The Biology of Courage and Compassion

Chemical structure of Neuropeptide Y

Chemical structure of Neuropeptide Y

Today is the anniversary of the attack on the twin towers in NYC. It seems like a good day for me to resume my lost practice of writing a daily blog. A friend sent me a “Ted Talk” link this morning by a young woman named Kelly McGonigal. It is about stress.
Like Kelly, I have thought of stress as my enemy, the underlying cause of all disease and disorder in the human body. I have thought if only I could practice enough meditation and other stress-releasing techniques I might offset the negative effects of everyday stressors in my body. I am thrilled to learn that stress does not kill! The belief that stress kills, kills.
I learned this morning that when my environment feels stressful to me, my body goes into a “stress response.” This is my body “rising to the occasion” to meet the stressor. Among the many chemical reactions happening, like adrenalin, which raises my heart rate, oxytocin, a neuropeptide, releases from my pituitary gland. Oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone”, fine-tunes the brain creating a craving for physical contact. It increases empathy and compassion. It motivates my body to seek out support. It creates an urge to surround myself with those who care about me.
I am amazed and fascinated to discover that a belief I have held all of my adult life has been proven wrong. I love that! It reinforces my intention to recognize that all of my beliefs are simply opinions, not truths. I recognize that this belief about the negative effects of stress is simply an opinion that is false and I can let it go and respond differently to stressors in the future.
My amazing body has a system for meeting stress in a way that is protective of my heart if I choose to believe it. Listening to my body, I will follow the urge to seek out support in times of stress. I will be watchful of opportunities to be supportive to others who are experiencing stress. It is in moments of heart-felt connection when we feel empathy and compassion, that our bodies go into heart healing. Our cells release natural anti-inflammatory neuropeptides and our heart cells relax and regenerate resulting in a stronger more resilient heart. This new information makes my heart sing.
Listen to Kelly’s Ted Talk and reinforce your heart health today!

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