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Neurobiology and the Mind: What Is it really?

Neurobiology is a complex subject, but it s not impossible to understand. If we break it down into basic principles and key factors, it becomes easy to learn. But why learn about neurobiology? Because neurobiology plays an important role in our emotions, thought processes and even intimacy with our partners. To start on the path to understanding neurobiology, we will first visit the topic of the mind.

What Is the Mind?
At its basic form, the mind is what we use to relate to our experiences. The mind is also what regulates our energy and information within our bodies, as well as our relationships. The mind plays a vital role in how we think and memorize things, in our emotions, our awareness and our overall experiences.

The Mind during Every day Processes
If you think about it, our minds are full of personal experiences regarding our thoughts, memories and feelings. The mind also contains the activities that drive our behaviors and actions, including how we interact with our partners.

What Does the Mind Do for Our Daily Lives?
The mind is highly rational. It is influenced greatly by our social interactions and our relationships. Our daily experiences influence how our minds react to, think about and interpret our experiences. It is thought that the mind is self-organizing and that it shapes the flow of energy and information through the body over time. The fact that mental life itself is a self-organizing process that focuses on a relational flow of information and energy shows that our minds are not separate from our bodies or intimate relationships. Instead, the mind learns from them and starts to regulate them accordingly.

Improving Your Mind, Improving Your Intimacy
Once you learn how to control what your mind takes in and how it is organized at a stable rate, you will see a drastic improvement in your body, your thought processes and even your relationships. Things will feel more clear, detailed and in-depth. This improves your mind and health and a healthy mind is stronger for intimacy and stable relationships.

One of the best ways to improve your mind is to think of your brain and body as one singular tool. Promoting integrative communications within your relationships and honoring the differences that each individual brings into your life can help you promote compassion and overall communication with your partner. As a result, you will have more fulfilling, rewarding relationships that integrate kindness and intimacy.

You may not be able to monitor and explore your mind in front of you, but by understanding it from the inside you will find that you have more rewarding relationships and experiences in your daily life than you have ever had before.

Strengthen your Brain

The brain can change. The first step in this process is identifying the circuitry problem – or the patterns of activity that are underlying what you are trying to figure out. The second step is figure out how to do an intervention to make the changes. Slowly, yet steadily, researchers have identified ways to strengthen the communication from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala – it is the strength of that connection and the relative activity in those two regions that underlies whether you are resilient or not. These researchers have found that one way to strengthen your prefrontal cortex is to exercise. The prefrontal cortex is the organ of executive decision making, planning and also postponing gratification.

Another way to strengthen your brain – and this may sound like telling an alcoholic to go to a bar – is to find ways to put yourself in situations where you have to resist temptation, where you have to postpone gratification, as this will strengthen your prefrontal cortex. Strengthening the prefrontal cortex will enable it to send stronger signals to the amygdala, which helps the brain calm down and change.

Another example for strengthening your brain is mental training or mediation which can be applied to self-awareness. Obsessive self-awareness can be uncomfortable, if not pathological, but with mindfulness meditation you can learn to step back from what you are feeling. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have significant clinical effects in only a few short months. It has so much to contribute to the possibility of harnessing the power of neuroplasticity to change the brain, particularly in the area of attention. Mindfulness meditation helps to quiet down the amygdala.

You can find beginning and everyday guided meditations all throughout the internet. Also, many yoga studios offer mediation sessions during or after class. You may find your own ways of calming yourself – a ritual such as playing music, reading, cooking, anything that calms your mind – that makes you feel calm and peaceful, which will again help the brain calm down and change. All of these rituals and mindfulness meditations will no doubt help improve your relationships and overall capabilities of handling what life throws your way.

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How Self-Aware Are You?

 

Self-awareness refers to both awareness of your body – meaning the heartbeat or respiration rate and the feeling of what is on your skin – as well as what you feel emotionally.   Have you ever had someone say to you “you seem angry?” and your response was “no, I’m not angry.”?  Or vice verse? It could very well be true that you or the other person was indeed angry and giving off the energy, yet not aware. Many of us at times have bouts of failure of self-awareness, which comes from the insula.  The insula has what is called a viscerotropic mass – viscero refers to the interior organs and tropic refers to the placement, the representation of those organs.

People with a very active insula seem to be extremely self-aware, both emotionally and physically. When  we discussed positive outlook and the ability to bounce back from a setback (being resilient), it sounds as if only one of the ends of this spectrum is the place to be as who would not want to be happy and ore resilient, right? However, this is not necessarily the case and with self-awareness you tend see where you may need to improve on yourself even more.

Self-awareness starts with just that – awareness.   When you begin to analyze and pay attention to your mind (thoughts) and body (heartbeat, touch, etc.) you become more self-aware. Once one becomes even slightly self-aware, especially when analyzing where they currently are in their lives, they will likely try to change if they feel that it would improve their life. This is a great step towards a better life and better relationships.

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How Our Brain Patterns Persist or Change

 

With brain patterns, these questions may come to mind: How long have they been there? It is a brain pattern that existed (or that was established) during childhood as the brain develops? Was it present at birth? Can it be changed?

When Dr. Davidson did research on day-old infants, in the experiments he found that even at birth, there were clear individual differences and left/right asymmetry in terms of activation. Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, but the big question is do these differences persist? Dr. Davidson helped discover that what you are born with is not necessarily what you are dealt with as the brain and behavior can change.

Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change – either for better or worse. The brain has the ability to change in both structure and function. Consider learning and memory – these are constant examples of how our brains are able to change form. When you learn something new and also when a new experience enters your memory, this is the brain changing – expanding and retaining.

Brain structure and function can change in response to two forces:

  1. The life you lead
  2. Thinking yourself into a different brain

The life you lead, meaning the experiences you have – physical as well as emotional or mental – are signals from the outside world. This is similar to your brain collecting memories and learning new information. The other way the brain can change structure and function is in response to purely mental activity. This is similar to the brain emotional style of outlook. Higher left activity is associated with a more positive outlook; higher right activity is associated with more negative outlook.  To change the brain grooves, you can think yourself into a different brain by working on a more positive outlook (or negative, as the door does swing both ways).

 

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Changing Negative Beliefs or Patterns

The first emotional styles we have is resilience to adversity. The adversity can be a wide range of so-called setbacks – from the most trivial things such as someone cutting you off in traffic to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. The second emotional styles is outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life.  The emotional styles of I’m discussing here is how our patterns persist or change.

With brain patterns, these questions may come to mind: How long have they been there? It is a brain pattern that existed (or that was established) during childhood as the brain develops? Was it present at birth? Can it be changed?

When Dr. Davidson did research on day-old infants, in the experiments he found that even at birth, there were clear individual differences and left/right asymmetry in terms of activation. Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, but the big question is do these differences persist? Dr. Davidson helped discover that what you are born with is not necessarily what you are dealt with as the brain and behavior can change.

Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change – either for better or worse. The brain has the ability to change in both structure and function. Consider learning and memory – these are constant examples of how our brains are able to change form. When you learn something new and also when a new experience enters your memory, this is the brain changing – expanding and retaining.

Brain structure and function can change in response to two forces:

  1. The life you lead
  2. Thinking yourself into a different brain.

The life you lead, meaning the experiences you have – physical as well as emotional or mental – are signals from the outside world. This is similar to your brain collecting memories and learning new information. The other way the brain can change structure and function is in response to purely mental activity. This is similar to the second brain emotional style of outlook. Higher left activity is associated with a more positive outlook; higher right activity is associated with more negative outlook.  To change the brain grooves, you can think yourself into a different brain by working on a more positive outlook (or negative, as the door does swing both ways).

 

Photo courtesy of sattva and www.freedigitalphotos.net

Is Your Outlook on Life Positive or Negative?

Your outlook on situations and experiences can be broken down to be defined as either a positive outlook or a negative outlook. The left prefrontal cortex in a resilient person can be 30 times that of someone who is not as resilient – this means that there is a a pretty big difference in brain activity within people who are clinically depressed and those who are not clinically depressed. For people who suffer from depression, activity in the right prefrontal is much higher. For people who are healthier and have an overall positive outlook on life, activity is the left prefrontal is greater. In other words, left side activity equals positive and right side equals negative.

The thing to remember about these specific findings is that everyone has ups and downs in their lives, so the left and/or right asymmetry can change. This relates back to the first style – adversity – under certain difficult periods of people’s lives, they may behave and/or react differently during these times. This is simply just part of the ebb and flow of life as a human.

Dr. Richard Davidson has been doing research on the emotional styles of the brain for over twenty years. Dr. Davidson’s research has been on all kinds of walks of life, including everyday hard-working Americans, undergraduate volunteers, children and infants, and also a Tibetan monk community. These monks lent their time and brains to science by having Dr. Davidson run MRI’s and EEG’s on them. In his findings, Dr. Davidson has found that these monk’s left prefrontals were off the chart compared to his other findings making this evidence for the stark difference in the brain activity that underlie emotional and personality differences. The monks are constantly smiling, people of good will and constantly help one another. And their brains can prove it.

Photo courtesy of Ambro and www.freedigitalphotos.net

What Make Us More Resilient?

It would be nearly impossible for any of us to get through our human lives without some sort of setback. What really distinguishes people in terms of their success is whether or not they are knocked back on their heels by these setbacks. Resilience is a product of two specific regions of the brain: one is the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) and it sends signals to the amygdala, (the fear center of the brain).

The thinking part of the brain is front and center in our emotions. Prior to our technologically advanced society, say ten to twenty years ago, neuroscience thought that the emotional brain and the cognitive brain hardly ever met. However, research has found that not only do they meet, they are great friends and collaborators. With resilience, it turns out that the ability to send signals from the prefrontal cortex, which is the region just behind your forehead, to the amygdala, which is more in the center of your brain, means that the strength of those signals and the frequency of those connections determine how resilient you are.

The amygdala is the region that sends out signals that you may interpret as be afraid, be depressed, or be aware of potential danger. When these kinds of signals are going full blast, it is very hard to be resilient. The prefrontal cortex basically says to the amygdala “shhh!” When it is able to be quiet, people are able to be resilient. The prefrontal cortex is basically modulating the amygadala and vice versa.

The amygdala also sends signals to the prefrontal cortex (which has been known for many years). It perceives the information, sends the information to the prefrontal cortex – which again is the more thinking, planning, executive function part of the brain – and the prefrontal cortex then takes the right evasive action or figures out the situation to keep you out of danger. What is new here within the last ten to twenty years is the idea of the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain) communicating with the amygdala (the emotional part of the brain).

 

Photo courtesy of Sira Anamwong and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How is your Resilience to Adversity?

The brain is the source of all our emotions and behavior. Although humans have known for many years that all our behavior, feelings, and thoughts come from the brain, there has not been much progress in learning exactly how it works until recently. Researchers have been looking at many aspects of our emotional life and tracing them to specific patterns in particular regions of the brain. In this research, they have found that one size does not fit all. In other words, you have to take into account the individuality of the patient which can often be determined by DNA and also previous circumstances that may have happened during the patient’s lifetime.

The first emotional style is resilience to adversity. The adversity can be a wide range of so-called setbacks – from the most trivial things such as someone cutting you off in traffic (but if this happens at the beginning of your day, it could trigger negative emotions starting off your day) to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. Under certain difficult periods of people’s lives, they may behave and/or react differently during these times.

When you have a setback, and we all do at some point, how do you bounce back from it? Is it pretty quickly or do you wallow in anger, unhappiness or jealousy, or any other negative emotion? Everyone will vary in how well and how quickly they are able to recover from such adversity, and also depending on how significant the setback may be. On one hand, people are resilient – look at how we as humans have survived on this planet for thousands of years. Yet with the more significant setbacks, your resilience could be thwarted (which is completely acceptable), so the resilience relies on the circumstance. Researchers are now seeing particular patterns of brain activity in particular regions that actually show the ability to quickly and easily bounce back or the difficulty to bounce back.

The second emotional style is outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life. Do you tend to think that things will work out for the better regardless of the situation? Or are you more of an Eeyore with a gloomy cloud over your head with no hope for better days? There are also particular brain patterns and brain activity at play here that underline whether you have a positive or negative outlook in life.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sex and Relationships: Financial Struggles, Sex, and Relationships

Financial Problems can Interfere with Your Sex Life and Potentially Ruin Your Relationship…but it doesn’t have to be that way!

In sex and relationships, couples and financial problems often lead to disaster. While couples may not intend to turn their relationship into a power struggle over money issues, this is exactly what can happen when money becomes the emphasis and blame is displaced or blown out of proportion. It takes two to tango – both parties contributing to the financial problems in some way, even if unintentionally – and it takes two to work together to solve the problem. Arguing and pointing fingers only turns your once peaceful tango into a frenzied chicken dance. When financial stress threatens your relationship, it is time to look at the root cause of the problem, identify solutions, and join forces to get your finances on track and keep your relationship intact. True love does not die just because you experience a cash flow problem.

Financial Stress and Sex

Brain science reveals that stress of any kind can throw cold water on your once hot and heavy sex life. Moreover, with financial stress being one of the leading causes of relationship tension and breakups, it is definitely a stressor that can curb your intimacy, despite sex having a reputation for relieving stress. After all, it is difficult to get in the mood if all you can do is to think about your financial troubles and fight with one another.

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Brain Science: Sex and Moods

Sex has a major impact on a woman’s mood. While there are many elements to the relationship between sex and moods, this article focuses mostly on how sex affects the brain, improving a woman’s mood, and low sexual desire can also affect moods. While sex is very much a physical act, it is a mental act as well. It is important to understand how the brain and the body interact during sexual intercourse in order t establish the relationship between sex and moods.

Brain Science

Sex feels good. Changes occur within your body, and you become relaxed, less stressed, and happy. This happens not only because of the physical sensations, but also as a result of what is happening in your brain. There is a “pleasure center” in the brain. When you enjoy a piece of tasty chocolate, “happy” chemicals are released within the brain. The same thing happens when you have sex. Serotonin and dopamine are released, making you feel better both physically and mentally. This is one reason sex is considered an excellent stress reliever. Even if you have had a bad day and are in a horrible mood, sex with your partner at the end of the day can substantially improve your mood.

What about Lack of Sex?

For a woman with a healthy libido, a lack of sex can greatly affect moods as well.

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