The doctor’s prescription: turn that frown upside down?
Would you tell your patients that smiling more and accruing as many positive experiences as possible could improve their physical health? Though you may not be able to do and keep a straight face at the same time – the notion does seem to belong more to new age flimflam than scientifically-backed medicine – but the fact is that psychology researcher and University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow Jennifer Stellar, PhD has an “evidence-based approach to exploring human emotions” that may answer “why our feelings may have a greater impact on our well-being than we expect,” according to the American Medical Association. And just in time to fight those Holiday blues too.
Stellar has helmed two studies in which she measure students’ levels of Interluken-6 (IL-6) – a common proinflammatory cytokine – in a sample of saliva collected in a lab. When chronically elevated for extended periods, levels of proinflammatory cytokines contribute to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression. “Our idea was that people who experience more positive emotions will have lower levels of IL-6 circulating in their body,” Stellar said. “Why did we think this? Certain negative emotions have been associated with increases in IL-6, so we thought perhaps positive emotions would have an opposite effect leading to lower levels of this damaging biomarker. It turns out, our hypothesis was correct. Positive emotions predicted lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines in our student population.”
In addition to measuring IL-6 levels, the students were interviewed regarding the frequency and intensity in which students experienced a set of emotions, including, awe, contentment, joy, pride, love, amusement, and compassion. The first four emotions were found to predict lower IL-6 levels. Awe is in fact very strong because it implies wonder and amazement and it is immediately accessible through “everyday experiences— glancing up at the stars or watching athletes achieve a seemingly impossible physical feat,” Stellar said. In light of this it is not surprising that awe had the strongest negative relationship to IL-6.
So what does this mean for healthcare providers such as yourself, and your patients? As Stellar said, “I used to see a walk in nature or a trip to the museum as a luxury I could barely afford in my busy life. Now I see it as essential to my mental and physician health.” Similarly, you may have to start reminding your patients to stop and smell the roses – getting high on life, as it were – as a means of improving their overall wellbeing. Holidays are, very Dickensianly, the best of times for some people and the worst of times for others. Christmas and New Year’s celebrations will certainly provide many with abundant sources of joy and merriment. On the other hand, the holidays can be depressing and stressful – which may be just a Scrooge-like reaction to all of the Xmas humbug, or it could be something more serious like seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Lack of sunlight is the main cause of this condition, so you would do well to advise any SAD patients to use such medical supplies online as a Carex Sunlite Bright Light Therapy Lamp, available at Discount Medical Supplies.