Today I want to talk about your brain, your wonderful beautiful changeable brain. I am hoping that you will take in what I say today, not with defensiveness or with the notion that I am in anyway blaming you, or people who are suffering, but with the intention of helping you become empowered in your own healing.
I have been working in the mental health field since 1996, in various capacities, with all ages and backgrounds of wonderful humans. What I do know is that people can become incredibly resilient if we get out of the way and let the process take flight. Please do not misunderstand my message in today’s post and think that I am against medication, because I am definitely not. I am just opposed to the notion that medication is all that is needed in the mental wellbeing and healing process. If we want to change/grow, we need to do the work. Period. Full stop. Some of the most inspiring humans that I have met along my own journey are folks who have come from, and through, extreme adversity. Whether that be childhood trauma at the hands of a trusted adult or being born into a country that is in unimaginable crisis, these people found the strength to move through and flourish. I have learned so much from their stories of perseverance, letting go, letting be and growth after the trauma. It seems that if we have to endure adverse circumstances, we can, if we let ourselves face it and grow from it.
Ok, there it is, my point of view (which is shared by many incredible research psychologists and counsellors/therapists/mental health interveners). So, if you are in for the most amazing ride of your life, and feeling close to taking on the challenge of change, let’s start with a framing mindset for today.
MINDSET for Today:
I am jumping in with everything have,
whether I sink or swim,
at least I took that leap of faith.
*This statement inspires me and calms my soul.
I would love to have a very wise woman, like Dr. Maya Angelou say this to me when I am going through hell or a crisis of confidence in my life. It is her voice I hear.
I am calling in the big guns so that you believe little ol’ me when I say that you CAN actually change your brain. I want to share with you some tidbits from a book I recently read, by the one and only, incredible neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hansen, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (2013). I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that this is, yet another self-help book telling you that the answer to all your troubles is to just “think positive!”…and how do I do that again, you ask?!?! Well, this book presents the latest neuroscience research behind happiness and explains how you can reprogram your brain to focus on the good, rather than obsessing over the bad.
Quick Video Snack
….to Help You Get to Know this Amazing Researcher, Psychologist and Human…
Highlights from the Book….
I want to give you one quick tip from this book to get you started. If you are ready to change, and in the mindset for taking on the hard work of leaping toward what your life could be like, then I highly suggest you buy this book (I am not receiving any kickbacks from this, just think this is a great resource). The most important reason to spend your money on this life guide is that Rick Hansen talks about the importance of “taking in the good”, how this practice can change your brain and how to do this.
- Take in the Good: This is a deliberate practice of making positive experiences stick around a little longer and linger in our implicit memory (part of our long term memory). He has created four steps to help you take in the good, which are easy to remember with the helpful acronym, HEAL.
Have a positive experience.
Link positive and negative material.
*Check out chapter 3, page 60, to learn how to do this.
My Advice for Today
Stop focusing on what could go wrong, and start focusing on what could go right.
Negative is not “more true” than than positive.
According to this Happiness Study: 52% of your life destiny is up to you and what you do to enhance it, despite your genetic background.
Believe me from my professional experience and my personal journey
…the risk is definitely worth it!
Read Hardwiring Happiness…and live your best life.
Leave a comment, question or feedback…share your experience 🙂
Dr. Heather Drummond, EdD (Counselling Psychology)
eSuccess-Coach * Passionate Advocate for Student Success
You probably are. Everyone feels anxiety at varying levels, at different times and in different situations; however, sometimes anxiety can get way out of control and take over your life. So scary…
Sound like you right now?
Well, you have come to the right place today. I want to make this post today very simple because having easy recall of strategies, in the moment, can help you ride the anxiety wave and bring you back to a state of balance. You are not broken, you are still learning about your brain and how to manage it.
Facts You Need to Know:
- Anxiety Has a Purpose: Anxiety has a function in our lives (motivation), we just need to learn how to get it to a manageable level so that helps us.
- Your Brain Can Change: You can learn how to tame it! Your brain does grow when you learn! (London Taxi Driver Research). With brain understanding, skills and strategies, anxiety can be managed to the point you hardly notice it’s there.
- Learning How to Change it: Psychotherapy, CBT combined with Motivational Interviewing, have proven repeatedly as the best approaches to learning to manage anxiety (research has found that psychotherapy, skill building, is the most effective way to alleviate out-of-control anxiety; and, even more effective than medication).
- Understanding Your Cool Brain: There are two parts of your brain involved in experiencing and managing anxiety; the Emotional Brain (Limbic System) and the Logical Brain (Neocortex).
There is this wee part of your brain, in the Limbic System, called the Amygdala that is the trouble maker when anxiety becomes overwhelming. To be fair, it is not always a trouble maker, it’s main function is to alert you to dangerous situations such as a bear, in front of you, licking it’s lips and imagining you as a wonderful snack, or toy to play with. The Amygdala then kicks you into a “Fight or Flight” state to help keep you safe. This is a good thing, except when it is not. Sometimes the bear is in your head, your thoughts, your memories and your Amygdala is doing it’s job by warning you of danger.
So, then what?
Well, the first step is understanding what is happening in your brain and then work with it. You have to calm your Emotional Brain, tell your Amygdala, “thanks so much for your warning, but I am actually ok and I got this”, so that you can move to building the skills you need to manage the situation (in your Logical Brain area). The goal is to override your Emotional Brain.
Step #1: Override Your Emotional Brain
How to calm your Amygdala:
*Click on the links for more information about the Amygdala calming strategies.
Step #2: Build Your Logical Brain
The logical brain is able to override the emotional brain….with practice.
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based approach to tackling mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. CBT has been subject to countless clinical trials, and has even been shown to be more effective than medication in some long-term studies. CBT Changes Your Brain, by helping you to understand how your thoughts effect your feelings and then how your feelings effect your behaviour and so on through the cycle (see graphic).
Some CBT to Get You Started:
- Motivation Level: Are you motivated to change? Check out the stages_of_change_en-us. This is really important to acknowledge because learning new skills is a very hard process, especially when anxiety takes over. You need to be ready to change.
- Unhelpful Thought Patterns: Most of us have thought patterns that freak out our Amygdala. We can learn to recognize them, challenge them and then balance them into an accurate thought with perspective. Check this Thinking Patterns to see if you have unhelpful patterns.
- Track Those Thoughts: It is important to see what patterns you have, when you think them (themes/triggers) in order to be able to say, “Hey! That’s not completely true!” Here is simple thought record to get you started. If you like this tracking process, here is an expanded thought record to try.
- Challenge, Balance & Replace Thoughts: this can be hard to do on your own and a counsellor in your community/school can really be valuable in this process. Also, a trusted friend can help you with seeing your world in a positive and accurate way.
Technology Tip: Anxiety Management with Tech
Here is a really cool APP that is available for iPhones and Android based smart phones:
I highly recommend this app for helping you to manage your anxiety.
Always remember that you can book an appointment with a counsellor at your school, or in your community. It is such a valuable process to have help challenging those problematic thoughts that are freaking out your Amygdala. Anxiety can become your friend and your motivator.
Dr. Heather Drummond, EdD
eSuccess-Coach * Passionate Advocate for Student Success