Updated: Apr 8, 2022
I feel the the science of ‘Epigenetics’ is exciting because, simply put it is the study of how our behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way our genes work.
It seems to be gaining more exposure recently (tho been around since the 70’s), and ultimately the findings suggest that we are ‘not victims of our genes, but masters over our fate’ – our thoughts, feelings and emotions are biological things and affect us on a cellular level. Bruce Lipton’s (Developmental Biologist) book Biology of Belief is great for proper insight into this.
Mindfulness and meditation are proving to develop areas of the brain responsible for self-awareness, attention, reasoning and emotional regulation.
Why might this be useful for our Health & Well-being?
Research from Nobel Prize winning scientist, Elizabeth Blackburn and health psychologist Elissa Epel has looked at the destructive thoughts that damage our telomeres (which are the protective tips at the end of chromosomes – DNA molecules). In their book, The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier and Longer, they explain in detail how telomeres determine the impact they on our life and health. Some of the key findings suggest that that too much stress related thinking speeds up cellular ageing, which can make us more susceptible to illness and disease. In other words, beliefs and thoughts alter cells in the body & our thoughts can eventually damage our DNA. Blackburn and Epel found 5 patterns of thought which can damage our chromosomes. These are:
Cynical hostility: seething anger or regular thoughts that other people can’t be trusted. This can make us more prone to cardiovascular disease & metabolic illness.
Pessimism: always looking at the negative side of life fits with a longstanding of body of research that shows pessimists die earlier than optimists.
Rumination: re-playing worries over and over in your mind. This leads to stress hormones hanging around in the body long after the reason that created it. Over time, leading to elevated heart rate & prolonged high blood pressure.
Thought suppressions: Pushing away unwanted or uncomfortable thoughts & feelings
Mind wandering: The mind wanders 47% of our waking hours (Harvard Research Study) and when our mind wanders, we’re more stressed and unhappy than if we are engaged in the here and now.
Of course, it is most human to experience a broad range of thought patterns and emotion and part of our nature to have ‘negative’ ones – we needn’t punish ourselves for them and they shouldn’t be deemed as a problem. However, becoming aware of these mental tendencies is useful, by paying attention to the activity of our mind and how it works, we may be able to notice if these patterns are showing up too much and begin to notice how they can impact us.
"Beliefs and thoughts alter cells in your body."
- Bruce Lipton
Mindfulness and meditation are proving to develop areas of the brain responsible for self-awareness, attention, reasoning and emotional regulation. When we practice mindfulness with an attitude of being non-judgemental towards ourselves for what thoughts, feelings and emotions show up in our awareness - these things can help us understand our minds some more; where does it wander to most often, what is the quality and content of our most dominant thoughts? How am I reacting to triggers that challenge me?
When I began to notice a pattern of thought that kept repeating familiar to those listed above, there was an opportunity to break the patterns. Or having a choice - with will to decide whether or not I wish to engage with these thoughts any longer - i.e. are they serving me or causing me harm? Are they even necessary?
And there are many other factors which can positively impact us on a cellular level include a healthy diet, managing our stress response, good quality sleep and regular exercise - which often get more focus and publicity than our mind and mental state. This is slowly, but surely changing as we come to terms with the potential of the mental health challenges we face and will continue to…
Meditation can play an integral role in firstly, helping us learn, and be with the fact that, we all have mental health all the time. This is an important first step in normalising conversation on mental health challenges. So perhaps in some ways slowing down to pay attention the activity of our mind becomes our responsibility in healing the mind of the nation. Check out the source article on @Forbes here: www.forbes.com/5-toxic-thought-patterns-that-damage-your-dna-and-shorten-your-career