For everyone, there are times when a dark cloud just seems to be following you around. You may not even even know why.
While we don’t mean to minimize the value of medication for those who experience this on a daily basis, UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, has some insights that might just get you back on the sunny side. It’s all got to do with neuroscience.
4Getting Your Brain’s Attention
Your brain has some unhelpful ideas of its own on how to feel good. If you’re experiencing guilt or shame, it may be because your brain’s trying — ineffectively — to activate its reward center. Wait, what?
According to Korb, “Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens.
This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center.“
A similar thing may be going if you just can’t seem to stop worrying. Korb says worrying stimulates the medial prefrontal cortex and lowers activity in the amygdala, thus helping your limbic system, your emotions, remain copascetic.
His theory is that, even though worry is widely recognized as a pointless thing to do from a tactical point of view, apparently the brain considers it better than doing nothing at all when you’re anxious.
So the obvious question is how you can take positive control of this destructive little dance? Korb suggests asking yourself: “What am I grateful for?”
His reasoning is chemical: “One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin.
Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.”
Even more intriguingly, actually coming up with something you’re thankful for — not always an easy thing to do in a dark mood — isn’t even required.
Just the acts of remembering to be thankful is the flexing of a type of emotional intelligence: “One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex.
These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.”