Mind over Body. Science backs this up. The thoughts that you think have the power of changing your body functions. Your thoughts activate neurotransmitters – chemicals responsible for most of your anatomical functions from digestion to hormone regulation.
Positive thoughts can inspire physiological and cognitive benefits such as reduce stress, lower fatigue, elevate the hormone levels that make you sad/happy, and so on. It's the foundation on which placebo drugs work. People who are administered these drugs are told that the medication will advance their wellbeing but have no real effect by themselves, so to speak. These people believe that the drug will make them feel better and it does because they believe so. It's all in the mind.
The thoughts we think alter our brain makeup, sometimes temporarily and sometimes more permanently. If we begin to practice recognizing our privilege and feeling gratitude for the things we have on a regular basis, we welcome a steady flow of dopamine and norepinephrine into our brains. The reward centers of our brain get activated and we feel a rush of positivity flood our minds. The same happens when we are shown photos of our beloved.
When your brain experiences a certain pattern of neural activity on a frequent basis, it molds your neural structure around this activity. Regions in your brain that experience a spike in activity form new synapses. Existing synapses strengthen when more activity becomes concentrated around it and build more receptors.
The research was conducted using cab drivers in London as participants to find out whether our thoughts really changed our brains. The research found that these individuals who had been driving in the streets of London had a more pronounced hippocampus area i.e. the area of the brain that is responsible for visual-spatial memory. The cognitive demands placed on these drivers who have to navigate the busy streets of the metropolis on a daily basis made their brains adapt by expanding.
We are often told to practice meditation as part of our lifestyle. Why? Meditation quiets the parts of our brain that is singularly focused on our individual needs. It also helps forge connections between the various regions of our brain. Meditation helps us feel more relaxed and centered for the same reasons.
Thoughts are nothing more than electrochemical events that occur in our nerve cells. These events affect various physiological changes. When you think negative thoughts you allow negative peptides into your body cells. Your body becomes accustomed to these negative peptides as you continue with a negative bent of mind. When you do this, you decrease the receptors for positive peptides – making your brain more receptive to negative thoughts that do you no good.
However, you can always reprogram your brain into a positive state of mind as all the cells in our body are replaced every two months. If you adopt schools of thought that are positive, you can teach your pessimistic cells to behave optimistically.
Your gene makeup is largely influenced by your thoughts too. Your brain is constantly communicating with your genes with every thought that you have. It changes how your genes operate in the future. Few people know but genes actually lay dormant in us and only activate during significant life events. While your lifestyle doesn’t change your genetic makeup, it does alter genetic activity.
Many mental health issues are believed to be inherited hereditarily. However, research has proved that this holds true for only 5% of cases. In the rest of the cases, genes simply act as influencers. Childhood trauma, emotional regulation, stress management and the lifestyle you practice have a more direct bearing on your mental health. You have little to no control over what you experience as a child. However, you can easily manipulate the remaining factors listed above.
Your genetics doesn’t control your life. In fact, the thoughts you think, the attitude and perception that you keep influences your genetic activity. As discussed above, your biology is actually controlled by your mind and not the other way around. You can change the way your genes function by changing the thoughts you think.
A happy individual has a healthy balance of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins in their body. Negative experiences can hamper the production of these hormones. The trick is to keep a positive mindset and not negativity take a toll on our mental health. It’s a loop really. If you think positively, your brain will generate positive hormones which will aid you in sustaining your positive mindset.
Thinking positively is beneficial for brain growth. Take, for instance, the prefrontal cortex. If we think happy thoughts, we spur increased brain activity in the prefrontal cortex and the formation of new synapses. Our metacognitive abilities are derived from the functioning of our prefrontal cortex. The better we are at understanding our action and emotions, in other words, at metacognition – the more in control of our emotions we are. The more in control of our emotions we are, the less we let them overrun us. Negative thoughts can hamper brain activity and interfere with how easily we process information. It slows our brain down. So the next time you’re starting to feel low, think of all the happy things you’ve experienced in your life and you will notice your mood automatically improving!
Jenny Many discusses Shawn Achor's TED Talk and research about what it really means to be happy and the true science behind the emotion.