Interesting Truths About the Brain

Information from this post comes from Dr. Nicole LePera on Instagram. Neuroplasticity and brain science are constantly discovering new truths about the brain; here are 6 truths highlighted by Dr. LePera:

  1. The brain is made up of 60% fat.
  2. The brain is not fixed, it’s neuroplastic. The brain changes throughout a person’s lifetime.
  3. Atrophy (brain shrinkage) is present in depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  4. The brain is in constant communication with the gut.
  5. When attention is focused, the brain emits energy waves at 10 to 100 cycles per minute.
  6. The brain and heart communicate through the vagus nerve.

When we are armed with the knowledge that our brains have the ability to change with experience, we can give ourselves permission to begin challenging the core beliefs that appear to be rigid. When we are armed with the knowledge that our brains are connected to our ‘feeling’ organs such as our gut and our heart, we can lean into relying on our emotions as a trustworthy guide.

By living an engaged and purposeful life, we care for our brain. We create space for it to be an important element in living with improved emotional wellness. 🙂

Tomorrow’s post will feature ways to strengthen our brain!

To learn more about Dr. Nicole LePera, visit her website at: https://yourholisticpsychologist.com/about-me/

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The Role of Serotonin in Our Gut

Serotonin is the hormone that is responsible for stabilizing our mood. It produces feelings of well-being and happiness, and helps to regulate sleep and digestion. And 90% of its receptors are located in the gut. Because of this fact, serotonin plays a vital role between your brain and your gut health. As a result, researchers have begun examining inflammation and its link to the symptoms of depression.

In order to naturally boost serotonin, and thereby reducing inflammation, we can:

  • Eat foods rich in Tryptophan. An amino acid, tryptophan tends to be found in foods that are rich in protein. Chicken, eggs, cheese, fish, tofu, turkey, pumpkin seeds, avocados and chocolate are some examples of food rich in tryptophan.
  • Exercise regularly. When we get moving, we increase the amount of serotonin that is fired in the brain.
  • Manage stress levels. Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our hormones; creating balance with a focus on self-care will help manage stress levels, allowing serotonin to do its job.
  • Get a massage. Research has shown a link between regular massage therapy and increased serotonin levels.

By incorporating some of these natural ways to boost serotonin, we are supporting a healthy mind body connection by taking good care of our gut. Sounds like a good plan to me. 🙂

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Why Crying is Good For Us

When we have a good cry, we generally feel better. In an article entitled “8 Benefits of Crying: Why it’s good to shed a few tears” by Lana Burgess and featured on MedicalNewsToday, we get a backing up with science as to why crying is good for us. A few points that resonated:

  • It creates a soothing effect. “Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which helps people relax.” Hello comfort system 🙂
  • Crying is primarily an attachment behaviour. When we cry, we also get soothed by others as they are drawn by compassion; this also helps to strengthen connection.
  • Crying is a mood booster. “Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins.” This is great news for not only lifting our spirits, but for relieving pain as well.

Although we have often been taught that crying is a sign of weakness, we can begin to recognize and appreciate the therapeutic role of shedding tears. Shared tears can also lend ourselves to greater experiences of bonding as we often feel comforted when others share our pain. And crying in therapy is nothing we ever need to apologize for – as a client recently said to me “If you’re peeling the onion, you can expect to cry.”

To read the article cited above: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319631#benefits-of-crying

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Self-Control and the Concept of Delayed Gratification

When something appealing is presented to us, do we tend to jump right in with both feet, or do we weigh the options so as to determine best outcome? The Stanford Marshmallow experiment was a (late 1960’s) study in which children were placed in a room with a marshmallow and told that if they could wait for a short while before eating it, they will get an extra snack as a reward.

Watching this 4 minute YouTube video is a replication of the same experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo4WF3cSd9Q

It is very interesting to see which children will patiently wait, cute to see how many will lick it or nibble it, and how many will go ahead and eat it.

Essentially, this experiment was about self-control and our ability to wait for something versus a need to be instantly gratified. Self-control is really about being able to regulate our emotions, thoughts and behaviours. If we have a good sense of self-regulation, we tend to be able to not only use our rational brain to weigh in on our decisions, we also have faith that waiting will bring a just reward.

It would seem then, that being conscientious of the bigger picture is something we can lean into when the “treat” is right in front of us. 🙂

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What is the Vagus Nerve and Why is it Important?

In an article entitled “Science Confirms That the Vagus Nerve Is Key to Well-being” by Markham Heid and featured on elemental, we read about the vagus nerve and its importance to our overall emotional health. Paraphrased: “The vagus nerve is one of twelve cranial nerves, (picture it leaving the brain, like a set of roots, connecting to our heart, our guts, our immune system and many other organs) with it being the nerve that governs the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps control the body’s relaxation responses. In simple terms, heightened vagal activity counteracts the stress response.”

So what does this mean exactly? Here are the highlights:

  • “The sympathetic nervous system is fight or flight, while the parasympathetic nervous system is more chill out,” says Stephen Silberstein, MD, a professor of neurology and director of the Headache Center at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals.”
  • “Silberstein says that heightened vagal activity slows heart rate and also switches off inflammation, in part by triggering the release of immune system calming chemicals.”
  • “Pick almost any common medical condition that’s made worse by stress or inflammation — everything from arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease — and there’s research showing that vagus nerve stimulation can help treat it or relieve its symptoms.”
  • “More and more, we’re learning how critical vagal activity is to attention and mood,” says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine.”

The article goes on to talk about how we can heighten our vagal activity; including massage, yoga, physical touch, meditation, deep breathing – essentially any activity that helps to elicit our relaxation response will increase vagal activity; thereby reducing stress and the inflammation that tends to come along with it. 🙂

To read the full article: https://elemental.medium.com/science-confirms-that-the-vagus-nerve-is-key-to-well-being-c23fab90e211

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An Owl or a Lark?

We all know about the importance of sleep; approximately 70% of us will have what is called a normal sleep pattern based on our internal clock, known as our circadian rhythm.

There are times however, when our circadian rhythm works at a different pace and we can either have a delayed sleep phase, in which we are falling asleep 3 or 4 hours delayed (night owl) or an advanced sleep phase, which is characteristic of waking up 3 or 4 hours earlier than the norm (morning lark.)

Sleep Habits, is a website that features many articles on sleep. Paul Jordan, author of “Morningness Eveningness Questionnaire – Are you a Night Owl or a Morning Lark?” has this to say about the importance of knowing your sleep pattern:

“Knowing whether you’re a night owl, morning lark or neither can be worked towards your advantage. Night owls are more productive during the night, where as morning larks are more productive during the morning. By scheduling high intensity tasks at your peak times you can effectively get more done. If you have flexible work commitments you may find it useful to either shift your sleep timing forwards or backwards to best take advantage of your most productive times.” 

Knowing where we land in terms of our own typical sleep pattern can allow us to make adjustments; allowing us to optimize our best sleep and as a consequence, feel refreshed and productive.

If you would like to take the quiz, follow the link: https://sleephabits.net/morningness-eveningness-questionnaire

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Music Works its Magic on Our Mental Health

Putting on my ‘dance music’ play list is a must when I clean the house; ‘Jazz’ when I am cooking in the kitchen, and ‘Good Mood Music’ when on a road trip. We can all attest to the powerful effect that music has on us – it can uplift us when we are feeling blue, it can accompany us through our daily tasks, it has the ability to relax us.

In a recent article entitled “Music takes 13 minutes to ‘release sadness’ and 9 to make you happy, according to new study” by Helena Asprou and featured on Classic fm, we read about a study that was conducted at the British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST), in which participants noted that the use of music helped them to relax, to feel happier, to process sad feelings and to concentrate. I quote:

“The best music for relaxation had a slow tempo, simple melody and no lyrics, with an optimum listening time of 13 minutes – and many benefits were reported, including ‘decreased muscle tension, negative thoughts disappearing, feeling peaceful and contented and being able to sleep better. Meanwhile, only nine minutes of music (mostly songs with a driving rhythm, fast tempo and positive lyrical content) is required to make people feel uplifted. An impressive 89 percent had improved energy levels, 65 percent laughed more and others felt more in control of their lives or able to ‘take on anything’ – an encouraging result for medical professionals looking for new ways to treat patients with mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.”

We most likely can all confirm that we have experience with music that echoes this study’s results. This article is a lovely reminder that in order to allow music to work its magic on our emotional health, we have to consciously use it; making sure our playlists are full and we have built them into our daily routine. 🙂

To read the full article (they include a lovely summarized chart): https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/music-to-release-sadness-and-feel-happier-study/

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A Promising Study: The Effects of Cannabis on the Teenager’s Brain

I often sit with young people in my office who are quick to point out the positive effects of smoking pot. Pretty mired in their opinion, my caution to them always comes with amount of use. Smoking pot socially looks a whole lot different than smoking it in a chronic way; any time that we are relying on an outside substance to manage our emotional health, we move to dysfunction and not to growth. 

In an article entitled “Halifax researcher studies how cannabis affects brain function in young adults” by Aly Thomson and featured on CBC News, we meet Dr. Philip Tibbo, a professor of psychiatry, who is conducting a study with researchers at Western University in London, Ont. It involves 180 people in both provinces between 18-35 who use cannabis to varying degrees.

Tibbo remarks “Each area of the brain doesn’t work independently — it’s all interacting. It’s very complex. If you have more dysfunctional connections, the brain is not working the way that it should be.”

“What I usually say clinically is if you’re going to be smoking, you’re doing it because it’s supposed to be a pleasurable experience,” he said.
“But if you’re smoking pot and you’re getting a bit more paranoid, or you’re feeling a little bit more sketchy, well then perhaps there’s some vulnerability there to have negative outcomes, and is that because of the effects of cannabis on your brain white matter? He said he hopes the study will eventually arm adolescents and young adults with more information to make informed decisions about cannabis use.”

In a similar article entitled “Your brain on cannabis: Halifax researcher probes effects on white matter, behaviour” by John McPhee and featured on The Telegram, Tibbo (who treats teenagers and young adults with significant psychiatric disorders such as early phase psychosis) notes:

“I figure about 80 per cent of my patients have some exposure to cannabis; actually about 25 to 35 per cent would meet criteria for a cannabis use disorder, which can have very significant negative outcomes on their mental health.”

Bottom line? When smoking pot, it is best to proceed with caution.

To read the first article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/halifax-dalhousie-researcher-cannabis-brain-function-1.5457140

To read the second article: https://www.thetelegram.com/news/canada/your-brain-on-cannabis-halifax-researcher-probes-effects-on-white-matter-behaviour-408888/

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Walking and How it Can Benefit Us

I have written similar posts to this one about the benefits of walking – but it bears repeating. In an article entitled “How 15 Minutes of Walking A Day Can Change Your Body” featured on Higher Perspective, we read:

“Exercise buys you three to seven additional years of life. It is an antidepressant, it improves cognitive function, and there is now evidence that it may retard the onset of dementia.” – Sanjay Sharma, professor of inherited cardiac diseases in sports cardiology at St. George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London.

In addition to listing health benefits, the article included benefits related to our emotional health:

  • It reduces pain and enhances mobility.
  • It improves cognitive performance.
  • It improves mood.

Although walking at a fair pace is probably the most beneficial, sometimes our mobility issues or chronic pain tends to impede the process. Walking at your own pace or at what you can handle will still prove to be beneficial; especially if you can get outside in nature. Two natural mood boosters, rolled into one 🙂

To read the full article: https://www.higherperspectives.com/walking-daily-2626517339.html

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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

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