is what many antidepressants do. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. You can be grateful for something very simple such as the beautiful day or a smile from a stranger – it doesn’t have to be a big thing. As emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. So even if you have trouble finding something to be grateful for, merely asking yourself the question means you’re on the right path to happiness.
3. Be decisive!
There’s nothing more anxiety-inducing than feeling like you’ve got unfinished business. Simply making a decision about something can reduce anxiety rather than allowing yourself to spend more time hesitating over all of the scenarios and outcomes that the decision will result in. “Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety,” says Korb. Making decisions also allows people to feel more in control — feeling “out of control” can also cause feelings of worry. And when you do make a decision and the outcome of that decision happens to be a positive one, then even better!
There’s a book that’s really helped me, called Getting Things Done. Great book, check it out.
4. Hug and touch loved ones and friends.
Social interactions have been proven to increase a person’s feelings of acceptance and therefore happiness, but The Upward Spiral takes it a bit further. “One of the primary ways to release oxytocin is through touching,” the book says. Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter to the brain. Psycholology Today says that it’s known as the “love hormone” because it “regulates social interaction and sexual reproduction, playing a role in behaviors from maternal-infant bonding and milk release to empathy, generosity, and orgasm.” So when people touch, hug, or kiss others, oxytocin levels actually increase. “Oxytocin is the hormone that underlies trust. It is also an antidote to depressive feelings,” says the site. According to Korb, holding hands with someone during a painful experience can comfort you and your brain and help reduce the reaction to pain. So, more hugs!
Adapted from an article in Popsugar by Hilary White