By Dr. Mercola
When feeling down, people might say they’re “feeling blue” and the world looks “colorless” or “gray.” It turns out these may be more than expressions, as how you feel may actually change the way you see the world around you.
Emotions influence low-level visual processes, which are your basic perceptions of space and form, including color perception. This might sound surprising, until you realize that your visual processes require input from your brain. As Time reported:1
“Sadness decreases arousal, for example, which in turn limits the amount of light entering the retina and reduces your visual acumen. A gloomy mood lowers dopamine, which may impair neurotransmitters in the retina.
And depression has been linked to a deficit in the ability to differentiate colors, meaning the world might be viewed as a fuzzier, less vivid place for some people feeling sad.”
Sadness Impairs Your Perception of Colors
Researchers from the University of Rochester showed two groups of people either a sad or amusing film clip. The participants were then asked to identify desaturated colors, which were patches of red, yellow, green, and blue that had been muted to gray.
Those who had watched the sad clip had a harder time differentiating between colors on the blue-yellow color axis, but not on the red-green color spectrum (possibly because we’re biologically programmed to be able to see red as an ager response). The study showed that sadness impairs color perception. According to Time:2
“The fact that… [researchers] only saw differences in color perception along the blue-yellow axis means that this isn’t just a fluke, he explains.
Had sadness simply reduced chemical arousal or engagement, the results would probably have indicated that color perception across all spectrums were affected, but that wasn’t the case.
It also highlights the possible importance of dopamine in sight, something researchers are hoping to focus on more in the future. ‘
We know dopamine is important in mood disorders like depression and ADHD, but there might be something going on with how dopamine affects how we see colors, too,’ [lead researcher Christopher] Thorstenson says.”
Sadness can “color” many aspects of your world, of course, far beyond your perceptions of colors.
The Physical Effects of Sadness, Stress, and Emotional Trauma
Emotional pain often exacts a greater toll on your quality of life than physical pain. The stress and negative emotions associated with any trying event can lead to not only sadness but also to physical pain and disease.
In fact, emotional stress is linked to health problems including chronic inflammation, lowered immune function, increased blood pressure, altered brain chemistry, blood sugar and hormonal balance, and increased tumor growth.
For instance, stress, even the “normal” everyday variety, can act as a pathway between cancerous mutations, potentially triggering the growth of tumors.3 The National Cancer Institute, meanwhile, has said that research with animal models suggests:
“[Y]our body’s neuroendocrine response (release of hormones into your blood in response to stimulation of your nervous system) can directly alter important processes in cells that help protect against the formation of cancer, such as DNA repair and the regulation of cell growth.”4
Still other research has shown that norepinephrine, a hormone produced during periods of stress, may increase the growth rate of cancer.5
Norepinephrine can stimulate tumor cells to produce two compounds (matrix metalloproteinases called MMP-2 and MMP-9) that break down the tissue around the tumor cells and allow the cells to more easily move into your bloodstream.
Once there, they can travel to other organs and tissues and form additional tumors, a process called metastasis. Norepinephrine may also stimulate the tumor cells to release a chemical (vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF) that can aid in the growth of the blood vessels that feed cancer cells. This can increase the growth and spread of the cancer.
The stress hormone epinephrine has also been found to cause changes in prostate and breast cancer cells in ways that may make them resistant to cell death. This means that emotional stress could both contribute to the development of cancer and reduce the effectiveness of treatments.
Beyond cancer, the emotions associated with living in a “state of emergency” all the time — which is what happens when you’re chronically stressed — are anger, aggression, hatred, fear, prejudice, anxiety, insecurity, hopelessness, and other negative states that feed the energetic chaos that manifests as physical pain and disease.
All of these emotions, which we consider to be part of our conscious reality, are derived or produced by stress chemicals.
Intense Emotions May Become Trapped in Your Body
When trying to understand how your emotions can manifest as physical disease, it might help to consider your emotions as a form of energy. According to Dr. Bradley Nelson, when you feel an emotion, what you’re really sensing is the vibration of a particular energy.
Each emotion has its own vibratory signature, and when intense emotions are felt, they can become trapped in your body, much like a ball of energy.
These “balls of energy” can become lodged just about anywhere in your body, where they can then cause disruptions in your body’s energy system, which underlies your physical system much like an invisible matrix.
Your body cannot tell the difference between an actual experience that triggers an emotional response and an emotion fabricated through thought process alone — such as when feeling sad or worrying about something negative that might occur but has not actually happened, or conversely, thinking about something positive and pleasant.
The latter, of course, will help your body to express many of the health benefits associated with happiness, while ruminating or focusing on negativity can literally manifest disease.
Mapping Out Your Emotions
Just as sadness may color your world gray, certain emotions tend to be felt in ways that are generally consistent from one person to the next, irrespective of age, sex, or nationality. They’re also often associated with similar colors.
Researchers in Finland asked 700 volunteers from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan to think about one of 14 predetermined emotions, and then paint the areas of a blank silhouette that felt stimulated by that particular emotion.
Using a second blank silhouette, they were asked to paint in the areas that felt “deactivated” during that emotion.6 (If you want to try this experiment yourself, you can do so here.) As reported by The Atlantic:7
“The mapping exercise produced what you might expect: an angry hot-head... a depressed figurine that was literally blue (meaning they felt little sensation in their limbs).
Almost all of the emotions generated changes in the head area, suggesting smiling, frowning, or skin temperature changes, while feelings like joy and anger saw upticks in the limbs — perhaps because you’re ready to hug, or punch, your interlocutor.
Meanwhile, ‘sensations in the digestive system and around the throat region were mainly found in disgust,’ the authors wrote. It's worth noting that the bodily sensations weren't blood flow, heat, or anything else that could be measured objectively — they were based solely on physical twinges subjects said they experienced…
[T]he results likely reveal subjective perceptions about the impact of our mental states on the body, a combination of muscle and visceral reactions and nervous system responses that we can’t easily differentiate.”
How to Turn Sadness into Happiness
It's thought that genetics account for about 50 percent of your "innate" happiness while life circumstances make up another 10. The rest is under your control, and the first step to harnessing it is to choose it and believe you can be happy. Research shows, for instance, that when people were told to attempt to feel happier when listing to music, they were (as opposed to those who were told to simply relax).8
It was the intention to become happier that made a difference. If you’ve been feeling sad, whether due to an emotional trauma, life circumstances, or something you can’t quite put your finger on, try the steps that follow. They’re excellent for nurturing your emotional health and helping to harness happiness.
1. Be an Optimist
Looking on the bright side increases your ability to experience happiness in your day-to-day life while helping you cope more effectively with stress.
2. Have Hope
Having hope allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel, helping you push through even dark, challenging times. Accomplishing goals, even small ones, can help you to build your level of hope.
3. Embrace Your Quirks
Self-deprecating remarks and thoughts will shroud your mind with negativity and foster increased levels of stress. Seek out and embrace the positive traits of yourself and your life, and avoid measuring your own worth by comparing yourself to those around you.
4. Stay Connected
Having loving and supportive relationships helps you feel connected and accepted, and promote a more positive mood. Intimate relationships help meet your emotional needs, so make it a point to reach out to others to develop and nurture these relationships in your life.
5. Express Gratitude
People who are thankful for what they have are better able to cope with stress, have more positive emotions, and are better able to reach their goals. The best way to harness the positive power of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal or list, where you actively write down exactly what you’re grateful for each day. Doing so has been linked to happier moods, greater optimism, and even better physical health.
6. Find Your Purpose and Meaning
When you have a purpose or goal that you’re striving for, your life will take on a new meaning that supports your mental well-being. If you’re not sure what your purpose is, explore your natural talents and interests to help find it, and also consider your role in intimate relationships and ability to grow spiritually.
7. Master Your Environment
When you have mastery over your environment, you’ve learned how to best modify your unique circumstances for the most emotional balance, which leads to feelings of pride and success. Mastery entails using skills such as time management and prioritization along with believing in your ability to handle whatever life throws your way.
8. Exercise Regularly
Exercise boosts levels of health-promoting neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress and also relieve some symptoms of depression. Rather than viewing exercise as a medical tool to lose weight, prevent disease, and live longer – all benefits that occur in the future – try viewing exercise as a daily tool to immediately enhance your frame of mind, reduce stress, and feel happier.
9. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing “mindfulness” means you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you’re mindful you’re living in the moment and letting distracting or negative thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications. Mindfulness can help you reduce stress for increased well-being as well as achieve undistracted focus.
Harnessing EFT for Better Emotional Health
If your emotions are a form of energy that can even become “trapped” in your body if they become too intense, using a form of energy psychology to heal your emotional scarring and alleviate sadness makes perfect sense. Energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) allow you to correct the emotional short-circuiting that may be causing you physical dysfunction. While EFT makes use of the same energy meridians known in traditional acupuncture, EFT does not involve needles.
Instead, gentle tapping with your fingertips is used to transfer kinetic energy onto specific meridians on your head and chest while you think about your specific problem – whether it is a traumatic event, an addiction, pain, anxiety, etc. – and voice positive affirmations.
This combination of tapping the energy meridians and voicing positive affirmation works to clear the "short-circuit" — the emotional block — from your body's bioenergy system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance, which is essential for optimal health and the healing of physical disease.
Clinical trials have shown EFT is able to rapidly reduce the emotional impact of memories and incidents that trigger emotional distress. Once the distress is reduced or removed, your body can often rebalance itself and accelerate healing. In the video below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman shows how to tap away your stress for increased happiness and well-being.