An article published in the February 2015 issue of Molecular Psychology discussed a research study which found that the brains of people with major depressive disorder (MDD) produce less natural painkillers in response to rejection.
The brain’s μ-opioid receptor (MOR) system dampens physical pain and is believed to also dampen “social pain”. In the research, which compared the responses of medication-free MDD patients with those of healthy people, it was found that during social rejection, the MDD patients showed not only reduced MOR activity, but also slower emotional recovery. During acceptance, only healthy people showed increased social motivation, which was associated with a reward structure in the brain.
In conclusion, the study proposed that these weakened brain functions in MDD patients reduce enjoyment of positive interactions and impede emotional recovery from negative social experiences, thus reinforcing depression.
Our attitudes and beliefs shape our thoughts, so if we perpetuate them over time we will change the way our brain functions and behaves, thus influencing processes like that of the MOR system in the research above. We should all therefore take care of our minds by encouraging good thought patterns and curtailing bad ones. It is also vital that we teach our children from a young age to care for their psychological well-being as conscientiously as they would their physical health.
I highly recommend watching the TED Talk below, by a psychologist who explains how to practise emotional first aid and why we should take our emotional hygiene seriously.