Rejection, Health and Mindfulness
Research confirms the link between rejection and a person’s risk for health problems; and suggests mindfulness may be a way to reduce stress, cope with rejection and improve one’s immune system. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment or the “here and now”. Deepak Chopra, MD describes mindful living as the “highest form of human intelligence.” Mindfulness is a state of mind. Mindfulness skills can be learned and developed with practice. Mindfulness is also believed to increase attention span and boost creativity.
Neurological and Environmental Differences
We all experience differences in our neurological responses to stress and rejection and in our experiences of rejection in our environments. Some of us are more sensitive than others to feelings of rejection, and have stronger emotional reactions than others. Some of us experience home, community, school and work environments that are more rejecting than others. We all belong to cultural groups that are more or less accepted by our society’s dominant culture. We all have experienced some form of social rejection. Our view of social rejection can determine how it affects us.
Psychoneuroimmunology is a branch of medicine that studies how emotions affect the immune system. UCLA researchers recently identified that how our brain responds to social stressors can influence the body’s immune system and health. People who are more sensitive to social rejection experience greater increases in inflammatory activity in their immune systems. This increase in inflammatory activity is adaptive in acute situations because it promotes wound healing and reduces risk for infection when there is a physical injury. It is part of our immune system’s natural response to potentially harmful situations. When physical threats have been associated with social rejection, inflammation may be triggered in anticipation of a physical injury. Frequent or chronic activation of inflammation in the immune system can increase risk for asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and depression.
The Research, The Purpose and The Findings
In the study at UCLA, researchers subjected participants to forms of social rejection and stress. They measured changes in inflammatory biological markers in saliva and changes in brain activity during an MRI that was programmed to light up brain regions associated with fear, stress and rejection. Participants who showed high neural responses to rejection during the MRI also showed the greatest increase in inflammatory activity in their saliva following tests of social stress and rejection.
The purpose of the study was to help practitioners who work with people who feel rejected, and teach them more effective ways to respond to rejection. The study was also designed to better understand neurocognitive pathways that underlie inflammatory responses to stress.
George Slavich, PhD, the lead author in the study suggested some solutions for dealing with rejection. One solution is to recognize that a negative thought is not the same as fact. In other words, because I feel rejected or think I am being rejected does not objectively mean that I am being rejected. Some people are quick to conclude that they are being rejected, when there is no real evidence of rejection. Learning to ask myself, “where is the evidence that I’m being rejected?” can be helpful. If there is really no evidence, I can change my belief instead of continuing to believe I am being rejected.
If I am right, and I am being rejected, I can learn not to “catastrophize” or make the worst out of the situation. Catastrophizing is the mental mistake of imagining that an unfortunate event is the same as a major catastrophe such as a hurricane, flood or national disaster, and reacting to that event is if it were a real catastrophe; telling oneself how horrible and awful it is when really it is only unfortunate, inconvenient or uncomfortable. If I think a situation is a catastrophe, I am likely to react in a way that makes the situation worse… and consequently experience social rejection. If I think a situation is unfortunate or uncomfortable, I can better manage my dis-ease and discomfort.
Fully Present: The Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness
Listen to the Audio Edition
- Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition]
Mindfulness - the art of paying attention with openness and curiosity to the present moment - has attracted ever-growing interest and tens of thousands of practitioners. This uniquely accessible guide provides a scientific explanation for how mindful
Mindfulness and Therapy
Mindfulness techniques can be used to learn to accept feelings of rejection and other strong feelings, and to better tolerate them. The book, Fully Present, is an introduction to mindfulness as it is taught at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC). The book explains how mindfulness can affect the brain and body, and provides guidance for developing and practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is also a part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an approach to therapy that combines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. (CBT emphasizes that it is our thoughts that cause feelings and actions rather than external things) DBT has been shown to be most helpful to persons with Borderline Personality features. These are people who experience a great deal of difficulty regulating emotions, are extremely sensitive to rejection, and have a very strong reaction to rejection that often includes self injurious behaviors. According to the study, these same people are at higher risk for certain illnesses.
For those of us with mild to moderate responses to rejection, a book such as Fully Present can be helpful in learning to better manage feelings of rejection and other social stressors by practicing mindfulness techniques. For those of us who struggle more profoundly, we may benefit from CBT or DBT therapy in addition to the book, especially if life threatening behaviors are involved.
Ride the Wave of Emotions
- Video Meditation
a video meditation using mindfulness and DBT to cope with rejection
- Pain, Social Rejection Have Similar Effect on Brain
Rejection really does hurt. That’s the message of a new study that suggests physical pain and the pain of rejection may “hurt” in the same way.
- Social Pain: Neuropsychological and Health Implications of Loss and Exclusion
This book provides the first comprehensive, multidisciplinary exploration of social pain, defined as the experience of pain as a result of interpersonal rejection or loss, such as rejection from a social group, bullying, or the loss of a loved one.
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