Lets face it. For us human beings, often the most difficult struggles in our lives come from inside of us.
We are all essentially walking, talking bundles of emotions and issues. We can’t sleep, we’re in conflict, we get obsessed or we suffer from anxiety. We’re angry, sad or grief-stricken. We are in pain.
Fortunately, science comes to the rescue. Psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists are busy giving us answers. What makes us happy? What coping techniques work best? How do our emotions work, and what do we do with them?
Here are three new studies that offer important and helpful information about how we can all live our lives happier and healthier.
A huge study in the UK by Kinderman et al., 2013 surveyed over 32,000 adults about their levels of anxiety and depression, and the potential causes. They found that traumatic life events were the largest factor in creating both.
But here’s the surprise. They also found that people’s coping styles contributed to anxiety and depression almost as much as the traumatic events themselves.
Here are the three coping flaws that were identified as major contributors:
- Rumination: excessive focus and fixation on negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
- Lack of adaptive coping: failure to help yourself by talking to friends or family for support, or eating well and exercising; and failing to anticipate stressful events.
- Self-blame: this is the toxic habit of turning things back on yourself (self-blame is very common for people who grew up with Emotional Neglect).
The Takeaway: Your coping style and skills are hugely important factors in whether you end up anxious or depressed. Avoid dwelling on the negative, seek support when you need it, eat well and exercise, and strive for self-acceptance rather than self-blame.
Falk et al., 2015, wanted to find out if certain kinds of thoughts could open up people’s minds to be more receptive to the kinds of healthy behaviors that we all struggle with, like exercise.
These researchers found that people who were first asked to think about something that’s meaningful to them, like family, helping someone or personal values, were more receptive to follow-up suggestions that they increase their exercise over the next month. Brain scans showed that the meaningful thoughts activated the entromedial prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that processes self-relevant information. The meaningful thoughts opened up people’s minds to the healthy suggestions, rendering them more effective.
The Takeaway: Keep your core values alive, and reflect on them often. It may activate the part of your brain that takes healthy messages to heart.
Stellar, et al., 2015 looked at the connection between positive emotions and inflammatory cytokines, a chemical which has been linked to health problems like heart disease, arthritis, depression and alzheimer’s disease.
They asked 200 people to track their levels of positive emotions throughout their day: emotions like amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. They then compared their ratings with cheek swabs to determine levels of cytokines.
They found that the people who had the highest levels of positive emotions had the lowest levels of cytokines. The most powerful healthy emotion was found to be awe.
The Takeaway: It’s important to deal with the factors in your life that cause you negative feelings. Put in the effort to make changes when necessary, and seek positive emotions in your life.
Did your family subtly, or even actively, discourage talking about conflicts and problems, seeking support, and expression of anger and sadness (Childhood Emotional Neglect)? If so, you may feel alone, but you are not. Many, many wonderful people share your confusion and your pain.
Do take comfort in these answers:
Stop blaming yourself because it’s not your fault.
Share more thoughts, more feelings, more vulnerabilities, with the worthy people in your life.
Focus on your values, and keep them close to your heart.
Pay attention to the parts of your life that bring you pain, and start addressing them.
Surround yourself with compassion, contentment, love and pride.
And you will find yourself living a happier and healthier life.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, how it happens and how it affects the child in adulthood, see the book Running on Empty.