(Originally Published in Biscayne Boulevard Times. January 2005.)
All of us experience a myriad of moods and emotions. One minute we feel happy and joyful because we got a promotion at work. The next minute we are sad and gloomy because we don’t have a date for Valentine’s Day. Why do these things make us feel the way we feel? Where are they coming from? Can we change our moods with food or other things?
A mood is an internal feeling that affects how we see the world at any given moment and how the world sees us. Moods, and the changing emotions that generate them, have an extremely important purpose. They act as a method of communication between our brain and body, and our body and the world. This communication helps us make decisions that are vital to staying alive. If something frightens us and threatens our survival, we will avoid it. If something makes us feel happy and safe, we will return to it again and again.
Scientists consider mood to be a basic biological process that involves many systems of the body. The brain, glands, and immune system join in a network of communication that affects our emotional state, making us happy, sad, anxious, or relaxed. Anything that affects the chemistry of the brain will affect our mood. Food, alcohol, smoking, medication, weather, physical pain, exercise, meditation — even falling in love – will change the way we feel about our self and the world.
The actual process of creating a mood goes something like this: First, something alters your body chemistry. For example, you eat a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch. Then, your brain releases chemicals in response to that stimulus. To continue with our example, the turkey and cheese are converted into serotonin through a three-step process. Then, you feel the result of the chemicals as a physical sensation. The serotonin makes you feel relaxed and cheerful. Then you respond to those thoughts and emotions with a behavior. You smile and say hello to someone as they pass you on the sidewalk. Then the cycle repeats itself with the next thing that affects your body.
We can change moods by changing our habits: how we breathe, what we eat, how much we exercise. Conscious breathing, for example, causes a chemical change in your body and triggers the mechanism for restoring and maintaining balance. It’s no coincidence that many practices, both ancient and New Age, have discovered the power of controlled breathing. Food is also an extremely powerful tool in altering our moods and emotions.
Nutrition scientists discovered long ago that many of the natural chemicals in foods change the way we feel. We hunger for fatty, sugary treats because the substances in them trigger the brain to release endorphins and increase serotonin levels, sending pleasure signals throughout the body. Unfortunately, eating sweets also leads to craving more sweets and feeling bad as we go through withdrawal. The best way to keep the brain chemicals in the right balance is to keep blood-sugar levels steady with small high-protein diets throughout the day.
All emotions are healthy because emotions are what unite the mind and the body. Anger, fear, and sadness are as healthy as peace, love and joy. It is important to find an appropriate way to express all of your emotions. To repress these emotions causes stress in our body which can lead to disease. When stored or blocked emotions are released, however, there is a clearing of our internal pathways which restores balance and generates healing in the body.
There are several ways to release our emotions and change our mood. If you have several blocks or need some help in making life-style changes, I suggest counseling, touch therapies, personal-growth seminars, meditation or working with a nutritionist. Any of these can increase your awareness about why you feel the way you feel. They will also teach you new techniques to heal your brain chemistry and improve the quality of your moods and emotional life.