Day 16 of 30 Days of Adventure
Today, let's give our brain the care it deserves by lovingly responding to stressful situations.
Assessing and reacting to potential risk is an intrinsic part of having a brain.
We have an ancient structure in our brain, the amygdala, that is designed to respond swiftly to a threat. This primitive part of our brain sits right above the brainstem in the medial temporal lobe.
The amygdala is responsible for the response and memory of emotions that come from sensory inputs, like anger, excitement, fear, and passion. While the amygdala is intended to protect us from danger, it can interfere with our functioning in the modern world where threats are often more subtle in nature.
Michael A. Singer
best-selling author, spiritual teacher, journalist, motivational speaker
There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing you are not the voice of the mind – you are the one who hears it.
In the case of strong perceived threats, the amygdala triggers the fight-or-flight response.
This trigger releases stress hormones, including epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol. Constant exaggerated responses can trigger heightened anxiety levels and a constant state of stress. This leads to maladaptive learning, constantly drains our energy, and creates much of the disease modern humans face today.
Fear not! The brain can change and learn new behavior patterns.
For early humans, the fight-or-flight response was vital. The threat of physical harm was very real. Nowadays, we rarely need to actually fight or run away. Which is why our more recently developed frontal lobes, in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, can override the amygdala so we can approach situations more rationally.
We have the power to choose how we respond.
We can control the brain's irrational emotional reactions by slowing down, taking deep breaths, and refocusing our thoughts. This allows our rational prefrontal cortex to take over the irrational amygdala.
Noticing when our lizard brain (the amygdala) triggers a fight-or-flight response gives us the power to respond more healthfully.
By mindfully noticing an irrational reaction and making the shift to operate more from our rational mind, we reap massive health benefits.
7 Ways to Strengthen the Prefrontal Cortex
Below are some creative ways to strengthen our rational mind. Notice which one resonates with you the most and make a point to put it into action today!
1. Resist Instant Gratification
Instant gratification rewires the brain to seek rewards immediately, with little or no time in between the initial action performed and the feedback. This decreases our level of patience over time and willpower to stick with it when the going gets tough.
2. Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Willpower originates from the prefrontal cortex and can be strengthened like a muscle. Due to the malleable nature of the brain, we can strengthen our willpower by doing something that’s just a bit outside your comfort zone.
3. Learn New Material
Like exercising willpower to go beyond the comfort zone, learning or doing anything new makes new neural connections in the prefrontal cortex.
4. Practice Positive Imagination
Exercising the ability to imagine the “best-case scenario” is a prime function of the prefrontal cortex. It takes willpower and conscious thought of what could go right rather than what could go wrong. And where the focus goes, energy flows! It's no wonder optimists live longer on average than pessimists.
5. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is key in revitalizing our body’s health. Lack of sleep decreases decision-making and makes it harder to concentrate and focus, especially on what matters most.
6. Cultivate a Meditation Practice
Meditation is a great way to strengthen the prefrontal cortex because it trains us to notice what is happening, refocus our concentration, and be present in the moment. The intention is to focus the mind and bring awareness to a laser-sharp point, shutting out all other considerations.
7. Eat Quality Foods
We truly are what we eat! We eat to obtain the essential nutrients our body (especially the brain) utilizes to function properly. Certain foods make it harder for us to think in a logical and coherent manner due to the “brain fog” they give us. Whereas eating healthy, unprocessed, whole foods provides our body and mind with higher-quality clean-burning energy.
How about you?
What is one way you're inspired to practice responding to stressful situations?
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