27 Mar Calm Your Negative Brain
I frequently listen to TED Talks while using the treadmill. Recently, I heard an engaging talk* by Dr. Amit Sood that was informative and in line with what I work with clients on consistently. Dr. Sood discovered our brains operate in 3 essentially negative modes. To reverse the impact of these modes, you can sprinkle positive practices into daily life to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
Dr. Sood came to the U.S. after working in disaster-ridden, 3rd world countries. Arriving in America to become a cancer specialist, he soon changed his field of study based on what he saw here. Americans were suffering psychologically just as much as the people he saw abroad that had faced wars and famine. He was fascinated.
How, in the home of Disneyland, could people still be suffering to such a degree?
Brains are Negative by Design
Our big, mysterious brains originally developed to react to threats and suffering that posed life-threatening danger. Unfortunately, our brains still operate in this mode when actual threats aren’t as likely in our 1st world life. Our primitive brains scout for danger. When it isn’t there, we conjure it up or return to past negative events and ruminate. For example, intense worry about homelessness when you have a stable job and a decent savings account.
“I’ve got 99 problems and 86 of them are completely made up scenarios in my head that I’m stressing about for absolutely no logical reason.”
3 Brain Modes:
- Focus on the Negative. In the absence of danger and scarcity, we get used to the positive. We quit noticing it. For example, there is always food in the refrigerator so we aren’t grateful for it. Our brains then search for potential problems, focusing on the negatives or potential negatives.
- Focus on novelty. Our brains are attracted to new items in our environment. When something new enters our field of vision we get excited. This is at the root of many affairs. The familiar, loving spouse gets forgotten in the presence of the new co-worker.
- Mind-Wandering. When novelty or threat is not present, our minds wander. We spend about 50-80% of our time not focused on what is going on around us or the task at hand. The evidence suggests that more time spent in the mind-wandering mode leads to higher levels of anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
Intentional “Sprinkle” Practices
- Silent Gratitude upon Waking. Visualize 5 people that you are grateful for in your life upon waking and offer them thanks. This can reverse the feeling of dread upon waking that is common for those suffering from anxiety and depression.
- Increase Novelty with the Familiar. Bring joy to coming home and increase connection with partner and family, can work with a pet too. Genuinely greet others as if you haven’t seen them for a while, make eye contact, ask about their day and genuinely listen. Refrain from any statement that contains criticism or directions.
- Greet Others with Kind Intention. Upon greeting a new person or someone that causes you stress, send a silent loving kindness wish, “I wish you safety, I wish you peace, I wish you happiness.” It will decrease judgement and distrust of others while increasing compassion.
If you would like a partner to learn how to overcome the natural negativity of your brain, call or email me. We can practice intentionally sprinkling gratitude and compassion into your life to increase focus, connection, and happiness.
*TED Talk by Dr. Amit Sood: Happy Brain: How to Overcome our Neural Predispositions to Suffering
Kate Murphy, LMSW
Kate Murphy, a therapist in Chamblee, GA, specializes in helping you decrease stress and anxiety. You can live a more balanced, connected, and meaningful life. Kate works with individuals and couples over the age of 18 to support healing, communicating, and experiencing joy more often.