Why Balance Matters
About 40 percent of your happiness is within your control, researchers estimate, meaning that portion has to do with your mindset and lifestyle choices. And the science is clear that how you’re feeling emotionally is connected to your physical health. Consider, for example, a study that trained people in relaxation techniques (a lifestyle habit that can also influence mindset). After eight weeks of daily practice, participants showed positive changes in more than 1,500 genes.
Our feelings and our physiological health are so strongly connected because when we experience an emotion, it triggers the release of about 1,400 biochemical reactions—neurotransmitters, hormones and other chemicals—that circulate through the body and bloodstream to reach individual cells.
Depleting emotions—anger, anxiety, fear, sadness—trigger changes that lead to a downward spiral in the function of the immune system, hormone system, nervous system and brain. But renewing emotions—gratitude, love, joy, peace—lead to an upward spiral in the functioning of these same systems.
So it is that stress affects pretty much everything about how your body and brain function.
Stress makes it harder for the brain to receive and process information. And because it diminishes the functioning of so many major body systems, it’s linked to a wide range of health conditions including anxiety, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, fatigue, infertility, inflammation, sleep problems, shortened lifespan and much more.
Research indicates stress levels are rising. Depression is the leading cause of disease burden in middle- and high-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. Anti-depressant use in the United States increased 400 percent from the years spanning 1988 – 1994 to the years spanning 2005 – 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And an increasing number of children and adolescents are being treated with prescription medication for depression, anxiety and behavioral difficulties.
The antidote is balance. Balance has to do with your inner life—beliefs, thoughts, emotions—as well as your outer world—circumstances, environment, responses, habits and choices. Working toward balance helps reduce stress, prepare for unavoidable stressors, remain centered in the midst of challenging times and recover, recharge and rebalance physiologically.