There’s not a single person out there who can say that they haven’t found themselves down in the dumps at a moment, or maybe for a longer period. Whatever the reason, feeling down feels really bad.
And in these gloomy periods, we usually try to face our fears, disappointments, that sense of alienation and loneliness, and most of all, that suffocating feeling that won’t let go. You should accept this as a natural state, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about it.
UCLA Neuroscientist Alex Korb has made a lot of research regarding one’s emotions and the way they affect our brain’s primary functions. In his book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, he has laid out 4 insights that might just change your perception on the whole if you give them a try.
These powerful ways of coping with such situations and becoming a more cheerful person are based on Korb’s research and the results from the same have been tested and proven to work.
1. Instead of focusing on the negative, ask yourself what you’re grateful for.
It’s true that when our mind starts drifting in the negativities that we like to think that brought us to this state, it becomes a rollercoaster filled with lots of dips and slow movement.
As Korb explains, negative emotions, just like positive, affect the brain in a similar way when it comes to the brain’s reward center. In other words, when we get into that loop, our brains accept it and practice it as something they start getting used to.
Instead of focusing on these negative emotions, though, Korb suggests that you ask yourself this simple question:
What am I grateful for?
There’s always a silver lining to every dark cloud – our job is to focus on the things we should be grateful for because they are always there. Gratitude boosts both dopamine and serotonin – neurotransmitters responsible for one’s feelings of joy and happiness.
By simply focusing on the positive aspects of your life and accepting that the negativity is part of the balance and we are bound to accept it and work to resolve it (or at least make it more bearable).
Sometimes, however, our feelings can overwhelm us to such an extent that we can’t really bother to even think about what’s positive or negative in our life. So, how to face this obstacle?
2. Give those feelings a name
Feeling awful may come from many different feelings. The real question is: What are you feeling exactly? Anger? Sadness? Anxiety?
By naming the feelings you’re engulfed with, you start not only to acknowledge your emotions but also to lessen their grip. Suppressing your emotions won’t lead anywhere, explains Korb, as the brain is still experiencing the effect of these emotions even if you’ve chosen not to be mentally aware of them.
By simply describing the emotion that you’re experiencing, you instantly work on reducing its intensity and you allow your mind to start thinking clearly. People like to think that ‘accepting’ one’s emotions is something extremely complicated, when, in fact, it’s as simple as it can get.
3. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect decision’
Worry and anxiety usually are the result of a mind trying to figure out that perfect formula for taking the best action at the best moment. Such ‘perfect decisions,’ however, aren’t necessary, and can be quite misleading both emotionally and physically.
“Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process. In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control,” explains Korb.
Being the one who makes the choices and pushing forward gives your brain a rush of rewarding dopamine. The act of creating intentions, setting goals, and acting in that direction, triggers a positive neural circuitry which reduces worry and anxiety.
As Korb writes, “making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”
So, follow your gut feeling when making a decision and know that whatever decision you’ve made defines who you truly are and how you do things. Worrying too much about making a ‘wrong’ decision is the wrongest decision you can ever make.
4. And don’t forget the power of touch
Of course, going about and touching random people or someone who won’t go for that is absolutely wrong. But we all have those dearest close ones who are always in the mood for a hug or for holding hands.
As Korb says, a hug, especially a long one, triggers the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, which reduces the reactivity of the emotion-producing amygdala. In cases of negative emotions, a nice hug will always provide you with that relaxing and stress-relieving support that we all need.
Touch is closely connected to social connection, and the lack thereof can make one feel extremely lonely and alienated. And while hugs are perhaps number one, any form of human touch is powerful enough to help in the release of oxytocin.
In fact, massages have also been shown to be an effective way of getting your oxytocin running. Which is more, it will boost your dopamine levels and reduce the stress hormones.
So, next time you’re feeling down, try to remember these 4 powerful steps to helping yourself out. It’s OK to feel down – we all do sometimes, but that’s not an excuse to start neglecting yourself.
Image: Philippe Put