Practical ways to boost your mood

Key points:

  • Just like a computer, our brains contain biological equivalents of ‘hard’ and ‘software’
  • These can be ‘upgraded’ to achieve a more fulfilling life

Dr Fredric Loomis, a busy gynaecologist has an inspiring story that begins on a day that he receives a letter from an anonymous patient. Although she was admitted to one of his wards, she had been under the care of another doctor. She starts by telling him that he would not remember her. She had lost her baby at birth and he, having heard of her loss, sat beside her for few moments holding her hand. He had not spoken much but his voice and eyes were kind and his mere presence comforted her. She never saw him again in spite of the fact that the nurses had told her that he practically lived at the hospital. This is an extract from her letter:

“This afternoon I was a guest in a beautiful Chinese home here in Peking. The garden was enclosed by a high wall, and on one side, surrounded by twining red and white flowers, was a brass plate about two feet long. I asked someone to translate the Chinese characters for me. They said: ENJOY YOURSELF. IT IS LATER THAN YOU THINK.

I began thinking about it for myself. I had not wanted another baby because I was grieving for the one I lost, but decided at that moment that I could not wait any longer. Perhaps it may also be later for me than I thought. Then, because I was thinking of my baby, I thought of you and the tired lines in your face, and the moment of sympathy you had given me when I so needed it. I don’t know how old you are but I am quite sure that you are old enough to be my father. I know that those few moments we spent meant little or nothing to you of course, but they meant a great deal to a woman who was desperately unhappy.

I may be presumptuous to think that in turn I can do something for you too, but perhaps for you it is later than you think. Please forgive me, but when your work is over on the day you get my letter, please sit down quietly, all by yourself, and think about it. Marguerite.”

The story continues with Dr Loomis immediately taking a three-month sabbatical and going to South America with an old friend. For him it was the stimulus that he needed to prompt him into rearranging the priorities of his life. For many, however, the interest lies with the wonderful mind of Marguerite. Not only did she use the few words from an inscription to change her mood from grief to hope, it also presented her with the opportunity to show compassion to another being that merely looked tired.

Marguerite’s ability to view a crisis in the light of an opportunity is a talent and strength that few naturally possess. It is easy to become so self-absorbed and obsessed with your own misery that all other opportunities and duties, including the well-being of others, become irrelevant. The truth is that it is never easy to maintain the level of self-control to always keep a positive attitude. It is even more difficult to focus on your personal goals when hope starts fading and the playing field is always changing.

The benefits of mental wellness

Mood plays a dominant role in our lives; a good mood makes us think and feel better. It makes us more optimistic and enthusiastic. This also improves the quality of our interpersonal relationships and strengthens our level of commitment, resolve and focus in life. The numerous negative emotions that are caused by stress, frustration, rejection and disappointment have the opposite effect, tending to derail us and make us become withdrawn and introspective. In the process we give up and abandon our goals.

Re-active people wait for opportunities to come along so that they can respond. Pro-active people, on the other hand, actively strive to create their own opportunities. The difference between taking the initiative and responsibility for making events happen, rather than wait for someone else to take the initiative, is like chalk and cheese, especially when measured over a lifespan.

The body’s central processing unit

Not unlike a computer, the brain is made up of billions of neurons or nerve cells that are interlinked with each other via an intricate web of microscopic fibres called dendrites. These fibres stretch great distances to reach other neurons in distant parts of the brain, thereby creating a three dimensional network that spans across the entire brain. All neurons communicate with each other via chemical reactions which generate minuscule electrical currents that run along these fibres. At the tips of all dendrites where they intersect or meet other dendrites, a specialised end-organ called a synapse is found. This is where the brain keeps its store of neurotransmitters, those famous messenger chemicals that drugs like Prozac target.

The better known neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin, to name a few, and they all share the same function, namely fulfilling the role of chemical messengers. Just like a computer, every thought, memory and emotion has an underlying chemical as well as electronic pathway. Whilst neurons and neurotransmitters form the hardware of your brain, emotion is the software.

Neural operating systems

The word “emotion” comes from the Latin word, “motere”, plus the prefix “e”, implying “to move away”. Emotions are nothing more than primordial impulses to act. Emotions are automatic, engrained into our subconscious minds like the basic operating system which runs your PC. This ability allows us to act without needing to waste time bothering about thinking. The benefit of this built-in software program is that it enables us to jump out of the way of a speeding car without a second thought, for example, or dive into a pool to save a drowning child.

Emotions are crucial survival instincts that we have inherited from our forefathers. With anger, for example, we release adrenalin into our systems. This increases our heart rate, thereby bringing more oxygen and energy to our bodies. We focus more clearly, our hands clench tightly, ready to grasp a weapon and defend ourselves. With fear, our minds stop thinking and blood rushes to our leg muscles in preparation for running away. Happiness has an opposite effect. With happiness the brain inhibits most negative feelings such as worrying, fear and pessimism. We become more positively energised in the form of increased enthusiasm, thereby creating the drive and ambition to strive for greater goals and engage in interpersonal relationship.

The sensory or neocortex of the brain is like the processor of a computer with a high-speed, analytical function. When we are calm and controlled, it will suggest an appropriate response to an event that requires emotional interpretation, for example: “If I smile at him, he will smile back at me”, or “If I say something nasty to him, he’ll become angry with me.” The amygdala is our primitive emotional brain and its function is to give the “fight” or “flight” command when we are in danger. For us, the same happens when we are stressed, especially when we are threatened. Because our mental software, however, has been programmed to fight for survival, the sensory cortex’s analytic function is immediately bypassed by the amygdala when we feel confronted. This is when things sometimes can go very wrong.

Positive versus negative emotions

The amygdala continuously scans its archives for stored information before it responds. The information that it contains have been gathered over many years from our own past experiences, as well as automatically inherited from the experiences that our forefathers had stored in their minds, in other words, the memories that are genetically-imprinted in our minds. Of these, the most powerful memories always come from two main sources, namely either pleasant or unpleasant childhood experiences. The earlier in life an unpleasant memory becomes imprinted, the greater the chance that it will become part of our permanent memory.

Unfortunately, the amygdala or emotional brain, is limited to either fight or flight responses that are often totally inappropriate to the actual situation. Because the logic of the neocortex can be overruled by the amygdala, we regularly lose intellectual control over our emotions. After an over reactionary amygdala response, like some temper tantrum, for example, the neocortex’s logical function returns and then usually tends to rationalise or defend the emotional response or behaviour. Instead of apologising, we often start blaming others. “If you had not provoked me like that, I would not have lost my temper and caused such a scene. It is therefore your fault that I behaved so badly.” For the other person, of course, this excuse will most likely not hold water.

Mental software

IQ refers to intelligence. IQ has been taught and tested at schools for many centuries. EQ, on the other hand, refers to ‘emotional intelligence’, a term that two researchers, Salovey and Mayer, coined only as recently as 1990. The world became aware of the significance of EQ in the early 1990s when research by clinicians and authorities on human development revealed the fundamental link between success and EQ. Continual studies, supported by conclusive evidence from business, sporting and individual sources, confirm that success in life has more to do with emotional intelligence (EQ) than intellect (IQ).

Research continuously reinforces the connection between wellbeing and EQ. People who are emotionally more intelligent are more effective at their jobs, achieve more promotions, take better care of their health and have more fulfilling family and personal lives. More often, they get what they want from life. If we become less distracted by our negative emotions and more able to rely on or make use of our positive emotions, we have a better chance to strive for and achieve our goals in life. The first step towards this goal is to become more emotionally aware.

Installing neurological upgrades

Scientists have been battling for years with the concept of what makes and keeps your mind working optimally. Psychologists are historically focused on ways to elevate a patient’s negative frame of mind or mental state from minus five, for example, to zero, with zero considered the benchmark of ‘normal’. A modern scientific ambition, however, is to elevate one’s state of mind from zero to plus five. This approach includes the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) rather than IQ, as well as the use of pharmaceutical agents that improves mental functioning and mood.

Seeing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the best way to achieve this is with a combination of different strategies. The first step towards optimising your brain function is to follow a proper, nutritional diet. Fresh fruit and vegetables must be consumed on a daily basis to get the right micronutrients, minerals and vitamins, and the intake of toxic substances like alcohol and tobacco smoke must be minimised. Exercise is a wonderful and natural way of relieving the symptoms of stress. The next step is to use a neurological supplement.

Supplements that assist with neurological function

NeuroVance is a new generation brain boosting supplement that contains a blend of plant derived (phytochemical) ingredients, recognised for their ability to help regulate mood and assist with concentration. Its multi-modal pharmaceutical action is achieved through its ability to enhance separate but interconnected components of brain function, thereby giving your brain a physiological advantage during busy and stressful periods. NeuroVance will benefit anyone suffering from mental exhaustion, stress or emotional hardship, and is the ideal supplement to take during times of greater work pressure, exams, conflict, bereavement or loss.

Seeking support

Getting help is a good place to start lifting the fog of despair. It is often difficult to maintain an accurate perspective of your situation on your own, or sustain the effort required to lift your mood. Isolation and loneliness often make it worse. On the other hand, the nature of the condition also makes it more difficult for you to seek help. This is where you will need to rely on self-discipline. There are so many people who are trained in this field; you just need to find them. Therapy helps people explore the roots of depression or anxiety. These may, for example, stem from unresolved conflict with family members or relations because of long-standing defensive patterns developed from the common tendency to avoid, rather than face conflict situations. Cumulatively, these unresolved issues may lead to unsatisfied needs and an emotion of despair and hopelessness. Psychotherapy tends to work best with those who are curious to learn more about themselves and want to develop insight into the unconscious factors that contribute towards their problems. Please consult your doctor to discuss your options.