Updated: Jun 3, 2019
We think we know where emotions come from, when actually where I just beginning to understand the multiple connections, sources and the environment that we produce in order to produce an emotion.
Since Darwin there was an insight into the potential importance of Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS).
The PNS regulates and promotes functions associated with growth and restorative processes. In contrast, the SNS promotes increased metabolic output and deal with challenges outside the body.
Darwin already speculated there were specific neural pathways that provided necessary communication between the brain states and the specific pattern of autonomic activity associated with emotions. For Example, he stated: “When the mind is strongly excited, we might expect that it would instantly affect in a direct manner the heart, and the is universally acknowledged..When the heart is affected it reacts on the brain; and the state of the brain again reacts through the pneumo-gastric (vagus) nerve on the heart; so that under any excitement there will be much mutual action and reaction between these, the two most important organs of the body (1).
Since the early on 1800’s there was already a notion, and plenty of insights of how our bodies react to the environment, in particular the heart and how the beating of this organ at an asymmetrical or unharmonized rhythm translates into a threat and all the organs start to shut down their essential functions to respond to the threat, nowadays we know that the response to stressful situations in everyday life even though they’re not sometimes danger per se (as in those days) they are still a threat.
Many of us don’t want to see the crude reality of how the to do lists, the demands of more than 40 hours per week as a requirement to fulfill a job description or to find a job, the traffic of modern cities, the constant flood of toxic information by the news and social media, and the demands of everyday life as human beings …are making those threats a lot more frequent than before. Additionally we are not our owners of the moments that we have because we let ourselves be chained by the digital devices and “fake lives” …Therefore all this series of events take our body in a constant rollercoaster of stress that it’s justified by saying ..”this is my life ..and I can’t change it”.
Backing up this reflection paragraph with science of how we live in constant fear of threats or stress from everyday life. We can explain what is happening inside of us that is triggering emotions and how it is affecting our internal organs.
Our Vagus is the tenth cranial nerve. It originates in the brain stem and projects, independently to the spinal cord, to many organs in the body cavity, including the heart and digestive system. The vagus is not a single neural pathway but rather a complex bidirectional system with myelinated branches liking the brain stem and various target organs.
Because the vagus contains both efferent (i.e. motor) and afferent (i.e. sensory) fibers, it promotes dynamic feedback between brain control centers and the target organs to regulate homeostasis (balance inside our body).
Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) is typically a benign, normal variation in heart rate that occurs during each breathing cycle: the heart rate increases when breathing in and decreases when breathing out (2).It is an accesible method for evaluating vagal control.
Changes in RSA amplitude in response to sensory, cognitive, and visceral challenges represent a “central command” to regulate vagal efferents originating in the right nucleus ambiguus (motor neurons that control soft palate, pharynx and larynx associated with speech and swallowing) and terminating in the heart, soft palate, pharynx, larynx, bronchi and esophagus. These changes in nucleus ambiguus regulation of peripheral autonomic activity support the expression of motion, emotion, and communication by regulating metabolic output (i.e. shifts in heart rate) and organs involved in the production of vocalizations.
When there are no challenges environmental demands, the autonomic nervous system, through the vagus, services the needs of internal viscera to enhance growth and restoration. However, in response to environmental demands, homeostatic processes are compromised, and the autonomic nervous system supports increased metabolic output to deal with these external challenges by vagal withdrawal and sympathetic excitation. By mediating the distribution of resources, the central nervous system regulates the strength and latency of autonomic responses to deal with internal and external demands.
This supports physiologically the now proven hypothesis that every threat that we create in our lives has an impact in our internal balance (homeostasis) and it usually accumulates creating a toxic internal state and accumulation of neurotransmitters such as cortisol and adrenaline that also have an effect on our metabolism, our digestive system, respiratory tract, and of course our brain functions (1).
So it literally means that when we are creating problems in our minds that are just feed by repetitive thoughts of how things were in the past and they hurt us or we focus on the future and we create fake scenarios that have not even happened were feeding the spiral of negative thoughts that eventually will develop into a disease either respiratory, metabolic or digestive.
If you think more deeply in these notions that will allow you to know your body in more detail, you will think twice when you have a repetitive thought that you already know it is not benefiting or giving you some calm, because you will know that the thought by itself is producing the same response inside you as the experience.
To make it even more profound all these thoughts and negative emotions that we build up with the “modern lifestyle” have an impact in your genes!!. Yes, you are reading correctly in your genes ..and they are shaping the way your genes will be read, therefore they are being predisposed to produce defective proteins or junk proteins which is in turn will also build up and generate eventually a disease. This phenomenon is called Epigenetics and it also impacted by your negative thoughts that generate toxic emotions.
Exposure to adverse social environments during early life is associated with increased risk of disease in adulthood, but the biological mechanisms producing such effects remain poorly understood. One possible explanation suggests that neural and endocrine responses to adversity in childhood affect the development of health-relevant molecular systems (i.e., a “defensive programming” of the developing body), rendering the body more vulnerable to subsequent pathogen challenges in adulthood. Given the transience of most neuroendocrine responses, however, it remains unclear how the extraorganismic social conditions that do “get into the body” during early life could “stay there” over decades to impact the risk of disease in adulthood (3).
One molecular mechanism that could potentially create a persisting biological impact of early life socio-environmental conditions involves the complex systems behavior of the gene transcriptional networks that govern cell growth, differentiation, and function. Gene regulatory networks show dynamic landscapes in which the system’s responses to external perturbations converge on a small number of stable “attractor” modes that can subsequently self-perpetuate. These self-perpetuating dynamics are sustained in part by the fact that the mRNA “out- put” of the system at one point in time (i.e., the genome-wide transcriptional profile) constitutes an “input” to the system at subsequent time points because translated mRNA shapes the cell’s response to future environments.
Transient environmental perturbations alter the expression of genes that control the basal dynamic equilibrium of the leukocyte transcriptome and/or alter the expression of molecules that mediate social signal transduction, early life social conditions may establish a long-lasting propensity to respond to challenges (either socio-environmental or microbial) that becomes manifest in health vulnerability only when the organism is challenged later in life (3).
Several recent studies have linked adverse social conditions in early life with adult differences in gene expression in cells of the nervous and immune systems (3).
As we move on the advancements of science and technology that can demonstrate the clear effects of many kind of negative environmental stimuli which can be collectively called as social adversity, but we know that it means many of our everyday routines of living stressed, either by social media, news, traffic, work related issues or family issues we can see what is the impact that this lifestyle has on our internal systems, in this case the immune system which if we are not careful with our children and young adolescents of what kind of emotions we pass them, we’re making them literally victims of a generated disease since they are born.
This is not a pessimistic point of view of how “everything” affects us, this is just a reality that we are choosing to create in our lives and that we have the power to balance it with positive emotions, with meditation, with exercise, with a more conscious way of living and a more careful approach to our children and people we interact with in our daily lives.
Openness to opportunities can lead to greater positivity and social connectedness. In a study of social goals and well-being, approach social goals and motives in college students positively predicted life satisfaction and positive attitudes toward social relationships 8 weeks later, as well as decreased loneliness relative to start of study. These effects were mediated by increases in the number of positive life events experienced, suggesting that approach social goals influenced behavior in ways that resulted in positive life outcomes. Similarly, changes in resilience over the course of a month predicted change in life satisfaction. Resilient individuals also experience more positive emotions after negative events, though they do not differ in the amount of negative emotions experienced (4).
Inspired by Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, we posit that the association between Vagal Tone (VT) and well-being reflects a reciprocal causality, an “upward spiral” in which VT facilitates capitalizing on social and emotional opportunities and the resulting opportunistic gains, in turn, lead to higher VT (4).
Choosing a better scenario of emotions, choosing to release stress in certain times of
the day, choosing to listen to our bodies, choosing to detect how our heart is beating and if we need a pause from our hectic and stressful lives is what will reconnect us with health, with consciousness, with being present in the activities we are performing, with being in the “flow” with our attention and productivity and in the end it will also allow us to rebalance and return to hemostasis with nature which also a proven simple way to release the stress and the toxic emotions.
It is not becoming a monk, it is just making time for you, to detoxify your body, it is making time for health, it is making time for happiness even if it means right now to separate 5-10 minutes per day in your busy schedule twice a day …that will start to make the difference and to create the habit of coming back for more.
Porges, S. W., Doussard-Roosevelt, J. A., & Maiti, A. K. (1994). Vagal Tone and the Physiological Regulation of Emotion. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2/3), 167.
Berntson GG, Cacioppo JT, Quigley KS (March 1993). "Respiratory sinus arrhythmia: autonomic origins, physiological mechanisms, and psychophysiological implications". Psychophysiology. 30 (2): 183–96.
Cole, S. W., Conti, G., Arevalo, J. M. G., Ruggiero, A. M., Heckman, J. J., & Suomi, S. J. (2012). Transcriptional modulation of the developing immune system by early life social adversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(50), 20578–20583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1218253109
Kok, B. E., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2010). Upward spirals of the heart: Autonomic flexibility, as indexed by vagal tone, reciprocally and prospectively predicts positive emotions and social connectedness. Biological Psychology, 85(3), 432–436. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2010.09.005