Which Came First – the Emotion or the Hormone?

by James Wallace Harris, 3/26/21

This essay began when I asked myself: Do emotional states stimulate hormone production or do hormones flowing first cause us to experience an emotional state? Does happiness increase energy, or does energy increase happiness? Our mental, emotional, and physical states are all interconnected. As I get older I’m trying to figure out how to increase all three even though aging seems to be reducing them equally. I’m wondering if working on any of the three will cause a corresponding increase in the others.

Eventually, we all go looking for the Fountain of Youth. Some want to look younger, others like myself, want to feel younger. I quit believing in magic when I was a kid, so whatever is the source of vitality it should be discoverable by scientific observation. My current amateur theory is youth and vitality come from chemistry, but I also assume aging affects the efficiency of the chemical processes in our bodies.

Most people want to believe in mind over matter, but is there any evidence to support that belief? Can positive thinking overcome entropy? Or do positive thoughts come from robust chemistry? We all know hyperactive oldsters, but does their energy come from force of will or thriving endocrinology? If we’re low energy beings because of our wimpy hormonal system, can we fertilize them with right thinking, positive emotions, or good eating?

I’m pushing myself to write this essay. The whole time while I’m writing part me is begging to be allowed to go eat and watch television. But I’m still writing. Is that because willpower has empowered by want, or is it because I stoked my chemical furnace with good food and a nap this afternoon?

Does our state of mind set hormones in action that create our feelings, or do hormones generate our feelings which dictate our state of minds? Lately, I’ve been trying to observe my feelings and mental states. I’ve even wondered if changes in my brain chemistry in the past year is making me more aware of my feelings and thoughts. Other reasons for increased contemplation is I’m feeling old, tired, and worn out, so I’m spending more time just relaxing, and that’s leading to increase cogitation and self awareness, but not productivity.

What I want is to be more active. I can’t tell if that’s wishful thinking since I’m turning seventy this year and decrease activity is natural with aging, or if I could be more active if I thought the right thoughts, or felt the right emotions.

Has the stress of living a year in pandemic isolation drained my vitality or is my diminished energy just coinciding with normal aging? Life is complicated. There are no quick and easy answers. However, I’m not ready to give up. I’ve been retired from work since 2013 and easy living might also be a factor in my decline. Of course, we do have to be logical. How many aging people gain youthful vitality as they progress in years? How many retired people start doing more?

I’ve never thought of myself as an emotional person. Whenever I’ve seen people getting wildly excited at parties, sporting events, and rock concerts I wondered why I wasn’t jumping up and down and yelling too. I’ve always considered myself a happy person because I don’t get depressed. But then I don’t get exuberant either. If I was more emotional would that give me more energy?

I can energize myself somewhat by artificial means. I gave up drugs a half century ago. I’m slightly tempted again because old age seems like the perfect time for uppers and cocaine, but I know that would only accelerate my decline. I also gave up caffeine decades ago for mental clarity. And in recent months I’ve given up refined sugar, which might explain my current low mental states. But I’m also feeling better physically since I gave up sugar, and I’m losing weight, so I hope in the long run eating healthier will translate into more mental energy.

When I said I could energize myself artificially, I meant with music, books, movies, and television shows. Sometimes a nap and some good music leads to gung-ho thinking that inspires actual activity. Or has my lunch digested while I slept stimulating hormone flow leading to roused thoughts and finally feeling inspired to get up and do something? It’s a subtle distinction.

Whatever refuels my tank doesn’t do it for long.

For example, when I play “Here Comes the Dawn Again” by Billy Vera and the Beaters real loud, I feel physically stimulated. That also turns up the flow of emotions.Then my thinking speeds up. After that I feel like getting up and doing something. Has music increased hormone activity? Or did music increase my thinking which increased hormone activity? Is this a bit of evidence for the power of positive thinking?

Writing this essay is energizing me – to a degree. I can’t quite call it a jolt of youthfulness. I also feel myself draining my battery as I write. I wish drugs weren’t so self-destructive because I feel like doing a Kerouac and chewing benzedrine cotton from a broken inhaler to write more.

Now that I’m older I feel more emotional, but still not highly exaggerated emotions like I see in other people. We all have different levels of energy and emotions. Are highly emotional people more active people? I have observed that some of the most emotional people I know are also the most active.

Instead of mind over matter, could it be emotions over matter? Or is there a direct relationship, more emotions means more mental activity? If that’s so I’ll have to find a way to increase both. However, I’m still trying to decide if more mental activity increases emotions, or if more emotions increase mental activity.

JWH

3 thoughts on “Which Came First – the Emotion or the Hormone?”

  1. My two-year journey through hell, commonly referred to as burnout, has taught me many things about emotions, hormones, psychological disorders and the body.

    I will mention some things I have learned:

    Emotional stress, ideas and perspectives have an effect on feelings of tiredness and energy. Physical tiredness and mental tiredness are quite different. Physical tiredness lead to feeling hungry and sleeping well. Mental tiredness leads to sleeping less.

    Exercise generates hormones that help with the processing of stress and the buildup of neurons. Stress can linger for hours in our brain and body, but with exercise can be processed in a timely fashion and has an improving effect on the rest of your day. Exercise is like tricking your body that you are taking action to deal with whatever causes you distress. Also, as babies, humans are unable to relieve their own stress. They need the attention of parents to remove stress. In a way this never really changes. As adults we can mimic that stress-relief by being kind to ourselves, seeking out other people and using our bodies.

    Waiting on your emotions to change before you do anything is like a false belief. It’s not necessary. Feelings change through action. Sometimes you need to starting doing something and your feelings with change accordingly while doing it. If you feel tired or depressed and start doing something that you normally would like, you will start feeling better while doing it or afterwards.

  2. You might benefit from looking into some of the techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy. David Burns wrote the original book on the subject (it was very hot in the 80s) but there are numerous online forms and workbooks around. It’s not really positive thinking, it’s more like recognizing negative thinking, and replacing it with neutral thought.

    Some of it deals with serious psychological pathology, but a lot of it is just a structural kind of common sense – like setting reasonable goals, using contracts, recognizing cognitive distortions (automatic thoughts) and thinking through common responses that throw you off track and replacing those automatic thoughts with less emotional, more reality-based stuff. A lot of it deals with the whole question of: if you have a situation that generates an emotion, can you recognize the emotion and deconstruct it, rather than acting on it. That kind of intellectual analysis often distracts me from the emotional reaction long enough for it to subside.

    I was very skeptical when it was recommended to me, but I still use some of the techniques.

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