ABC Today in History
For many of us, staying positive is difficult. Many of us struggle to step back from the daily grind of worrying about our future, of the big picture. But what if this pressure could actually have a positive effect on our mental health?
According to a study released by the University of British Columbia, positive emotions could decrease the strength of the reaction of stress hormones and potentially increase your cognitive function. And no, they didn’t find that being positive made you less likely to engage in violent acts, mental health issues or more frequent caffeine binges, but rather, it boosted people’s immune systems and physically improved their mental health.
The study’s lead author, Laura Keiter, analysed 121 people between the ages of 18-30 who had recently been involved in a physical altercation.
Participants were required to write down their thoughts on the physical fight, their mood immediately before the incident, and also the new mood that resulted from the event.
Keiter said: “When someone experiences a physical attack and, based on different analyses of physiological data, feels they have a strong emotional response, it means their stress hormone [serotonin] levels have increased significantly.”
The PTSD study showed that after being exposed to the traumatic stress of being in a physical fight, the participants’ cortisol levels (the hormone released during and after stress) increased by almost 30% in 10 hours, resulting in a ‘anxiety-like response’.
The positives of fighting for what we believe in can outweigh the negative ones
“Thinking of the same event again and again increases [the participants’] catecholamine release and increases serotonin levels, which makes a psychological stressor less unpleasant,” Keiter added.
Her research is backed up by a 2012 study which found that those who experienced their first traumatic event as adolescents or early adults are less likely to develop psychological problems such as depression and anxiety as adults.
“People don’t realise how important their first traumatic event is,” says Keiter. “They don’t feel there is any danger that they will get a second one, but their memory of it brings them less joy and makes them more anxious.
“It’s a memory that lasts for a lifetime and we don’t know what can be done to fix that.”
But, it is important to make time for what you love, and honour that first experience with trauma by making time for it.
Whether it be for mental health reasons or simply to keep someone happy, a good love relationship can truly be a blissful experience, and one study from the same study found that people’s cognitive functioning can be maximised in a loving environment.
This could mean spending a little more time with your significant other, having a leisurely walk or doing something for yourself outside of work, as long as you appreciate the relationship you have in life.