What is your habitual emotion?
Do you most often feel gloomy and flat, or chirpy and enthusiastic?
Neurobiological scientists say that how we feel habitually is regulated by our emotional thermostat.
This thermostat is the emotional set point around which our daily mood swings.
Some people have a low set point and mostly experience darker moods. Others have a higher set point which allows them to experience sunnier moods.
Our emotional thermostat regulates every area of our life and is set by our brain functions and the beliefs we were programmed with from childhood.
What is YOUR emotional set point?
If it’s set to high, you are likely to experience joy and contentment in life. If it’s set to low, you may experience mostly darker tones of feeling.
But whatever your settings are, you’ll also sometimes experience emotions that outside your usual range.
For example, people with a high setting may still experience sadness, grief, or fear at certain times of their life. And people with a low setting may experience the euphoria of falling in love or of finding success and fulfillment in their activities.
However, sooner or later, everyone returns to their emotional set point.
What about lifting your emotional set point. Is it possible?
Scientific research shows that we are able to lift our habitual set point. Just imagine feeling brighter and better, not only now and then, but on most days! Wouldn’t that be great?
These 3 Activities Can Reset Your Emotional Thermostat
There are three ways to reset your emotional thermostat: by meditating, journaling, and exercising.
How meditation lifts your emotional set point
According to neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar, research shows that regular meditation decreases stress, and reduces depression, anxiety disorders, pain, and insomnia. It also enhances our ability to pay attention.
All in all, meditation is shown to increase your quality of life.
Here is the experiment which proved that meditation raises the emotional set point:
Dr. Lazar took people who had never meditated before and enrolled them in an eight-week, meditation-based stress reduction program where they were asked to meditate for thirty to forty minutes each day.
At the start of the program, the participants’ brains were scanned. They were then rescanned at the end of the program to see whether there were any changes in the brain through meditation.
The researchers found that the gray matter of the left hippocampus increased dramatically. This area of the brain assists learning and memory and regulates emotions.
The brain of people who went through the meditation course also showed significant changes to the Temporo-Parietal Junction, an area connected to compassion and perspective-taking. (Perspective-taking is the ability to understand other people’s mental states, that is, their thoughts, feelings, desires, motivations, and intentions).
Change was also evident in the Amygdala, the fight-or-flight part of your brain.
In this area, researchers noticed a decrease in gray matter which signifies a decrease in stress.
Participants reported feeling less stressed, even weeks after the experiment had concluded.
The study showed that meditation triggers neurobiological changes which lift the emotional set point long-term.
Another activity which can adjust your emotional thermostat is journaling.
Why journaling can change your emotional set point
A journal is a notebook in which you gather all of the things which inspire and interest you.
Think of a journal like a workbook where you can add random thoughts, brainwaves, quotes, snippets, or drawings. I call mine an Everything Book because you can find thoughts, meanderings, recipes, to-do lists, and even images I’ve cut out and pasted into it.
The main thing is to write in your journal each day.
It’s a great way to start the day. Set your timer for five minutes and write non-stop, no matter what flops onto the page.
It’s best to write by hand because this will prevent you from editing what you write.
As the Health Encyclopedia of the University of Rochester explains, journaling has many benefits. In general, journaling helps you to deal with any overwhelming emotion by giving you a healthy outlet in which to express yourself. Here are some of the benefits:
- Manage anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Cope with depression
- Feel happier
Journaling helps control your symptoms and improves your mood by helping you prioritize your problems, fears, and concerns. It also provides an opportunity for positive self-talk.
Keeping a journal helps you establish order when your world feels like it’s in chaos.
A third way of resetting your emotional set point is by exercising.
How to sweat your way to a higher emotional set point
In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in learning and memory.
But not every kind of exercise has the effect of boosting your brain power and lifting your emotional set point.
Researchers found that only aerobic exercise which gets your heart pumping increases the size of your hippocampus. Resistance training and muscle toning exercises don’t have the same results.
You have to sweat your way to a happier life!
Health journalist Heidi Godman says:
The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Here are three tips to make help you establish an exercise habit:
- Join a class or work out with a friend to help your
- Track your progress with a fitness app. Using an app will encourage you to set and reach goals.
- Think about hiring a personal trainer.
Exercise is like a medicine. It’s important to establish a habit of exercise so that you get used to taking it as a prescription drug.
As scientific research shows, raising the set point of your emotional thermostat is in your hands.
You can raise it by using meditation, journaling, or exercise. Yes, you have the power to change whether you usually feel happy or unhappy.
However, advance only comes by changing your habits.
Give meditation, journaling, and exercise a try to lift your emotional set point for a happier life.