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

Comfort eating actually comforts

When I am a little stressed I want to eat – usually carbs – but if I am very stressed I lose my appetite. PA
I never lose my appetite because I’m an emotional eater – eat when I’m stressed, happy, bored . . .  From now on I’m calling it “Comfort Eating” – it sounds less . . . emotional . . .  and  is a new area of research. jw
For the second year in a row, just over a third of American adults reported eating “too much” or “unhealthy” food because of stress, according to an APA survey. Approximately 40 percent of people increase their eating when they’re stressed, 40 percent decrease their eating, and 20 percent stay the same. 

Dr. Janet Tomiyama has been trying to figure out if eating because of stress works for us.  Here is a summary of her findings:

  • Rats were given access to comfort food — usually Crisco mixed with sugar! 
  • Researchers then stressed them out
  • Over time, the comfort food actually dampened their stress hormones
  • Dampened down their brain’s responsivity to stress
  • Dampened down the signaling between the brain and the rest of the body, so they didn’t secrete as many stress hormones.”  

    CRISCO & sugar! At least they could have the decency to give us the cake under the frosting  . . .

We tend to be critical of people who eat because of stress BUT  “Not just psychologically, but also biologically — people who do a lot of comfort eating tend to show a reduced level of stress hormones and stress.”

What’s happening, according to Tomiyama:

  • “When you do anything that’s rewarding to you the reward parts of your brain light up — those parts of the brain can dampen down areas of your brain that are freaking out with negative emotion. And that’s why comfort foods tend to be foods that are high in sugar and fat. They’re really rewarding; they really do light up the reward centers of our brains.
  • There’s also some work showing that when you do comfort eating, it builds up fat in your belly region and that fat pad sends a signal to your brain to decrease the amount of stress hormones that you’re producing. 
  • Then there’s conditioning. If throughout your whole life, you’ve paired stress relief with comfort foods over and over again, then soon enough, your body is going to automatically respond to eating these comfort foods with relaxation.

Many people have had the experience of being given comfort food to cheer us up as kids. Part of the comfort t then came from bing cared for but that became associated with the food, which now gives us comfort on its own.

in addition to rodents, we also see comfort eating working in some non-human primate species as well. So my main take home from this is self-compassion: You’re not doing the comfort eating because you’re some sort of weak-willed human being; you’re biologically driven to do this. “ says Tomiyama.

What Tomiyama is trying to do now, is to see if healthy foods can also be comforting. Even in rat studies only unhealthy foods were used. Therein some data from surveys that say there are people who do use healthy foods for stress.

 “Nobody stress-eats strawberries, do they?”

Actually, strawberries might work she reports. Anything  sweet can dampen stress.

We’ll eat to that!

A. Janet Tomiyama, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab at UCLA

https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/9/18072318/does-stress-eating-work-psychology

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.

Stretching it from Fowl to Feline

Can Stretching Make You Happier?

Neuroscientists believe stretching our bodies is part of a brain-body feedback loop and can make you more relaxed and open to the world.  

There is scientific evidence to back up the claim that stretching on a regular basis can make you happier.

Changes within your physicality can profoundly affect your brain.

We all know the leg bone is attached to the hip bone.  We don’t often think about the fact that EVERYTHING in your body is attached by a tight suit of interconnecting fascia. Tightness in your legs affects the tension in your shoulders and stress that you hold in your hips can affect the muscles all the way up through your lower back and to your skull.

Besides causing a lot of aches and pains—which will put anyone in a bad mood—this tension can work along your brain-body feedback loop to create an undercurrent of anxiety or stress to all your moods.

Along with range of motion exercises and massage, gentle stretching is key for keeping things loose and lubricated. Stretching also provides additional neurological benefits like improving heart rate, blood pressure and hormonal regulation.

Feeling Fowl? – Do The Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose One

“Some stretches are more effective on our moods than others. Generally, we all hold a lot of tension in our hip joints, making pigeon pose an effective starter stretch for relieving stress and anxiety. The posture, which you can see explained in the video, helps to undo the damage of long term sitting and to release emotional tension. It lengthens the piriformis muscle, a small gluteal muscle that is often underused and too tight.

Pigeon Pose Two

Be aware: If a stretch is painful there is a lot of frozen tension present and you should be very careful, go slow and stop before it is painful.  Do not push beyond your ability. Preferably, take a yoga, or stretching class or get professional help.

However, if you are not in a fowl mood a cat stretch might be more to your ability . . . or even quicker and easier . . . 

. . . Read How to trick your brain into being happy to find out how stretching your smile muscles can make you feel happier.

https://www.care2.com/greenliving/can-stretching-make-you-happier.html