“What? Me Worry?”

If you worry you have a evolved brain.

Powerful emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, are products of our neurology and created largely for survival.  It’s just that our brains no longer know we are not living in caves and threatened by being eaten alive.

Alfred E. Neuman was  an iconic figure in the comic book MAD in the 1950’s*.  MAD’s first editor, Harvey Kurtzman identified him: “It was a kid that didn’t have a care in the world, except mischief.”  Few of us don’t have a care in the world and most of us worry.

If you are someone who tends to worry or be anxious (probably most of us), listen to what Professor B.L. Chakoo has to say:

Worry

” Worrying is primarily the result of poor communication between the thinking prefrontal cortex (which is the whole surface of your brain) and the anterior cingulate which notices all your mistakes and contributes to ‘the tendency to dwell on everything that is going wrong’.”

Anxiety

Anxiety, by comparison, is mediated by some circuits within the limbic system which is the emotional part of the brain and is responsible for things like fear, anxiety and memory.  So, there is no reason to get upset with yourself for feeling anxious or worrying too much.  It is just a by-product of your brain’s evolution.”

“Yes, it would be a marvelous world if we never felt worried or anxious, but that is not the way our brains are ‘structured or wired’. We as human beings worry about the future, ‘regret the past, and blame ourselves for the present’. We get upset, feel angry, frustrated when we cannot have what we want, and sad, irritable or disappointed when what we desire ‘ends’.”

He also says that our brains make things up, and so you can worry about something that has not happened yet, as well as regret what did happen.

The Good News

If the brain is the cause of suffering, it can also be its “cure.”  Understanding  why you worry or are anxious will help your brain will develop the ability to right itself. Decades of neuroscience inquiries have shown us how to modify our brains and change the levels of different neurochemicals.*

We can also grow new neurons and improve the way our brains work to reduce stress: 

  • Movement – walking, jogging, gardening or even walking up and down stairs – increases ‘the firing rate of serotonin neurons’, which causes them to release more serotonin.
  • Exercise with moderate intensity increases norepinephrine which helps with concentration and deep thinking.
  • Activity outside is best since sunlight improves serotonin production . . . as does . . .
  • . . . Interactions with others.

All these activities increase serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex, which help keep you from thinking about negative experiences.

And that means having an easier time saying “What? Me worry?”

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_E._Neuman

*To read the entire article by Professor B L Chakoo

Click here: http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/depression-and-neuro-science/

Meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old

My meditation practice has always been sporadic and I’m not just talking about my “monkey mind” that leaps and roams . . . or falls asleep.  Needing a bit of discipline I joined a meditation group and in two months my brain will be younger and smarter.

Want proof?

There is an ever-increasing body of research evidence that shows that meditation decreases stress, depression, and anxiety, reduces pain and insomnia, and increases quality of life.

 One  study looked at long-term meditators (seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. “The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.”

“This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.”

Neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in the brain region, linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex. In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.

Wowza!

Just to make sure this wasn’t because the long-term meditators had more gray matter to begin with, a second study was conducted in which they put people with no experience with meditation into an eight-week mindfulness program.

The results?

“Even just eight weeks of meditation changed people’s brains for the better. There was thickening in several regions of the brain, including the left hippocampus (involved in learning, memory, and emotional regulation); the TPJ (involved in empathy and the ability to take multiple perspectives); and a part of the brainstem called the pons (where regulatory neurotransmitters are generated).”

“Plus, the brains of the new meditators saw shrinkage of the amygdala, a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. This reduction in size of the amygdala correlated to reduced stress levels in those participants.”

How long do you have to meditate to see such results?

“The study participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day. Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day”

In 8 weeks my brain will look and act half its age . . . .if only meditating could do the same for my body . . .

(jw)

Your Brain on Chocolate Chip Cookies

What is your preference?

Soft and gooey?
Crisp and crunchy?
Semisweet chocolate?
Milk chocolate?
Bittersweet?

Some research suggests that ingredients in chocolate chip cookies may have additive properties. Take sugar: Evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce rewards and cravings comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs, including cocaine.

Oh Noooooooooo

Then there’s the chocolate, which, in addition to sugar, contains small amounts of a compound known as anandamide. Anandamide is also a brain chemical that targets the same cell receptors as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for its mood-altering effects.
(That’s not to say chocolate will produce the same “high” as marijuana, but there may be a chemical basis for the pleasure we get from eating chocolate.)
“According to Gary Wenk, director of neuroscience undergraduate programs at the Ohio State University and author of “Your Brain on Food,” high-fat, sugar-rich cookies will raise the level of anandamide in our brains independent of what’s in the cookie, because it’s our body’s response to eating such a tasty item. “The fat and sugar combine to induce our addiction as much as does the anandamide,” Wenk said. “It’s a triple play of delight.”‘

Oh Nooooooooo

Texture and flavor: Key to a cookie’s addictive characteristics

The flavor of chocolate chip cookies is “. . . a beautiful amalgam of caramelized butter and sugar,” the result of the browning of butter and caramelizing of sugar while it bakes. The combination of the toasted grain with the browned butter, caramelized sugar, vanilla and chocolate are “the beautiful rich flavors that blend together in a chocolate chip cookie.  And as the chocolate melts, it becomes more aromatic and punches up the flavor.”*

A happy indulgence

“The main thing is not to think of food as good food and bad food. It’s all good. It’s how much you eat of it,”
So whether it feels like a true “addiction” or not, indulging in a chocolate chip cookie or two should be a happy experience.

Oh Yessssssssss

*Gail Vance Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that helps companies learn how sensory cues drive consumer perceptions of products.

My Peak Alpha Frequencies aren’t Peaking

Current research points to common underpinnings of neuro-inflammation and immune dysfunction for many chronic conditions like pain, MS, lupus, migraine, cancer, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) or Fibromyalgia.  One of the symptoms people with chronic conditions often experience are flu-like symptoms and brain fog.  The brains of people who have chronic conditions work differently from those of healthy people. 

  • A recent study done at Stanford looked at brain waves of people with ME/CFS and compared them to healthy controls. They found those with fibro or chronic fatigue have decreased  peak alpha frequencieswhich are associated with goal directed behavior being interrupted, and problems with attention and alertness. Getting moving at a task is difficult, and thus why we can feel resistance to everyday tasks.
  • A different study showed that neuroinflammation is higher in people with chronic fatigue or fibro and the level of inflammation correlated with the level of symptoms. One area with the most inflammation was the amygdala, which plays a role in procrastination.
  • Another study found that the reward center of the brain is less activated . Reducing the expectation of reward may contribute to difficulty in starting tasks.

What relief to read new studies that say “It’s not my fault I procrastinate.  I can blame my brain.”

You don’t have to have a chronic medical condition. Anyone who procrastinates or can’t get started on a task can benefit from this 3 step technique.

Focus on what you would like to accomplish: 

1. Stop thoughts of being overwhelmed or feelings of dread.

Let go of any thoughts of anticipatory dread and move on to a calming thought, or instead focus on sensations in the current moment. For example:

  • Look at a something neutral or pleasant – even a pillow’s colors and pattern.
  • At the same time, smile. It can be a fake smile.
  • Take in a deep, slow breath, then breathe out and let go of your negative thought.
  • As you breathe in again, keep smiling and focus on the present moment–what you are seeing, or what you are hearing or feeling.
  • Repeat this as often as you need to. You may need to every few seconds, especially at first.

2. Ask: “What is the next small, easy step?”

  • Break the task into very small, tiny steps. Focus on what’s doable.
  • Once you have taken a first step, repeat the question– What is the next small, easy step?
  • Make it OK to do only part of what you want to accomplish.

3. Focus on the finish line: 

  • Think about what you will gain by completing the task. Ask yourself “What pleasure will I get when I complete this task?”  OR
  • Ask “What pain will I avoid by doing this task?” Sometimes that works even better.
Sharing with others, or use a buddy system can  help you move forward. Call your buddy and tell them what your 3 steps are, and listen to their 3 steps. Then call again to see how you both are doing. This can magnify the power of the 3 steps.

When I’m not so overwhelmed I’ll think about focusing on which teeth I want to brush . . . the cooking and cleaning can wait.

(jw)

“Combating Feelings of Overwhelm, Resistance, or Listlessness in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”,

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How to change your own neurochemistry to feel happier

There is power in positive thinking–and the power comes from you.  and what you can do to have more “happy” neuro-chemicals. 

SEROTONIN & POSITIVE THINKING

As far back as 2007 scientists* measured how positive thoughts change brain serotonin levels which is another key neurotransmitter in happiness. Professional actors were used since they could keep up an intense emotional state.   Using a PET scan researchers found that focusing on happy memories resulted in increased uptake of the serotonin building blocks. Focusing on sad memories resulted in lower uptake. This supports the since replicated conclusion that we, by choosing to focus on happy thoughts, can self-regulate our brain’s neurotransmitters and change our brain’s chemical balance to support happiness.

DOPAMINE & MEDITATION

Another study shows why meditation makes monks among the happiest people on earth,

Dopamine is also crucial for happiness and relaxation, Researchers examined the changes in dopamine during meditation using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning on meditators.  The dopamine increased significantly in an area called the basal ganglia during meditation. This is the first evidence that by focusing our thoughts, we can alter how the neurons in our brain fire, and increase dopamine release.

No prescription needed, no side-effects from medications.  Your only cost is a bit of practice focusing on positive memories and thoughts or, if you are more ambitious, a bit of your time to learn to meditate. 

The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience

 

A Happiness Hack – “Eau de Grass”

We’re excited to let you know that we are compiling all the Happiness Hacks we’ve posted.  Here’s a “hack” that that surprised us.

Mow-on by Peggy

Mowing my lawn always makes me feel good.   I’ve figured it was because I love being outside and mowing was good exercise.  However, it’s a pretty small lawn and I don’t get a lot of exercise. I was surprised to read about research done at The University of Queensland in Australia finding that the smell of freshly cut grass increases feel-good neurochemistry in the brain.*

Their studies convinced the researchers cut grass smell was as powerful as well-known scents like:

 lavender, cinnamon, vanillacitrus, baby powder, pine, rose, rosemary, sunscreen and peppermint

They isolated the chemicals to create cut-grass aroma and have bottled it.  You can buy cut grass smell!

. . . or you could mow your lawn. Use a push-mower to get a twofer – aerobic exercise & happy aroma.

After all, your nose is very close to your brain . . . and connected to your happiness!

*University of Queens land researchers found that the scent of cut grass works directly on the amygdala and hypo-campus and makes you happier and less stressed.  They created a spray with the scent of cut grass called SerenaScent

 

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Frankly Freddie, THE MENTAL BENEFITS OF WALKING (Parenthetically Speaking)

Dear Humans,

I hate to say “I told you so”  but I told you so – Walking is good for you.  It’s my preferred form of exercise.  Peggy and judy have found lots of studies on the benefits of walking. They asked me to promote it since I’m an expert walker:

Walking (preferably with me)

  • Gives you a creative lift.  A study at Stanford showed a 60% increase in creative output. Researches called the kind of creativity “divergent thinking”, thinking out of the box, looking at many different possibilities. Walking lets out minds wander and this puts us in a good mental state for generating new ideas.  (My Human Judy is already a “divergent thinker” . . .  to a fault.  Her brain hasn’t ever been able to walk a straight line)

  • Boosts your mood. In one study scientists saw increased energy, good mood, attentiveness and confidence with 12 minutes of walking compared to 12 minutes of sitting.  (I like my human to be attentive and obedient)

  • Walking in nature also reduced repetitive negative thoughts (ruminating).

  • Improves memory.  (You’ll remember that walking helps you)

  • Just 10 minutes of walking may relieve anxiety and improve mood as well as a workout lasting 45 minutes. (I prefer long walks but I’m all for anything that gets my human in a better mood)

If it’s raining or snowing or blowing you can use a treadmill for a walking workout.

Walking on a treadmill gives you the most benefit if you vary the speed and incline so that your heart rate is raised and lowered. Sort of like walking up and down hills, going fast some times, slow some times. Setting a high incline makes you use more energy to walk, and you can get a good cardiovascular workout without as much strain on your knees (For those of us who have 4 knees that’s important)

Interval training is a way to get the most from a workout. So whether you are outside on a trail or inside on a treadmill here’s how to do intervals. Start with a warm up warm up 5 minutes, then do an incline  or speed for 3 minutes a few minutes, then back to level then 1 minute level at a walk, and repeat for about 20 minutes total.  (I do interval training with Judy – I run, stop, raise my leg, run some more, stop, sniff, saunter, stop, raise my leg, run, stop, sniff, trot . . .)

Another protocol I often follow, and you can too, is to go as hard as I can for 1 minute, then sniff and walk until I recover, then go again. 

Finding your target zone

My target zone is most often a tree or a post.  For humans it may be different and here’s how you do it:

Find an online calculator for your target heart rate zone, or use this:

For vigorous exercise, use 70 to 85 percent of your heart rate reserve or HHR

Here is Mayo Clinics formula:

  • “Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate.
  • Calculate your resting heart rate by counting your heart beats per minute when you are at rest, such as first thing in the morning. (For the average adult It’s somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute.)
  • Calculate your heart rate reserve (HRR) – subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.7 (70 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • Multiply your HRR by 0.85 (85 percent). Add your resting heart rate to this number.
  • These two numbers are your training zone heart rate for vigorous intensity exercise. Your heart rate during exercise should be between these two numbers.”

For example, I’m 6 dogs years old.

220-6= 114, my maximum HR
My  resting heart rate is resting
Then I subtract my resting heart rate from my maximum heart rate gives my heart rate reserve (HHR), (which is very confusing).

Multiply that by 0.7, then add my resting heart rate,

Multiply my heart rate reserve (HHR) by 85%  so 82×0.85=69.7 then add resting heart rate so 69.7+65=134.7 which is the high end of my target heart rate or training zone . . .

(I’ve computed my target zone to be 6 trees a minute.)

Frankly,

Freddie Parker Westerfield, CDWE

Canine Dog Walking Expert 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-walking-most-underrated-form-exercise

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