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The Mind-Body Connection

8 January 2013

Allison read Think yourself well from the December 8th 2012 issue of The Economist and was glad to learn about compelling research on the connection between positive emotions and healthier bodies as well as actions you can take to increase your vagal tone (turns out we need more than just muscle tone).

Tags: allison read, balance, happiness, health care, healthcare, mental health, self-compassion

If you’ve read some of our past blog posts, then you know we’re big believers in the mind-body connection--what’s going on in your mind has a big impact on your body and your behaviors and vice versa. Today’s post is about a one-page article in The Economist that gives a good overview of research that is exploring how positive emotions impact biological functioning. Give it a quick read and you’ll learn about Dr.Fredrickson’s and Dr. Kok’s research on the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve sends messages from the brain to your thoracic and abdominal organs telling those organs to, “…slow down during moments of calm and safety.” Higher vagal tones are your goal since they lead to a healthier body.

Now there’s some disheartening news in this study because it turns out that it’s easier to increase your vagal tone with activities like meditation if you already have a higher vagal tone to begin with. “Which is good news for the emotionally positive, but bad news for the emotionally negative, for it implies that those who most need a psychosomatic boost are incapable of generating one.”

However, there is hope for the less positive among us. Dr. Kok has been begun researching the possibility that people can “bootstrap” themselves to a more positive place by things like “reflecting at night on the day’s social connections.” If you find that you’re not having enough social connections to reflect on, then you might try joining a book club, hiring a personal trainer, attending a class, reaching out to old friends or trying to make some new ones.

This bootstrapping advice is consistent with an article I blogged about last summer that shared compelling research on the connection between optimism and health. It turns out that some of us are genetically hardwired to be more optimistic, but that even if you aren’t in that population, there are things you can do to build an optimistic outlook and benefit from those feelings.

I suggest you try Kok’s suggestion of reflecting each night about some of your positive connections with others and then you can also try several of the tips from this optimism article and post. Once you’ve incorporated a few of those practices into your day more regularly, try some of the techniques outlined in my Mindfulness and Meditation Made Manageable post. I think you’ll find you feel better and are more effective. You might even increase your vagal tone and that seems like a good thing, too.


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