Football. School supplies. Changing leaves. Cooling temperatures. These are a few of the things I love about fall. I also tend to feel calmer and more relaxed when autumn rolls around. Summer feels so brash, intense and bright. Fall somehow feels softer. Perhaps it’s because of the change in light.
New research led by Alison Jing Xu from the University of Toronto-Scarborough shows just how sensitive we are to bright light. In a brighter space, people in the experiment felt warmer, wanted spicier food, found others more aggressive, and even had a stronger reaction to words.
“Bright light usually correlates with heat and heat is linked to emotional intensity,” write the authors in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. “This psychological experience of heat turns on the hot emotional system, intensifying a person’s emotional reactions to any stimulus.”
If you are feeling good, bright light amplifies those good feelings. But, if you are feeling depressed or fearful, angry or uptight on a bright sunny day or in a brightly-lit room, the lighting can make you feel worse. The intensity of the light influences the intensity of our moods. So change the light to change your mood.
It’s the little things, researchers say, that have a big impact on our health and longevity. Workplace conflict, traffic jams, scheduling issues, and other common annoyances may be an even bigger threat to our lives than significant stressors like job loss and death of a loved one, according to new research.
Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and others found that for nearly 1,300 older men who participated in the study, those who identified few everyday hassles lived longest. Nearly half of the men who said they had a mid-range number of hassles had died by the end of the study. But of those who reported a high number of everyday stressors, 64 percent died.
Some stress is unavoidable, and we don’t want to suppress our emotion. But learning how to diffuse stress and enhance positive emotion can help us feel better and live longer.
“It’s not the number of hassles that does you in, it’s the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems,” Aldwin said.
So, start by turning down the lights to dim the bad feelings, and then use these three tips to lighten the mood and play up the positive emotion.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables. It’s common knowledge that at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day boost immune function, reduce our risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and a bunch of other scary stuff. Research published in the British Journal of Health Psychology also has shown that fruits and vegetables can improve our mood and that those good feelings are likely to linger.
- Put a spring in your step. German researchers found that people who altered their gait to walk with a more energetic and uplifted stride — head up, shoulders back — felt happier and more positive than those who didn’t. Other research shows that people who are feeling sad or depressed tend to sit and walk slumped over, shoulders down. But when we lift up our posture, pull back our shoulders, and stand tall, we feel better. So don’t be afraid to stand tall and strut your stuff.
- Take a whiff of vanilla. Certain aromas can have a powerful influence on our moods. The smell of fresh-cut grass induces joy in some. Citrus scents can invoke happiness and alertness. Vanilla promotes happiness and relaxation, according to a Mood Mapping process that measures the moods associated with certain aromas. So, next time you need to soothe stress and pick up your attitude, light a vanilla-scented candle or tap into the essential oil and you’ll feel better.