How Feeling Low Can Have A Physical Cause

How Feeling Low Can Have a Physical Cause?

Guest Article By:  Dr. Irena O’Brien, Ph.D.

I am so happy that I can have Dr. O'Brien share insights about our brain and physical connection.   As a coach, it is so important for me to understand neuroscience concepts, so I can help my own clients achieve greater results.   Enjoy the read.

Low mood and sadness are normal human emotions. We all feel sad or low at times. There are lots of different words for describing these feelings, including feeling blue, unhappy, down or flat.

Did you know that low affect, or feeling low, can have a physical cause? That’s because the purpose of the brain is not to make us happy, or make rational decisions, but to ensure that we grow, survive and reproduce. This is why we need to look at the brain and body as a whole. And the brain works to keep your mind-body system in balance, so you can grow, survive, and reproduce. Affect is the general feeling that you have throughout the day. It’s not an emotion, but a much simpler feeling. You can feel good or bad and with varying intensities.  Affect is always there. When you’re feeling low or moody, that just means that your mind-body system is out of balance. When you’re mind-body system is out of balance, it affects your decisions, your emotional reactions, how you respond to stress, your anxiety level, your pain threshold, etc. Many factors can throw your mind-body system off balance. It could be your psychology, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, overwhelm, irrational fears, or many other issues. But, it could also be due to physical causes: You may be eating an unhealthy diet, perhaps you’re not getting enough exercise, or getting too little sleep. The thing is, even if we resolve the psychological reasons for our low mood, poor lifestyle choices can keep us down. Your low affect could be due to something as simple as not getting enough sleep.

For example, in my work, I’m constantly consuming new information and deciding how or even whether I should write about what I’ve just read. I would find that by noon, I would feel overwhelmed and anxious.  I tried taking a break, coaching myself out of my funk, or just pushing through but it didn’t work for long.  By 2:00 pm, I was even more overwhelmed and anxious, and I’d stop for the day. When I learned about how low affect can have a physical cause, I analyzed my overwhelm and anxiety and realized that it was accompanied by fatigue. So, I decided to address the fatigue by taking a 30-minute nap in the early afternoon. I have a sleep app and set it for 30 minutes so I don’t go over. And it’s been a miracle: I wake up with renewed energy as if it were early morning, and I’m good for another few hours. So, the solution was simple: Rather than trying to uncover and resolve the underlying psychological reasons for my anxiety and overwhelm, I simply take a nap. And the nap works so well for me, that I don’t feel the need to delve deeper. It may be that it was only about fatigue. I share my example with you to show you how simple resolving “low affect” can be. For me it was sleep. For others, it could be a poor diet, lack of exercise, or other bad habits. That’s why it’s important to eat well and get enough exercise and sleep. Because without a healthy body, it’s impossible to have a healthy mind.

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