If you struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression, you very likely also are your own worst critic, judge yourself harshly and negatively compare yourself to other people. You may engage in this behavior believing that this is an effective way to motivate yourself to do better, as a habit that you picked up somewhere in your past or simply because we live in a culture that reinforces the message that demanding more of yourself is the way to move ahead in world. If this sounds like you, you probably also do everything that you can do to run away and avoid difficult and painful feelings (e.g., watch TV, smoke, drink alcohol to “numb out,” or binge on food), experience guilt or shame when you do not do as well as you wanted to and have a difficult time expressing your emotions to people.
While short term many of these behaviors do provide relief and pleasure, in the long run they are not sustainable and adversely affect your health. By ignoring your emotions and avoiding your difficult thoughts and emotions, your “fight or flight” (i.e., amygdala and adrenals) and PIN systems (psychoimmunoneurology, the study of how your thoughts and emotions interface with your immune and neurological systems) get ramped up, which damage your body by releasing more stress hormones like cortisol and inflammatory cytokines.
On the other hand, when you express yourself and “talk it out” with your friends and family or practice affect labeling (i.e., simply labeling and mentally acknowledging your experiences), you activate a region in your brain (i.e., right ventrolateral frontal cortex) that helps you to process your thoughts and emotions and mitigates the damaging effects of running away from your experiences.1,2 By talking to other people, you’re likely to also receive caring and loving words of support and affection that increase the amount of the “bonding hormone” (i.e., oxytocin) and feel good and pain relief chemicals (i.e., endogenous opioids) that your body produces.
Learning and practicing mindfulness meditation will lead to and produce many of these same beneficial effects. Research suggests that cultivating self-compassion and mentally noting your experiences (i.e., an essential aspect of mindfulness meditation) help to significantly down regulate your “fight or flight” and PIN systems.3,4,5 These practices will also help you to produce more feel good and pain relief chemicals. You can practice mentally noting your experiences and cultivate self-compassion by simply labeling your thoughts and emotions (e.g., each time you experience any unpleasant or painful thoughts or feelings of anxiety, gently repeat “fear” or “tension” and affirm “It’s okay.”).
To your health and success,
To learn more about how working with a psychologist and holistic health coach can help you to enhance your health and well-being, call or email Dr. Sandoval to schedule a free consultation.
- Nakazawa, DJ. (2013). The Last Best Cure: My Quest to Awaken the Healing Parts of My Brain and Get Back My Body, My Joy, and My Life.
- Lieberman, MD, Eisenberger, NI, Crockett,MJ, Tom, SM, Pfeifer, JH and Way, BM. “Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli .” Psychological Science. (2007). 18(5), 421-428. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01916.
- Leary, MR, Tate, EB, Adams, CE, Batts, AA, Ashley; and Hancock, J. “Self-compassion and reactions to unpleasant self-relevant events: The implications of treating oneself kindly.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. (2007). 92(5), 887-904. doi: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.117
- Neff, KD and McGehee, P. “Self-compassion and psychological resilience among adolescents and young adults.” Self and Identity. (2010). 9 (3), 225-240. doi:10.1080/15298860902979307.
- Creswell, JD, Way, BM, Eisenberger, NI, Lieberman, MD. “Neural correlates of dispositional mindfulness during affect labeling.” Psychosomatic Medicine. (2007). 69(6), 560-565.
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