What happens in your brain when you reconnect with an old flame

I believed my first loves (I’m using the plural in order to propagate an image of being one of the “popular” girls) were indelibly etched in my heart. The experiences we shared together, and even how we separated, stay with me in a positive and healthy way and helped form the person I am today.

Now I learn that all my first loves are not in my heart. They are lodged in my BRAIN. 

Experts say the neurological attachment that happens between young lovers is not unlike the attachment a baby forms with its mother. Hormones like vasopressin and oxytocin are key in helping create a sense of closeness in relationships and play a starring role in both scenarios.

If that person was your first, best or most intimate, the mark is even more indelible. Such preferential encoding in the brain is one reason why stories of people reconnecting with a high school or college flame are commonplace.

Feelings of romantic love trigger the brain’s dopamine system, which drives us to repeat pleasurable experiences. The brain’s natural opiates help encode the experience, and oxytocin acts as the glue that helps forge those feelings of closeness.*

“Oxytocin unleashes a network of brain activity that amplifies visual cues, odors and sounds,” explains Larry Young, a psychiatry professor at Emory University in Atlanta. That, plus the effects from your brain’s natural opiates and dopamine, and your romantic partner’s traits — strong jaw, piercing blue eyes, musky scent — leave a sort of neural fingerprint. Those preferences become soft-wired into your reward system, just like an addiction.”

Even creatures prone to promiscuity, like rats, are often primed to revisit their first pleasure-inducing partner, according to a 2015 study co-authored by Pfaus. And it seems humans may follow a similar pattern.

“WHO said I was promiscuous?”

Seeing a first love can instantly reactivate the networks your mind encoded decades ago. Throw a bear hug into the mix — and the accompanying flood of oxytocin —  that old brain circuitry lights up like fireworks. Justin Garcia, the associate director for research and education at the Kinsey Institute, says that just like a recovering alcoholic craving a drink after decades of sobriety, we can still be drawn to an old lover.

“It doesn’t mean you still want to be with that person,” he says. “It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It means there’s a complex physiology associated with romantic attachments that probably stays with us for most of our lives — and that’s not something to be afraid of, particularly if you had a great run.”

When Reconnecting Makes Sense – single, divorced or widowed?

“Most people have a lost love they wonder about. Someone who held your hand through transformative moments and helped you define you. Love research supports the notion that it’s psychologically intoxicating to reconnect with a former flame you still feel friendly toward; the brain lights up the same way a cocaine addict’s does before a hit.”

“But, unless you’re single, divorced or widowed, it’s probably best to avoid searching for that old love on Facebook. According to psychologist Nancy Kalish, professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, when social media collides with a generally happy marriage, the results can be disastrous. A whopping 62 percent of married folks in her study wound up having an affair with their ex — even though they didn’t reach out to them with any such plan in mind.”

“You can’t compare the person who you experienced a first or early love with to someone who you’ve had a deep abiding love with for many years through the course of a marriage,” Kalish says. “Both are good and both are powerful.”

“So before you follow an ex on Twitter, send them a Facebook message or stalk them on Instagram, consider two big factors: Are you single? And if not, are you prepared to let reconnecting with your ex devastate your current relationship? If the answer to either question is “yes,” you could be in for a pleasant reunion with an old friend,” Kalish says.

[This article originally appeared in print as “Fired Up.”]

*According to a 2010 study published in The Journal of Neurophysiology

Stress is Contagious

Our brains are designed to transmit emotions quickly to one another, because they often convey important information.

It is important to realize that stress travels rapidly from one person to the next

A study found when infants were held by their mothers who had just experienced a socially stressful event, the infants’ heart rates went up too. The message transferred via the mother’s pounding heart to the baby was of danger – and as a result, the baby avoided interacting with strangers.*

“You don’t even need to be in the same room with someone for their emotions to influence your behaviour. Studies show that if you observe positive feeds on social media, such as images of a pink sunset, you are more likely to post uplifting messages yourself. If you observe negative posts, such as complaints about a long queue at the coffee shop, you will in turn create more negative posts.”

“And so a reliable pattern emerges following terrorist attacks and financial market downturns – stress is triggered, spreading from one person to the next, which temporarily enhances the likelihood that people will take in negative reports, which increases stress further. As a result, trips are cancelled, even if the terrorist attack took place across the globe; stocks are sold, even when holding on is the best thing to do; and fearmongering political campaigns attract followers, even if they are not anchored in reality.”

“While it’s good to be on high alert during stressful episodes – like a car crash – being so all the time would be exhausting.
In some ways, many of us live as if we are in real danger, like firefighters on call, constantly ready to put out the flames of demanding emails and text messages, and respond to news alerts and social media feeds. Repeatedly checking your phone, according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, is related to stress.”

“. . . a preprogrammed physiological reaction, which evolution has equipped us with to help us avoid famished predators, is now being triggered by a tweet. Tweeting, according to one study, raises your pulse, makes you sweat, and enlarges your pupils more than most daily activities.”

“The fact that stress increases the likelihood that we will focus more on alarming messages, together with the fact that it spreads like a tsunami, can create collective fear that is not always justified. This is because after a stressful public event, such as a terrorist attack or political turmoil, there is often a wave of alarming information in traditional and social media, which individuals absorb well, but that can exaggerate existing danger.”

“The good news, however, is that positive emotions, such as hope, are contagious too, and are powerful in inducing people to act to find solutions. Being aware of the close relationship between people’s emotional state and how they process information can help us frame our messages more effectively and become conscientious agents of change.”

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20180613-why-stressed-minds-are-better-at-processing-things

*Wendy Berry Mendes, professor of emotion at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues

Why exercise in old age?

Doing lots of exercise in older age can prevent the immune system from declining and protect people against infections, scientists say.

They followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some now in their 80s, and found they had the immune systems of 20-year-olds.*

Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King’s College London, who took part in and co-authored the research, said:

“If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it.

“It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system.”

“The immune system declines by about 2-3% a year from our 20s, which is why older people are more susceptible to infections, conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer.” (Prof Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, at the University of Birmingham, and co-author of the research)

“Because the cyclists have the immune system of a 20-year-old rather than a 70- or 80-year-old, it means they have added protection against all these issues.”

The researchers looked at markers in the blood for T-cells, which help the immune system respond to new infections.  These are produced in the thymus, a gland in the chest, which normally shrinks in size in adulthood.

They found that the endurance cyclists were producing the same level of T-cells as adults in their 20s, whereas a group of inactive older adults were producing very few.

The researchers believe that being physically active in old age will help people respond better to vaccines, and so be better protected against infections such as flu.

 “Being sedentary goes against evolution because humans are designed to be physically active.” (Steve Harridge, co-author and professor of physiology at King’s College London)

A separate paper in Aging Cell found that the cyclists did not lose muscle mass or strength, and did not see an increase in body fat – which are usually associated with ageing.

“You don’t need to be a competitive athlete to reap the benefits – or be an endurance cyclist – anything which gets you moving and a little bit out of puff will help.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-43308729

*The research was published in the journal Aging Cell.

How to Be Mindful While Eating Chocolate (Parenthetically Speaking)

Chocolate Meditation by Peggy

“Mindful eating is eating with intention, attention and awareness. The purpose of eating chocolate is pleasure. So when you are eating what you love, give it your full attention and love what you eat.” 

  1. Become aware of any feelings of guilt. (If you dwell on guilt when it comes to chocolate please skip this meditation and see a therapist).  
  2. Sit down to savor your chocolate choice without distractions.
  3. As you unwrap the chocolate, listen to the sounds and notice the aroma. (If you are an experienced meditator, buy a bag of unwrapped chocolate to go directly to the heart of the meditation)
  4. Take a small bite, then pause. Become aware of the textures and flavors on your tongue. (After the small bite, eat  the entire bag and focus on the subtle differences between gourmet and gourmond).
  5. As you begin to chew, notice how the flavors, textures and aromas change.
  6. Notice pleasure.
  7. When you have fully experienced your bite, swallow, then pause to notice how long the flavor lingers. (If you’ve already swallowed in step #4 return to step #1.)
  8. Slowly repeat steps #4 through #7 until your treat is finished.
  9. (Next,  make a batch of homemade dark chocolate for tomorrow – for optimal results meditate every day.)

Peta, a Green Global Trekker, shared her easy recipe for healthy chocolate.
www.greenglobaltrek.com

“Add just enough coconut oil to get the cacao to being liquid. Approximately 2 tbsps cocoa to each cup oil, but as with the maple syrup it’s definitely trial and error and according to taste with the maple syrup. Can you tell I’m not the measuring type?”
  1. Raw cacao powder mixed with organic coconut oil.
  2. Add a pinch of salt.
  3. Add organic honey or maple syrup, to taste.
  4. Use freezer trays – put an almond, a piece of date, a cranberry, whatever you fancy, in your chocolate, then spread the liquid mix over the top.
  5. Freeze and pop chocolates out, “eat right away as they do melt quickly.”

Any questions . . . ask PETA!

www.greenglobaltrek.com

Peta and Ben in Goa, India . Check out their travels.  It’s a great blog

Ben and “not Peta”

Peta Kaplan

Peta was born in South Africa and Ben was born in France. After twenty plus years living in the U.S., when their four sons finished high school and left home for college, they quit their jobs, sold most of their possessions and launched Green Global Trek adventure.

Peta is a painter, yogini and animal activist.  Ben is a strategist, personal and corporate “trajectory consultant” and sculptor.  Both are both committed environmentalists and increasingly focused on discovering solutions and advocating for climate adaptation.

Reposted from Curious to the Max

Psychopaths r not us

The closest we will probably ever, knowingly, meet up with a psychopath is reading the fascinating interviews in . . .

The Wisdom of Psychopaths – What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success by Kevin Dutton

Psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless and focused – qualities found in brain surgeons, fighter pilots, lawyers, fire fighters. CEO’s and meditating monks.

In this fascinating book Keven Dutton, a British psychologist, combines neuroscience research, interviews with psychopaths, psychological studies and his own mind-altering experience to explore the mind, motives of people identified as psychopaths or psychopathic tendencies.

We found the accounts of his encounters with psychopaths, those locked away, those fully functioning within and outside the “norms” of  society both chilling and intriguing.

One of the interesting interviews was with a U.S. Special Forces instructor for Navy SEALs (The guys who took out Bin Laden).  The instructor describes how they tests recruits to to break them using “torture tactics”.  The object is to determine if they are tough enough to qualify to be a seal (who, to a person, score high in  psychopathic traits).  Here’s the interview:

We did everything we could to break this guy.  He was orphaned at eleven . . .looking after his younger brother and sister by living on his wits. Stealing. Wheeling. Dealing . . . when he was sixteen, he beat someone up so bad they went into a coma.

White noice.  Sleep deprivation.  Sensory deprivation. Water. Stress positions .. . We threw everything at him.  Finally, after forty-eight hours, I removed the blindfold, put my face within a few inches of his, and yelled:

“Is there anything you want to tell me?” . . . he said yes.  There was something he wanted to say.

“What is it?.  ‘I asked.

“You want to cut down on the garlic, dude,” he said.

. . . It was the only time, in fifteen years as an instructor, that I let my guard slip.  Just for a second, a split second, I smiled.  I couldn’t help it.  I actually admired this guy.  And you know what?  Even in the disgusting, state he was in . . ., the son of a bitch saw it.  . .. he called me back closer to him.  And there was a look of sheer, I don’t know, defiance . . in his eyes.

“Game over,” he whispered in my ear.  “You’ve failed.”

“What?  I was meant to be saying that to him?  It was then that we realized he was one of what we call the “unbreakables.” The toughest of the tough . . .” And if he DID have a conscience I never saw it.  He was cold as ice.  At either end of a weapon.  Which actually, in this line of work, isn’t always a bad thing”

Research in the lab has shown that it isn’t so much the case that psychopaths don’t feel anxiety in certain situations, but rather that they just don’t notice the threat.  Their attention is focused purely on the task at hand, and extraneous distractions are ruthlessly filtered out. 

The psychopathic traits that most of us recognize are:

  • Failure to conform to social norms
  • Deceitfulness, repeated lying, conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsivity, or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to, or rationalizing, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

Dutton describes a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, he explains that “functional psychopaths – different from their murderous counterparts – use their detached, unflinching and charismatic personalities to succeed in society. 

Furthermore, there is an overlap of traits shared both by those who have psychopathic traits (Narcissism, impulsivity, lack of conscience, manipulativeness, pathological lying, coldheartedness) and those who have spiritual traits (love compassion, gentleness, humility, faithfulness, trustworthiness):

  • stoicism
  • mindfulness,
  • fearlessness,
  • mental toughness,
  • openness to experience,
  • utilitarianism,
  • focus/altered state of consciousness,
  • energy,
  • creativity,
  • non-attachment

FASCINATING!

Here’s a synopsis, straight from the internet promo:

“In this engrossing journey into the lives of psychopaths and their infamously crafty behaviors, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a scale of “madness” along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, Dutton demonstrates that the brilliant neurosurgeon who lacks empathy has more in common with a Ted Bundy who kills for pleasure than we may wish to admit, and that a mugger in a dimly lit parking lot may well, in fact, have the same nerveless poise as a titan of industry.”

“Dutton argues that there are indeed “functional psychopaths” among us—different from their murderous counterparts—who use their detached, unflinching, and charismatic personalities to succeed in mainstream society, and that shockingly, in some fields, the more “psychopathic” people are, the more likely they are to succeed. Dutton deconstructs this often misunderstood diagnosis through bold on-the-ground reporting and original scientific research as he mingles with the criminally insane in a high-security ward, shares a drink with one of the world’s most successful con artists, and undergoes transcranial magnetic stimulation to discover firsthand exactly how it feels to see through the eyes of a psychopath.”

“As Dutton develops his theory that we all possess psychopathic tendencies, he puts forward the argument that society as a whole is more psychopathic than ever: after all, psychopaths tend to be fearless, confident, charming, ruthless, and focused—qualities that are tailor-made for success in the twenty-first century. Provocative at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths is a riveting adventure that reveals that it’s our much-maligned dark side that often conceals the trump cards of success.”

A Mind Trick to Beat Procrastination

Some researchers say visualising your ‘future self’ can beat procrastination and drive better decisions.

 The act of visual imagery is well known for use in sports but can be applied to any part of your life where you’re procrastinating

WHY

The theory goes like this: most of us aren’t particularly good at picturing how our immediate actions will affect us long-term. But if we’re constantly picturing ourselves at a later point in life, and how our daily decisions affect this future person, it can help us make better immediate decisions because it’s easier to imagine the long-term consequences.

THE RESEARCH

“Part of the idea comes from research by Hal Hershfield, psychologist and associate professor of marketing at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, who studies how our perception of time can alter decision-making.”

“In a series of four experiments, people were asked to interact with their “future selves” – digitally altered portraits which showed them in old age – through a virtual reality program. Hershfield found that those who interacted with their future selves were then more likely to allocate money towards a hypothetical retirement savings account.”

Imagining Future Woofer

Hershfield says we often behave in ways that can be detrimental in the long term: “It’s very similar to eating unhealthy today and suffering the consequences over time.”

But “when we help people visualise and more deeply consider their future selves it increases the tendency to act in ways that are more future-oriented.”

In one study 193 university students were assigned to either a present-focused meditation or a future-focused mental imagery meditation. Those who regularly practised visualising their future were better able to empathise with their future selves and experienced a so-called “future-self continuity” due to less procrastination “People who procrastinate feel disconnected from that future self.  The more you imagine yourself in the future the more emotionally connected you feel to that self.”

This idea is not always the key to ending procrastination or altering behaviour, because not all people who procrastinate do so for the same reasons. Instead, it’s important to understand the cause of procrastination.

For example, if the reason for procrastination is simply that you don’t enjoy doing a particular task or are afraid to fail, imaging yourself in the future may make someone even more anxious. “If you are procrastinating because you are really anxious that you are not doing that task well, then visualising the future self might exacerbate anxiety.”

Imagining Future Meowie

HOW TO

Srini Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and author of Tinker Dabble Doodle Try, has developed a method to foster this behaviour.

He recommends:

  • Decide on a scene that’s not only specific, but also believable so your brain can better process the visualisation. “Imagine something that feels realistic and congruent with who you are.”
  • The more vivid or detailed the picture is in your mind, the better.
  • Visualise the completion of an entire project by paying attention to every step of the task, not just the end result.
  • Try the visualisation both in first-person (where you are living through the scenario) and third person (where you are watching yourself experience it) – the two perspectives can help you solidify the scenes you are imagining, 
  • choose a time of day where the mind is in a “natural slump” such as the mid-afternoon, and devoting 15 minutes each day to the practice.
  • Don’t expect to master the visual exercise in one session. The task can be stressful for some people.  Repeat sessions until you feel more comfortable with the practice.

Of course, not everyone is capable of imagining challenges. The practice is also more difficult when the reasons behind your procrastination are vague or tougher to understand.

Ultimately, the exercise can help you understand why you’re procrastinating about something that you’re trying to achieve and help you move forward, says Pillay.

“Tinkering with your imagination turns on this unfocused circuit and helps you put together the missing puzzle pieces.”

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170728-a-novel-trick-to-beat-procrastination