Use Your Brain To Feel Good

 In America

You know what I find immensely interesting? The brain! This is one of my favorite subjects. I’ve learned so much about why humans think and feel the way we do by understanding some key aspects of how the brain operates. There are two important areas of the brain that determine if we feel more happiness than depression and anxiety. For instance, did you know that due to thousands of years of our ancestors’ focus on staying alive (and not being eaten by lions or killed in war) our brain has an inherent negativity bias?  This is due the evolved power of our Amgydala (part of the Limbic system)–also referred to as our reptilian or primitive brain. 

Its well-rehearsed job is to keep us alert to danger and threats. It prompts us to consider whatever could be bad, go wrong, or create problems in our life. It generates fear. And on the heels of fear often follows anger. Although most of us are not under a daily threat of survival we still reactto circumstances as though we were. Ever wonder why you might be quick to anger? Or why you get plagued by fear and negative thoughts? Well, you can thank your Amgydala for that! Left unrecognized it can run your life in very unproductive ways by generating worry, anxiety, fear and unhelpful anger. Even more, as these emotions take hold in our life, the neural pathways that support them actually grow stronger! So worry generates more worry and so on.
The good news is that we have another very powerful component of our brain called the Prefrontal Cortex. This part of our brain governs, among other things, impulse control, decision making and how we respond to thoughts and emotions. For instance, this part of the brain it helps us determine if there is a genuine threat to our survival or if our fear is based on imaginary outcomes. We use the prefrontal cortex to make the decision to not flip off the driver who just cut in front of us or not to yell at our ex when he’s once again late with child support. When we consciously intervene in our habitual negative and pessimistic thought processes, we are engaging this part of the brain and giving ourselves a way out of negative thoughts and emotions.
As we consciously decide instead of “giving in” to fear and anger and practice thoughts that are more compassionate, peaceful, confident or calming, we start strengthening the neural pathways that will then produce these feelings on a consistent basis. And over time this process will alter how we respond to events that previously caused an outsized reaction: when a driver cuts you off, when your ex acts annoyed or unfriendly towards you, or when your boss criticizes you. When we are in a positive, responsive mode, we can face challenges and obstacles without them becoming stressors in our lives. So, next time your Amygdala prompts a negative reaction, invite your PreFrontal Cortex to weigh in.  Now, that’s using your brain!


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