If you’re prone to feelings of depression, boredom or lethargy, you’ve come to the right place.
We all get ourselves down in the dumps occasionally, but it’s important to realize that you can take control of the situation. Neuroscientist, Alex Korb, explores in his book – The Upward Spiral – how a person can change their mindset a little to pull themselves up when they’re down.
Here are some of the ways which you can take control and win the ongoing battle with your brain.
The brain is a complex organ, and even the best of scientists still aren’t clued up to exactly how it works. However, based on the knowledge available to us, we can begin to understand exactly why our brain does things that seem to be against our best interests.
The reward center of your brain has a lot going on. When you feel proud, your brain is activating the same section as when you feel guilty or ashamed. This means that sometimes when you’re feeling negative emotions, you’re still inclined to keep everything the same – that’s why you get stuck in a cycle.
The same thing occurs when you’re experiencing anxiety.
Your brain uses anxiety as a reaction to a stressful issue, despite it being the complete opposite of helpful. During a time of anxiousness, there is more activity in the amygdala, which has adverse effects on your emotions, but worrying about the issue seems like a sensible reaction from the brain’s point of view.
Korb’s theory is that if you can trigger parts of the brain that boost serotonin levels, then you will be able to lift your mood. For example, listing things that you’re thankful for can provide a rush of serotonin that will improve your mindset in moments.
Even if you can’t think of anything positive off the top of your head, actively seeking out thankfulness as an emotion can help.
Identifying a feeling and labeling it has a fascinating and desirable effect. It’s almost as though you’re explaining to yourself what your body is experiencing.
Each step you take in identifying an emotion reduces the complexity of it, breaking it down into simpler terms for your brain to understand. With this process, activity in the limbic system is reduced, thus dampening the effect of the emotion.
Korb’s research into the matter found that in a study where people were asked to view a person’s face, their brains took on the feeling the expression depicted. However, after naming the emotion aloud, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex kicked in, reducing the activity in the amygdala. From there, the effect of the emotion decreased considerably.
This means that finding an understanding of your emotions can increase their impact.
Decision making can often be draining for you, and it can give you decision fatigue. However, in the case of anxiety or depression, decision making is a vital tool. Deciding upon at least one of the factors that are stressing you out not only helps you root out the issue, but it also rewards your brain.
When a decision is made, a rush of dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure – is released. This acts as a reward for your brain. It’s like giving a dog a treat after doing the trick, and it makes you feel better for making an active choice.
It may feel like you’ve not found the perfect solution, but that’s okay.
Coming to a conclusion that aids you are still rewarding for you, even if it’s not a complete solution.
Decision making also calms the troublesome limbic system and overrides striatum activity, which can often guide you to adverse reactions.
In making a decision, your brain benefits because you’re not forced to a conclusion at the final moment, or being forced to do something, not of your choosing. Korb claims that for the most part, we are inclined to choose an option that will always benefit us, so that may take some of the stress away from picking one way or another.
It’s now thought that human contact – especially when comfortably prolonged – is right for you. It causes oxytocin to be released into your brain. It’s a neurotransmitter, and the brain utilizes it to reduce activity in the amygdala. In this way, anxieties lessen, and we are left with more positive emotions.
Korb’s research found that when two people held hands before being administered a small electrical shock, their anxiety was reduced considerably. As well as a release of oxytocin, dopamine levels rise, so positive neurotransmitters are circulating through your brain while you’re receiving human attention. Hugs, hand holding, and even just a pat on the back can make you feel better after a hard day.
Whether you’re having a one-off bad day, or whether you struggle daily with your emotions, these methods can be utilized to improve your life. Next time you feel rough, just remember a hug can help a little, or sit down and make a list of things that make you happy. Within seconds or minutes, you can have your day brightened with the simplest of methods!
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