If someone wrongs you, your heart rate is likely to skyrocket, your blood pressure rises, your muscles tense. This makes sense… your body is preparing you to fight. Interestingly though, just imaging a similar situation can create the same physiological response.
One study had participants imagine a situation to invoke happiness, sadness, anger, fear and relaxation both when seated and while exercising. Specifically, participants were asked “to close their eyes and to select a particular situation from their past or future that would evoke the desired state. Then… subjects were asked to recreate as vividly as possible the feelings and physical sensations associated with that scene.” Their heart rates, systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure were taken in each condition. The researchers found distinct cardiovascular patterns for each emotion:Here are some interesting findings:
- Anger increased heart rate the most (33 beats per minute). “Anger clearly produced the greatest overall activation of the cardiovascular measures and was distinctly opposite from relaxation. The ‘fight’ response of anger differed from the ‘flight’ response of fear.”
- Systolic blood pressure recovered faster from fear than from anger.
- Fear and Happiness produce similar cardiovascular responses.
- Emotion determined how vigorously people exercised. In 60 seconds, participants experiencing anger took 29.5 steps. Participants experiencing fear took 26.9 steps. Participants experiencing happiness took 24.7 steps. Participants experiencing sadness took 15.3 steps. Participants experiencing relaxation took 13.1 steps.
- Heart rate and systolic blood pressure during sadness were virtually as high when exercising as when sitting, showing that sadness can blunt the cardiovascular improvements generated by exercise. More strenuous exercise likely would have broken the cardiovascular pattern seen in sadness, confirming other research showing that exercise can improve depression.
Be mindful of the thoughts that are going through your head. Thinking about an angry, sad or fearful situation is likely to cause you to experience the actual emotion. Conversely, you can take advantage of this phenomenon and think about happy and relaxing scenes!
Schwartz, Gary E., Daniel A. Weinberger, and Jefferson A. Singer. “Cardiovascular Differentiation of Happiness, Sadness, Anger, and Fear Following Imagery and Exercise1.” Psychosomatic Medicine 43.4 (1981): 343-364.