Column: A mental health moment- How chemicals control emotions

Editor’s column: A mental health moment

Emerson Sutow is the A&E Editor at Ethic News

By Emerson Sutow

Everyone experiences emotions. Maybe not in the same way, but feelings all have one element in common; the chemicals in the brain.

Depending on the balance, the chemicals can make you feel a large array of emotions. Some are commonly recognized, like serotonin and dopamine, but the functions of them are not as widely known. Lewis Wolpurt, a developmental biologist, author and broadcaster, said, “happiness is a fragile state,” and that the brain contains “more negative emotions than positive emotions.”

Serotonin is a “neurotransmitter that modulates neural activity” according to Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology Miles Berger at Duke University.

This leads serotonin to control “virtually all human behavioral processes” including mood, perception, reward, anger, aggression, appetite, memory and attention.

Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that concentrates on helping “strive, focus and finding things interesting” according to WebMD. The chemical also plays a role in how people feel and interpret pleasure.

The values of these chemicals in the brain often dictate mood and imbalances, which can cause more chronic issues like mental illness. Therefore, many antidepressants target the receptors in the brain to supplement for the irregularity. 

Many other factors in daily life can also dictate a person’s feelings. Dogs can be one example of something environmental that can change someone’s mood. Citrus Valley High School junior David Monterroso said that his black labrador retriever, “Blackie, makes me feel really happy when I have bad days, and is always happy to see me and cheer me up when I need it. He also makes me feel less alone, like he’s there no matter what.”

The use of emotional support or therapy dogs is proven to be very effective in lifting someone’s mood. Karen Allen, a research scientist in the division of clinical pharmacology in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said it is the “social support and physical contact” that gives dogs beneficial qualities for mental health.”

Johannes Odendaal, a researcher at Life Sciences Research Institute in Pretoria, had found that dog owners have the benefit of “lower cardiovascular responses in college students” and “often have higher oxytocin,” a level of emotional attachment, “and dopamine.”

On the other side of the spectrum are the effects of negative reactions such as rejection. David Chester, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, said that people cope with rejection by using different parts of the brain to “suppress the pain caused by rejection.” Additionally, the pain can affect a person almost like physical pain and cause distress resulting in a chemical imbalance in the brain, according to Professor Emeritus Alan Fogel at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

These reactions to a stressful event like being rejected can be commonly seen in all people ranging from not getting a job to losing friends. Arvin Mann, a junior at CVHS, said, “I tend to be pretty saddened by [rejection], and in turn I talk with friends to relieve the emotional stress.”

This just goes to show how the brain can work in interesting ways with so many factors that can dictate a person’s mood or feelings. Depending on the balance in chemicals, it can affect a person’s entire demeanor.

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