Brain Science – Emotional Styles – Part 6

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 6.12.14 PMDuring the last five entries, we have gone over the different emotional styles of the brain, deeply covering resilience to adversityoutlookhow brain patterns either persist or change and self-awareness. In this post, we will cover the ways to strengthen these emotion styles.

The brain can change. The first step in this process is identifying the circuitry problem – or the patterns of activity that are underlying what you are trying to figure out. The second step is figure out how to do an intervention to make the changes. Slowly, yet steadily, researchers have identified ways to strengthen the communication from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala – it is the strength of that connection and the relative activity in those two regions that underlies whether you are resilient or not. These researchers have found that one way to strengthen your prefrontal cortex is to exercise. The prefrontal cortex is the organ of executive decision making, planning and also postponing gratification.

Another way to strengthen your brain – and this may sound like telling an alcoholic to go to a bar – is to find ways to put yourself in situations where you have to resist temptation, where you have to postpone gratification, as this will strengthen your prefrontal cortex. Strengthening the prefrontal cortex will enable it to send stronger signals to the amygdala, which helps the brain calm down and change.

Another example for strengthening your brain is mental training or mediation which can be applied to self-awareness. Obsessive self-awareness can be uncomfortable, if not pathological, but with mindfulness meditation you can learn to step back from what you are feeling. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have significant clinical effects in only a few short months. It has so much to contribute to the possibility of harnessing the power of neuroplasticity to change the brain, particularly in the area of attention. Mindfulness meditation helps to quiet down the amygdala.

You can find beginning and everyday guided meditations all throughout the internet. Also, many yoga studios offer mediation sessions during or after class. You may find your own ways of calming yourself – a ritual such as playing music, reading, cooking, anything that calms your mind – that makes you feel calm and peaceful, which will again help the brain calm down and change. All of these rituals and mindfulness mediations will no doubt help improve your relationships and overall capabilities of handling what life throws your way.

Brain Science – Emotional Styles – Part 5

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 11.31.37 PMIn the last month, we have gone over the different emotional styles of the brain, deeply covering resilience to adversityoutlook and how brain patterns either persist or change. In this post, we will dig deeper into another part of the emotional styles – self-awareness.

Self-awareness refers to both awareness of your body – meaning the heartbeat or respiration rate and the feeling of what is on your skin – as well as what you feel emotionally. Have you ever had someone say to you “you seem angry?” and your response was “no, I’m not angry.”?  Or vice verse? It could very well be true that you or the other person was indeed angry and giving off the energy, yet not aware. Many of us at times have bouts of failure of self-awareness, which comes from the insula. The insula has what is called a viscerotropic mass – viscero refers to the interior organs and tropic refers to the placement, the representation of those organs.

People with a very active insula seem to be extremely self-aware, both emotionally and physically. When we discussed positive outlook and the ability to bounce back from a setback (being resilient), it sounds as if only one of the ends of this spectrum is the place to be as who would not want to be happy and ore resilient, right? However, this is not necessarily the case and with self-awareness you tend see where you may need to improve on yourself even more.

Self-awareness starts with just that – awareness. When you begin to analyze and pay attention to your mind (thoughts) and body (heartbeat, touch, etc.) you become more self-aware. Once one becomes even slightly self-aware, especially when analyzing where they currently are in their lives, they will likely try to change if they feel that it would improve their life. This is a great step towards a better life and better relationships.

Next post, we will wrap up our series of the emotional styles of the brain with ways to strengthen and improve all of the styles.

Brain Science – Emotional Styles – Part 4

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 6.50.20 PMIn the last three posts, we defined the first two emotional styles of the brain. The first being resilience to adversity. The adversity can be a wide range of so-called setbacks – from the most trivial things such as someone cutting you off in traffic to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. The second being outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life. This week, we will continue our theme of emotional styles of the brain by going over how the brain patterns persist or change.

With brain patterns, these questions may come to mind: How long have they been there? It is a brain pattern that existed (or that was established) during childhood as the brain develops? Was it present at birth? Can it be changed?

When Dr. Davidson did research on day-old infants, in the experiments he found that even at birth, there were clear individual differences and left/right asymmetry in terms of activation. Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, but the big question is do these differences persist? Dr. Davidson helped discover that what you are born with is not necessarily what you are dealt with as the brain and behavior can change.

Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change – either for better or worse. The brain has the ability to change in both structure and function. Consider learning and memory – these are constant examples of how our brains are able to change form. When you learn something new and also when a new experience enters your memory, this is the brain changing – expanding and retaining.

Brain structure and function can change in response to two forces:
1. The life you lead
and
2. Thinking yourself into a different brain.

The life you lead, meaning the experiences you have – physical as well as emotional or mental – are signals from the outside world. This is similar to your brain collecting memories and learning new information. The other way the brain can change structure and function is in response to purely mental activity. This is similar to the second brain emotional style of outlook. Higher left activity is associated with a more positive outlook; higher right activity is associated with more negative outlook.  To change the brain grooves, you can think yourself into a different brain by working on a more positive outlook (or negative, as the door does swing both ways).

Next post, we will continue our five part series of the emotional styles of the brain with more on outlook and self-awareness.