Finding Serenity in Your Life

By: Annette Kornblum

In the event of tragedy, some have managed to bounce back and even to be serene about it all.

Anything from turning to family to working out to finding a renewed purpose has done the trick. For others, using a one-word mantra to get by has upped the odds of finding tranquility in the face of disaster.


In the past decade, "mind-body medicine" has gained considerable legitimacy in science and medicine in ways that we couldn't have imagined. A whole new wing of exploration is centered on testing the efficacy of age-old remedies: slow-down herbs, relaxation beads, copper bracelets, and other odes to tranquility that live in the mind and play out on the body.

Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, knows much about these chemicals and their effects. An expert in the association between brain-wave activity and human emotion, he heads one of five national research centers for the study of mind/body interactions. Dr. Davidson and his team are studying how brainwave activity relates to emotional style and stress-related illness. Researchers have discovered distinct brain waves — alpha, beta, delta and theta — that relate to specific mental activity. The frequency, extent and density of these brain waves are measurable.

Dr. Davidson has found that positive emotions, such as peace of mind and composure, appear to depend on the precise arousal of brain chemicals along a network of neural circuits. EEG tests show that most people have more electrical activation in one frontal lobe than in the other. His team discovered that people with hyper-activation in the left frontal lobe may be more optimistic, less susceptible to mood disorders, and more stress resilient. That network, Davidson said, links both hemispheres of the prefrontal cortex with the amygdala and the hippocampus, a chili-shaped region deep in the brain. For those of us not necessarily blessed with hyper-activation in the left (or rather right) frontal lobe, there is still hope for finding peace and maybe living longer and happier, despite the onslaught.

To expel stress requires getting to its roots, pronounces Allen Elkin, PhD, director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York and author of Stress Management for Dummies, though there is clearly more than one path to nirvana.

Alice Domar, PhD, director of women's health at Boston's Deaconess Hospital, (part of Harvard Medical School's Division of Behavioral Medicine) and co-author with Henry Dreher of Healing Mind, Healthy Woman, found that while 20% of infertile women got pregnant with standard medical treatment, a whopping 57% did when their medical regimen included support groups, anger management skills, and guided imagery.

Betsy Singh, Brian Berman, Victoria Hadhazy and Paul Creamer of the Complementary Medicine Program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine showed in a pilot study of 28 patients with fibromyalgia (for more common questions and expert answers on Fibromyalgia, visit that patient education, meditation and qigong movement therapy eased pain, fatigue, and sleeplessness and improved mood, function and general health.