The Mood-Mending Power Of Endorphins

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The Mood-Mending Power Of Endorphins

Words by Mr David Waters

7 November 2019

“Our bodies are powerful tools that can change our moods if used the right way”

Our bodies are powerful mood-altering tools if used the right way. Being aware of our bodies, from moment to moment, is the best way to capture and understand our moods. That sense of being “gutted” – the way that I had felt when I first read the email – is an apt descriptor, as it reminds us where our feelings are first sensed, inside the core of our being: our guts.

Neuroscientists have discovered that we have a mass of neural tissue – made up of the same cells found in our brains – in our stomachs. This explains the butterflies-in-the-tummy sensation we feel when we are anxious or afraid. Neurons pick up the change in blood flow away from our digestion in anticipation of either protecting ourselves or running away – the famous fight-or-flight response. They also explain the empty, sinking feeling we sometimes get when we receive bad news, just like I did with the disappointing email from my solicitor. Our gut neurons are communicating these sensations to our brains, which interpret them as either fear or sadness in a feedback loop that scientists are still investigating and making discoveries about today.

Later that day, the elation I’d felt after my workout wore off like a comfort blanket being taken away. I spent that afternoon and evening hanging out with friends, which, for the time that I was with them, kept difficult feelings at bay. When I returned home, I foolishly read the email again on my phone. I felt my low mood and anxiety seeping back, not as intensely as when I’d first read the message, but my mouth started to feel dry and my heart began to beat faster. But I was too tired and, besides, it was too late to exercise now.

In this instance, I used a proven technique I’ve used with clients who need tools to calm a panic attack. I started to count the time it took me to breathe in and out, making my breathing slower and more deliberate than usual. I also counted my exhalations, making them twice as long as my inhalations. I focused on the numbers I was counting and the sensation of my chest and stomach rising and falling, distracting myself from the email I’d just re-read. About five minutes later, I started to relax again – but not before putting my phone on silent. No chance now of hearing another ominous ping.

Illustration by Mr Jori Bolton