“I think positive thoughts, because every cell within my body responds to every thought I think and every word I speak.” – Louise L. Hay
It seems mom was right when she mandated that if we couldn’t say something nice, we should say nothing at all. But neurophysics tells us that mom’s warnings should have gone further to include the thoughts we were thinking that prompted our objectionable remarks.
Messages gleaned from the human nervous system validate that if we want to improve our performance in any endeavor from bocce to bobsledding to healthy aging, we need to begin with our thoughts. We need to consider the basic choices we make about how we react to the world. We need to give up our addictions to emotions such as anger, stress and victimization and choose to view reality as full and rich with possibility.
Hold the phone there, new-agey girl. Say, I’m stuck in a traffic jam on Tuesday and I am running late. How will choosing pleasant, calming thoughts instead of stress and frustration help my Saturday golf game?
I can answer that, but we need to break down the science.
Our nervous systems operate through assemblies of neurons that send and receive signals to form a neural network. Messages – or thoughts – from these neural networks tell our hypothalamus what neuropeptides to assemble to respond to each thought. There is a neuropeptide (let’s call them peptides for brevity) that corresponds to every emotional state. Once produced, these peptides are launched into the bloodstream where they attach to cells. When a peptide docks on a cell, it essentially highjacks that cell’s functioning, ordering it to dance to the peptide’s tune.
Indulge in stress and frustration over and over and the network connections between neurons that produce stress and frustration become stronger and enter into long-term relationships. Conversely, the neurons that don’t fire together become weaker and lose their relationships with one another. What fires is what wires. Predominantly choose destructive emotions and their corresponding negative thoughts will become the easiest to produce whether a situation demands them or not.
Don’t get me wrong; emotions are essential for our survival. There is nothing malicious or innately bad about any emotion or its corresponding peptide. It is fear that rallies our cells to produce adrenaline, which enables us to stand up to or sprint away from truly dangerous situations. It is lust that attracts us, and in so doing, helps our species to continue. It is empathy that allows us to relate to one another and to form attachments. No, emotions are not the problem.
The problems begin when we develop a steady and excessive reliance on the physical rushes that accompany potent emotions. Constantly speed dialing our internal pharmacy for soothing biochemical surges negatively impacts our health in several ways.
One impact occurs when the essential work of our cells is frequently interrupted. Say a cell is busy repairing a bit of frayed muscle tissue when a peptide for stress, launched when you looked at your watch and the traffic still wasn’t moving, docks on the cell’s surface. Now taking orders from the peptide, the cell abandons protein manufacture for muscle repair and begins pumping out proteins demanded by the new arrival. Bombard that cell numerous times throughout every day with production requests of frivolous emotional states and tissue repair will come to a standstill, just like the cars in your traffic jam.
Assail a cell with incessant emotion-based demands and it also becomes desensitized to the peptides produced by that emotion. Overwhelm the cell with demand, and it may stop functioning all together.
Once desensitized, a cell requires more and more messages – more and more peptides – more and more emotional distress – to elicit the same level of response it gave before the onslaught of emotional chemical dependency.
Further, when a desensitized cell divides, its daughter cells have more receptors for the peptides it has been awash in, and fewer receptors for the exchanges of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fluids and cell waste products essential to the functioning of the body.
Over generations of divisions, cells shocked again and again with emotional demands become less and less effective at protein production. Diminished protein manufacture means diminished upkeep of the body…a phenomenon we recognize as aging.
From the hemoglobin needed to transport oxygen throughout our bodies to the actin and myosin necessary to build cardiac muscle, without the ability to package proteins for body repair and growth, our systems break down and our performance suffers.
A body attempting a golf game on Saturday will be hard pressed to feel a cumulative punch from the choice of road rage on Tuesday. But choose stress and anxiety often enough and over time your birdies will become bogeys.
The good news is that neural networks can begin being rewired any moment by our conscious selection of appropriate and proportional reactions to the situations we encounter. Choosing our reactions discerningly strengthens our self-reliance and allows us to give up our dependencies on emotional juicing to get us through the day.
To improve the long-term efficiencies and performance of our bodies right down to the cellular level, we must make a sustained effort to see opportunity where we previously saw challenge and to keep our hand off the panic button when panic is not required.
We all have emotions. But for the health of your body and your golf game, seek moderation. Don’t mangle your golf club when you fail to sink a putt on the 9th green. Save that heightened neural network message for something really menacing…like a rabid raccoon chasing you around the fairway. Practice healthy emotional reactions at all times and your body will respond in critical times such as these by reacting with all its speed and power to help you outrun the little, rabid bugger.