Over the holidays my wife and I had the opportunity to have our three grandsons stay with us for several days. On the last evening of the stay, Asher, age four, bolted up in the middle of the night very upset about a commercial he had seen on TV.My wife and I are careful to monitor the programs the kids watch, and we could not recall a commercial that would have upset him. He wanted to be in our bed and asked us to read to him, which we did for several hours. The next night his parents had the same experience in the middle of the night. I’m still trying to understand what upset him, and why he interpreted the commercial as he did.
As I was thinking of Asher and his sensitivity, I realized that we are all sensitive to things that we see and do, and are affected in different ways, which led me to explore ways of keeping these threats to a minimum.
Sensitivity to perceived threats can be important to survival. Esther Entin, M.D. is a pediatrician and clinical associate professor of family medicine at Brown University’s Warren Alpert School of Medicine, and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com. She pointed out in a recent article in the Atlantic that our body and brain are designed to recognize and react to threats to our well-being. This is an important capacity that increases our survival in or adjustment to adverse circumstances. But how do we correct these situations when these alarm and response systems become over-sensitized or overly reactionary as a result of something that appears very real?
Barbara Fredrickson, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, suggests that for every negative emotion triggered, such as Asher’s, there should be three positive emotions expressed to counter it and to lift the person up. Fredrickson found that more positive emotions develop stronger, closer, and harmonious connections with others – resilience and optimism strengthens – and the person becomes less depressed or reactionary and more satisfied with life. She found that the qualities of joy, interest, love, serenity, awe, amusement, and pride were some of the several positive emotions needed to offset the negative and scary ones.
The reverse is also true when negative emotions occur – the body expresses these negative emotions as unhealthy symptoms. In an article in AOL Healthy Living written by Deb and Ed Shapiro, Ed remembers having an upset stomach when he was a child and his grandmother asking him if he was having a problem at school. What she knew instinctively, we are at last beginning to prove scientifically: that there is an intimate and dynamic relationship between what is going on with our feelings and thoughts, and what happens in the body.
The dynamic relationship between a person’s emotions and what is felt on the body has been explored for more than 100 years. In reviewing some research and experiments conducted in the 19th century, Mary Baker Eddy (founder of the Christian Science Church) wrote in Science and Health, “A change in human belief changes all the physical symptoms, and determines a case for better or for worse. When one’s false belief is corrected, Truth sends a report of health over the body.”
At any age negative or scary thoughts are part of life. How much they are a part of life is something that can be controlled by providing a positive reinforcing environment that limits those negative conditions and strengthens health.
And a positive environment can be cultivated by turning to prayer, which is what I helped Asher remember on the night he was upset.
photo by Don O’Brien