Our heart is the object of mystery for us all, but even in the brilliant world of science, renowned geniuses find it near impossible to explain love in relation to the heart. They admit though that there is certainly something mystical about the heart and the way that it responds to emotional signals, which is a powerful confession from devotees of logic. But for those of you out there that don’t believe in rainbows and fairies and hippy happiness, let's give you some hard facts. Recently, one of the largest health studies ever conducted by the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) proved how the diseases we suffer from in our later years can be directly linked and traced back to trauma from our childhood. Let yourself understand the gravity of that statement for a moment. The things that happened to you up ‘til you were around 18 have the potential to make you sick as an adult - and I’m talking serious liver, pulmonary and mental disease type of sick, not catching a cold.
When you hear that being stressed causes high blood pressure or grey hair or nervous breakdowns these are clear examples that prove how our bodies respond negatively and harmfully to stressful situations. Imagine then the potential havoc that years of stress in the form of built-up aggression, unresolved issues or harbouring pain, shame or neglect could do to our bodies. Now the cherry on top of all that is the hideous amount of different negative stimuli that we additionally take in from our environment during each day, of each week of our lives.
Negative thoughts, words, images and actions from our environment
It is fair to say that most people who watch movies or play video games find it relatively harmless to watch graphic images of violence and other scenes that have the potential to make the heart race. The problem however, is it’s far from harmless. Adrenal chemicals in our body are designed to help us respond in certain ways when faced with stress situations in ‘real life’. But if they are stimulated too often and in the wrong way it can cause severe health issues. Cortisol - the body’s chief stress chemical – is present in everyone and in different amounts and it is intended to help us respond to threats in our environment. It’s most helpful in cases of attacks on your cave and hunting woolly mammoths, so the potential for its uses are very powerful. The thing is however, we don’t really have many of those types of situations do we, so the problem comes when we use such a powerful hormone in the most useless of circumstances. Red lights, traffic queues, people not agreeing with your opinion – they aren’t the most challenging situations are they, but many people allow those petty situations to enrage them, which in turn creates the unnecessary production of Cortisol in the blood - which is touted as one of the main causes of major health conditions including high blood pressure, impaired cognitive performance, lowered immunity, overeating and a decrease in muscle tissue.
When we are in an argument with someone, or we are doing something we know to be wrong, different things happen to our body – our heart beats faster, we tend to feel tightness in our chest, and our body temperature rises (there’s truth behind the term blood boiling). These are our body’s habitual physiological reactions from the release of Cortisol and Adrenaline into our blood. To prevent stress related illness it is advised by experts that after encountering stress situations we should aim to lower the levels of Cortisol and Adrenaline in our blood by deliberately adopting calming techniques, such as meditation and breathing and the like. The bad joke here though is that people hardly ever do that. And not only do we never calm ourselves down, we regularly go out of our way to make our brains believe we are in stress situations by watching graphic or frightening images and listening to violent and angry words in movies, video games and music. These make the heart race with negative brain impulses that stimulate the production of the stress hormones, which is nothing short of inflicting disease upon ourselves.
Whether you were a child once (that’s all of us by the way), or you are a parent now, there is some vital knowledge that you need to be privy to. The way you speak to your child or any young person could be critical to their future health. We are not talking about whether they grow up to be in perfect careers, or whether they’ll listen to you more, or do well in school. No, we are talking about one thing and that’s the ability to make children become sick people in their adult years.
Think about how easy it is to make a child cry in fear. Well, that child has just experienced trauma. Can you imagine as an adult what it would take to make you cry from fear or anger? Exactly, it would take a heck of a lot. And when adults experience trauma we don’t cry, we have breakdowns. So visualise how much more potent those feelings are in a child and how that then converts into hormones, which in turn may well convert into disease.
We don’t have any control of the negative experiences that could happen to our family members outside of our household, such as being beaten up in the street, horrible teachers, getting robbed, being made redundant, bad bosses, sexual assault and of course naturally occurring illness. The point is that you might not have control over what happens to your kids or family members outside of your doors, but inside you do and you need to strive to ensure your thoughts, words and actions are never the cause of negative emotions like fear, anger, anxiety or stress. It is possible that there are people out there who may not realise the different types of abuse that exist, so your duty is to familiarise yourself with them here in this link and commit to ensuring they have no place in your home.
The Alternative Reality; the solution
There’s good and bad to everything right? God and the Devil, liberators and oppressors, being alive and being dead (sometimes dead is good, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, but you know what I mean). Well, in the same way that we encourage the release of negative hormones, we can also give an abundant supply of good hormones, such as Serotonin and Dopamine and surprise surprise, there are no side effects of ever being too happy. In fact, we can go one step further and say that happiness is the cure and the solution to almost everything we have been talking about.
Our brains respond like kids to candy when it comes to habit, it behaves more efficiently and even starts to change shape when it is able to work automatically on tasks. As explained by Harvard Professor, Shawn Achor in his talk on the Tetris effect, when we practice anything such as learning a language or an instrument, our brain start to develop a habit that begins to efficiently process the repeating information - which is why we get better at the task. Further to this, our brain then begins to scan for things in the environment around us that support the habit, subconsciously, which is why when we are learning a new thing we seem to see references to that thing everywhere around us. Similarly, no practice means that we are capable of forgetting a skill - even one that we know so well - and while this may seem bad, in fact this is the beauty in forgetting trauma. Just like a skill we stop practicing, by not allowing our mind to think of these negative things, our brain forgets to process signals relating to it and subsequently does not look to our environment to remind us of the trauma. Knowing this means that if we purposefully do things that make us happy as a habit, our brain will begin to look for things in our environment that make us happy, perpetuating the cycle of positivity and removing the memory and links to negative thought or trauma. And add to that the incredible effect on our bodies from a physiological perspective regarding the constant stimulation of Serotonin and Dopamine. There are doctors and medical professionals worldwide who claim that happiness can cure anything from depression to cancer, (and gives you awesome skin and hair as a side effect) - take that movie with Robin Williams, called Patch Adams, which was based on a real life doctor who put aside traditional practice in his hospital to treat his patients with happiness cures.
For those out there who are victims of bad childhoods, you need to reverse the habit and cycle of negativity and remove the pain within. You need to make the choice to be determined to live healthily in happiness from this moment on. Everyone out there needs to seek out the things you know that makes you smile from your heart, make a list of those things and be sure to do them, daily if possible – as a habit. Play games, smell flowers, go for a walk, watch some comedy, meditate on happy thoughts, practice thinking of things you are grateful for, volunteer in the community, call good friends (lose bad ones), tell someone you love them, listen to music that has meaningful words and is not aggressive, make time to read a story book. And if you have to, force yourself to smile - yes seriously, studies that asked patients to hold a pencil between their teeth to mimic the action of smiling tricked the brain to secrete the happy the hormones in to the blood. What I’m trying to say is rather than creating or simply accepting the negative stimuli in your environment, do anything and everything in your power to switch your brain to its preferred positive state.
Think of times that you may have been around nature, or perhaps listened to music, or may have had an experience that resonated so perfectly with your senses that you could not help but close your eyes and allow yourself to be overwhelmed by a feeling of pure understanding. When you tap into those memories, try and remember how your heart felt at the time – even if just a fleeting moment, how large it felt, as though it would burst in contentment at the truth and peace it had found. So rare are those moments that some people may find difficulty recalling such intoxicatingly beautiful feelings, or even sadder still, may never have experienced the bliss of such emotions. With a world literally overflowing with astonishing beauty and goodness it is truly a wonder that we are unable to exist in a perpetual state of fulfilment and serenity. But it doesn’t have to be that way - we should be living our life, by overdosing on beautiful feelings, until we are exuding happiness the same way we are content to display negativity.
We are not only what we eat, but also what we see and what we hear and what we do. If we let ourselves recognise that we could be responsible for giving ourselves, our children or our families sick hearts from toxic input, we can commit to transforming the rest of our lives in the hope that it will prevent, slow down or reverse the potential damage of actual disease.
Stuff Mother Taught Us
Image coutesy of freedigitalphotos.net. "Heart Of Beans" by Jeroen van Oostrom