An article in the online journal “Neuroscience News” caught my eye this week. It seems that a team of scientists, led by Professor Nakumura, at the Graduate School of Medicine at the prestigious Nagoya University in Japan, have discovered a neural circuit that drives physical responses to emotional stress .
It has of course been known for a long time that emotional stress affects us physically e.g increased heart rate, but this research found a specific pathway. The research was done on rats (who were being bullied by a more dominant rat) and the specific pathway has yet to be researched in humans.
While it is interesting that this specific pathway has been found, what interests me far more is how much research has already been done on humans, coming from the opposite perspective i.e. on specific practices that neuroscientist found dampen down the alarm response, switch the nervous system from the sympathetic to the more relaxed parasympathetic mode, and increase vagal tone.
These mechanisms include, but are not limited to the following:
a focus on a single process (such as the breath), or object ( such as a flame) , the practice of deep breathing, progressive relaxation, meditation, expressing gratitude and appreciation , listening to certain types of music, connecting with others, being more present, being kind to others, physical activity, being in nature, having spiritual or transcendent experiences, increasing your focus on people and things that make you happy, even watching brief videos of children or animals enjoying themselves, being absorbed and giving full attention to a hobby or task(flow), having a sense of purpose, enjoying a good laugh, feeling part of a close-knit group or community, watching beautiful images or movies.
Most of these ways of being and acting have also been shown to boost your immune system and increase your physicalhealth and longevity.
So lets not wait for further experiments on rats, lets get started on those science-based techniques that have proven validity.