Chronic Pain and the Link to Emotions

In an article entitled “Chronic pain can change the way your brain processes emotion, scientists find” by Sophie Scott and Mary Lloyd and featured on ABCNews, we read about a group of Australian researchers who have made an interesting discovery between chronic pain and compromised emotional processing:

“Associate professor Sylvia Gustin, found patients with chronic pain had lower levels of a substance called glutamate, a key chemical messenger between brain cells that helps regulate emotion. “[It] means their brain cells can no longer communicate properly and therefore their ability to process positive emotion is jeopardised,” Gustin said.” 

The report goes on to say: “As a result, people in chronic pain can have personality changes where they are “prone to feeling tired, unmotivated and constantly worrying on a daily basis”, she said. Researchers found the greater the decrease in glutamate, the more chronic pain sufferers showed fearfulness, pessimism, fatigue, and sensitivity to criticism.”

People who live with chronic pain often report having a comorbid condition such as depression and/or anxiety. It would stand to reason given that living with chronic pain puts your body and mind in the automatic position of trying to manage pain symptoms. Chronic pain also puts you in a state of limbo, as those who suffer from it never know on a daily basis if they will be able to carry out their planned activities.

Although the article goes on to mention that there are no medications that target reduced levels of glutamate in the brain, there is hope that programs can be developed in the future to address these issues for chronic pain sufferers. Often, just knowing that there could be a physical reason for emotional difficulties can relieve the guilt one experiences for having these feelings.

Chronic pain sufferers can begin managing symptoms by fostering a function centered life and talking to their GP about pain management.

To read the full article: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-04/study-shows-chronic-pain-changes-the-brain/11760024

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: http://Photo by Maria Shanina on Unsplash

 

 

The Science Behind Gratitude

In an article entitled “Neuroscience Reveals: Gratitude Literally Rewires Your Brain to be Happier” featured on DailyHealthPost, we read about how the effects of actively being thankful can benefit us. Here are some research findings (paraphrased):

  • It leads to an overall increase in feeling positive and optimistic about life.
  • It improves sleep quality and reduces anxiety and depression.
  • When we are focused on feeling grateful, the areas of the brain that show increased activity are those linked to reward, empathy and value judgement, leading to an increased sense of positivity towards others.
  • By affecting the hypothalamus, gratitude increases dopamine, our feel-good hormone. It also tends to have a positive metabolic effect on stress.
  • The practice of gratitude increases our sense of self-worth and compassion for others.

By consciously increasing our levels of gratitude we can increase our overall sense of well-being. The act of being thankful also tends to increase our ability to be open minded, as the focus naturally creates a direct path to our feel good emotions.

To read the full article: https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: http://Photo by Freshh Connection on Unsplash

The Right and Left Brain; Post 3

In our last on a series about the right and left hemispheres of our brain, we look at how to keep our minds sharp. As we discovered in the last two posts, the two sides work together to help us process information. Here are some ways to keep the right and left sides working at their best:

  • Crossword puzzles and word or number games, writing out lists. Reading daily is a good way to keep your mind sharp; writing (even on a small scale such as in a journal or writing a letter to someone) co-ordinates the two sides of your brain.
  • Try doing something creative. The logical side of your brain will appreciate the mapping out of the steps, and sequences to the craft or art project, and the imaginative side will enjoy the use of colour and freedom to express creativity.
  • Playing card games or board games will also engage both your right and left hemispheres. One side will enjoy the rules of the game, the other will work at helping you edge out your competition by picking up on subtle non-verbal clues in your opponents. 🙂
  • Change things up – order something out of the ordinary at a restaurant, watch something that you normally wouldn’t be drawn to on TV,  experiment with new music genres – the right brain will appreciate the spontaneity, while the left brain will be looking to sort out where to fit this into your already formed habits.
  • Alternate left and right brain activities as a way to strengthen the skills of both. Even something as simple as creating a grocery list one week (left brain), followed by a spontaneous trip to the market the next to see what might entice you (right brain). Planning a trip (left brain), while keeping one or two days open for a “let’s see where the day brings us” opportunities (right brain).

When we know and appreciate the ways that our brain works, we can actively promote the formation of new brain cells and pathways that keep our minds in good shape.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: http://Photo by Morgan v on Unsplash

The Right and Left Brain; Post 2

Yesterday’s post explored the different functions of the left and right brain. Although we can often imagine that they work independently of each other, they work together. Here are some examples of how both sides of the brain tend to contribute to our understanding and processing:

  • We hear someone tell a story. The left brain will compute the logistics required of language such as grammar, whereas the right brain will be working at linking meaning, tone and metaphor.
  • You have a math question in front of you. The left brain is working at the equation itself, the right brain helps by being able to estimate.
  • You are looking at someone who looks familiar, but can’t place them in the moment. The left side will be putting together the facial features, the right side eventually links them to the whole person.
  • You are at a paint night. The right side is able to visualize the whole picture and will help you with highlights and shadowing; the left side brings about the critical eye we need to make changes for a realistic picture.

Understanding that our left and right brain work together can help us to have a greater appreciation for the complexity of the brain and how it works towards creating optimal functioning. Tomorrow’s post will look at tips to keeping our brain active and sharp.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: http://Photo by 35mm on Unsplash

The Right and Left Brain: Post 1

The human brain is divided into two halves or hemispheres with each hemisphere being responsible for certain functions. Although they can sometimes seem as though they work independently of each other, they in fact, do work together and are bound by a bridge of fibers called the corpus callosum.

Today’s post will look at some of the different functions that each side tends to be responsible for:

Left brain:

  • Logic. This is the side of our brain that likes sequences, tends to be detail-oriented and appreciates order and patterns. Bring me the facts please!
  • Math and Science. The left brain likes what is linear and this is where we go when we need to add something up in our head.
  • Words and Language. This is where the song lyrics are formed, when we think with words, how we link names to objects.
  • Reality based. By now, you can see that the left brain likes what is rational, practical, safe and predictable.

Right brain:

  • Imagination. Day dreaming, creative story-telling, the arts, symbols and images…this is the stuff the right brain loves!
  • Feelings. The right brain will use emotion to figure out big picture, or holistic thinking. Philosophical and existential thought.
  • Non-Verbal, Intuitive. This is the side of the brain that picks up on what is not being said. Tunes of songs, being able to visualize something, understands meaning.
  • Impetuous. When we take a risk, it is right brained oriented. Much more interested in the present and the future than the past and will present us the possibilities.

Although it was often thought that we tended to have a dominant side of our brain, it has been shown that there is no true relevance to this theory. Tomorrow’s post will look at how the two sides of the brain work together to create optimal functioning.

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Photo credit: http://Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

Hug it Out; the Benefits of a Hug

In the article “Science of Kindness Shows Just How Important Hugging is for Our Mental and Physical Health” by David Fryburg and featured on goodnews network, we read about some of the benefits of hugging. What I found most interesting were these facts:

  • physical contact is critical for brain development in children.
  • hugging can increase our immunity to infection.
  • hugging is highly associated to lowering blood pressure.
  • receiving a hug increases our levels of oxytocin, the “love” hormone.
  • after receiving a hug, people report feeling less pain.
  • even after observing people hug, significant changes in EEG readings are noted.

Sometimes we simply forget how important a simple act of hugging can be. We are much better served to begin consciously hugging our loved ones during points of connection – leaving or coming home, before going to bed or upon waking, or just when the mood strikes. It will do the body good 🙂

To read the full article (it is worth the extra time!): https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/science-of-kindness-9/

Like this post? Consider subscribing

Photo credit: http://Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash

 

The Brain Parts You Need to Know About

Neuroscience is teaching us that parts of the brain are instrumental to our emotional health. The limbic system, which is a complex series of networks and nerves in the brain, plays a vital role in our emotional system. Through the help of specific parts, it helps to control basic emotions and drives. Let’s get specific:

  1. Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) is the front part of our brain and what we often refer to as our rational brain. Built to help us pay attention, the PFC helps us with what we focus on: planning, impulse control, judgment and insight. When our PFC is activated, we tend to be goal-oriented and focused on facts. It helps to control our emotions by bringing reality into the processing. Our PFC is often not fully developed until young adult hood – which explains all of our silly behaviour when we were teenagers 🙂
  2. Amygdala is an almond shaped structure that helps with emotional processing by alerting us to danger. It reacts quickly, and is responsible for the fight or flight response. When this area is activated, we tend to feel unsafe and anxious. It is important to remember that the amygdala responds to perceived fears as well.
  3. Hippocampus is the part of our brain responsible for memory, especially long term memories – those that are resistant to forgetting. The hippocampus  helps to link certain emotions or sensations to those memories; acting as a shipping center, temporarily storing and combining before shipping it off to long term memory.

Knowing these parts of the brain can help us to understand our emotional system, to make it more tangible – to become acquainted with it’s necessary functionality. Just another thing we can be curious about 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Boosting the Feel Good Chemicals

In an article entitled “10 Ways to Boost Dopamine and Serotonin Naturally” and featured on GoodTherapy, we read about different ways to increase the amount of our ‘feel good’ chemicals in our brain. Some of what they recommend brings us back to the basics of proper nutrition and exercise, but a few that they featured, gave me pause for thought:

  • Gratitude: “Scientific research has shown gratitude affects the brain’s reward system. It correlates with the release of dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude has been directly linked to increased happiness.”
  • Goal Achievement: “When we achieve one of our goals, our brain releases dopamine. The brain finds this dopamine rush very rewarding. It seeks out more dopamine by working toward another goal. Larger goals typically come with increased dopamine. However, it’s best to start with small goals to improve your chances of success.”
  • Happy Memories: “Researchers have examined the interaction between mood and memory. They focused on the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with attention. People reliving sad memories produced less serotonin in that region. People dwelling on happy memories produced more serotonin.”

What I especially like about these suggestions is  that they are all doable. We can choose to jot down what we are grateful for, create our to-do list and start plugging away, look through old photos to trigger happy memories. Little boosts to the our brain and our feel good chemicals; sounds like a good plan to me 🙂

To read the full article: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/10-ways-to-boost-dopamine-and-serotonin-naturally-1212177

Photo credit: http://Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Dancing: How It Can Help Our Brain

In an article entitled “Dancing can reverse the signs of aging in the brain” by Frontiers and featured on Medical Xpress, we read about a study out of Germany that looked at the benefits of exercise in the elderly to determine what type of effect it can have on the brain:

“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. “In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”

Rehfeld goes on to explain that by constantly changing the dance routines and introducing different genres of dance, the seniors in the study were constantly engaged in a learning process.

We know that music it itself can greatly affect our mood and can be an important element in our emotional health; just putting on music while I am cleaning the house always makes the task that much more enjoyable. Now I have a reason to put some swing in my step!

Bottom line? Find some time to dance 🙂

To read the full article: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-reverse-aging-brain.html

Photo credit: http://Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

Like this post? Consider subscribing!

Get a Little Green

In an article entitled “Kids surrounded by greenery may grow up to be happier adults” by Katherine Schwab and featured on Fast Company, Schwab writes about a new study coming out of Denmark that shows that “children under 10 who had greater access to green space had 55% less risk of mental health disorders in adulthood.”

55%. That is quite a high number considering they came to that conclusion after having controlled for such factors such as urbanization, family history, socioeconomic status/factors and parent’s age. 55% less risk of mental disorders in adulthood.

Although the article features how these types of studies can affect urban planning, it would seem the message we can take from it is much simpler. Let’s get outside.

In many ways, we have lost the comfort of “just sending our kids out to play.” Gone are the days of our childhood where we donned our sneakers and play clothes, left the house to explore the back fields and forests – without cell phones – and returned when we instinctively knew a meal was close to being on set on the table. But perhaps we can still create enough space for our kids to get the green space they need with less of a focus on piling up their weeks with activities, and more of an emphasis on taking walks after school or supper, grabbing a soccer ball and heading to the park, fishing at the dock or setting up a tent in the backyard.

55%. That’s enough of a reason to get green 😊

To read the full article: https://www.fastcompany.com/90313598/kids-surrounded-by-greenery-may-grow-up-to-be-happier-adults

Photo credit: http://Photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash

Like this post? Consider subscribing!