Assignment: Write a full page and fully describe the way you see the world today.
Begin with this sentence and write on from there: “The way I see the world today is…
Begin with this sentence and write on from there: “The way I see the world today is…
Advances in Neuroscience Reveal Fascinating Details About How the Brain Works
Guest Blogger: Dr. Bill Conklin
The heart has long been considered the seat of emotion. Several familiar expressions prove it. When faced with an interpersonal loss, it is said that someone is “broken hearted.” When a person is overly-emotional we say that he “wears his heart on his sleeve.” When someone is overjoyed, she might say that her “heart is about to burst.” Yet, over the past century, science has taught us that the brain is the true home of our feelings.
Advances in the field neuroscience have revealed fascinating details about the workings of the brain. Over the centuries, the 100 billion neuron mass of tissue in our skull has evolved. For descriptive purposes the brain can be divided into different areas based on function. Two basic divisions are the lower brain (also known as the reptilian brain) and the upper brain (known as the mammalian brain). The mammalian brain – as the name suggests – is present in mammals but to a proportionally greater degree in humans. As the human species has developed, so too has the mammalian brain.
Another name for this area of the brain is the neo cortex. The neo cortex is itself divided into sections. These areas have come to be called the “lobes” of the brain. There are four large lobes: the frontal, the parietal, the temporal, and occipital lobes. The frontal lobes are used most in higher level thinking. The parietal lobes are used mostly in movement. The temporal lobes are involved in hearing and speech. And the occipital lobes are involved in sight.
The reptilian brain contains several structures comprising the limbic system. Thirty years ago brain scientists believed that this area of the brain was exclusively dedicated to the processing of emotions. Yet now we know that the limbic system has intricate connections with the frontal lobes.
The work of Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin has been particularly valuable not only in the traditional field of neuropsychology but also in the new field of positive psychology. In his book The Emotional Life of Your Brain (2012), Davidson describes the biochemical interaction between the limbic system and the frontal lobes. To simplify his findings, the frontal lobes are involved in both higher level thought and emotion. This fact suggests that our thinking affects the way we feel and vice versa.
The implication is that we can use our thoughts to change our feelings in a very important way – that is toward happiness. For me, this is the essence of positive psychology. The power of positive psychology lies within the process of intentionally using thought to change emotion.
Through functional MRI (fMRI) technology, Davidson demonstrated that the left side of the frontal lobe – known as the left prefrontal cortex – is more active when people feel happy. In contrast the right side of the frontal lobe –the right prefrontal cortex – is more active when people feel sad. Thus, by learning what stimulates the left prefrontal cortex we can encourage or even train people to be happier. Similarly, by learning what calms the activity in the right prefrontal cortex we can discourage or train people to reduce sadness.
Does this sound far-fetched? I’m guessing that it might. But consider the state of the art treatment for anxiety and depression. Research has proven time and again that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective intervention for treating anxiety and depression. Simply put, what CBT tells us is that we can change the way we think through repeated exposures to thinking healthy thoughts, avoidance of unhealthy thoughts, and engagement in healthy behaviors. Doing these things strengthens the left prefrontal cortex – the feel good center of the brain.
Davidson tells us that other things can facilitate the activity of this positive neural network. Meditation (especially mindfulness meditation) can both strengthen the activity of the left prefrontal cortex and reduce the activity in the right prefrontal cortex.
Both fun and social interaction impact the function of the brain. Enjoying pleasurable activities, doing something that seems to make time stand still, spending time with loved ones, pursuing meaning in its many forms, and celebrating accomplishments stimulate the activity in your left prefrontal cortex.
Finally, physical exercise can strengthen the feel good centers of the brain including those in both the mammalian and reptilian brain. In particular, exercising in new and different ways has been found to stimulate the release of natural feel-good chemicals (neurotransmitters).
By doing any or all of these activities, you are literally changing the way your brain works – and by doing that you can change your life for the better – not just for today, but for years to come.
Dr. Bill Conklin is a psychologist practicing in East Tennessee. Bill has applied the principles of positive psychology since the late 1990s. He has coordinated the development of A.P.T. – Automatic Positive Thinking™ a group positive psychological intervention. For information:
1. Read the Article below.
2. Assignment: Take 10 notes on the reading and write a summary of what you read.
The Exercise/Sleep Connection
Everyone’s body temperature naturally goes up slightly in the daytime and back down at night, reaching its low just before dawn. Decreasing body temperature seems to be a trigger, signaling the body that it’s time to sleep. Vigorous exercise temporarily raises the body temperature as much as two degrees.Twenty or 30 minutes of aerobic exercise is sufficient to keep the body temperature at this higher level for a period of four to five hours, after which it drops lower than if you hadn’t exercised. This lower body temperature is what helps you sleep better. So if you exercise five to six hours before going to bed, you will be attempting to sleep at the same time your temperature is beginning to go down.That’s the best way to maximize exercise’s beneficial effects on sleep.
Exercise and sleep have a more complicated relationship than many people realize. The majority of people claim that they don’t exercise on a regular basis because they are too tired. Hmmm. Could that have something to do with sleep habits, perhaps? Chances are good that it does.
If there were a competition to determine which lifestyle habit would win the title of “best intention never acted on,” exercise would probably win. The reason we intend to exercise is that we all know how good it is for us. And research finds new benefits every day. Regular exercise improves heart health and blood pressure, builds bone and muscle, helps combat stress and muscle tension, and can even improve mood.
Add one more benefit: sound sleep. Did you know that exercise can help you sleep sounder and longer and feel more awake during the day? It’s true. But the key is found in the type of exercise you choose and the time you participate in it during the day.
What time of the day do you think exercise would best help you sleep? Morning? Afternoon? Evening? Right before bed?
Exercising vigorously right before bed or within about three hours of your bedtime can actually make it harder to fall asleep. This surprises many people; it’s often thought that a good workout before bed helps you feel more tired. In actuality, vigorous exercise right before bed stimulates your heart, brain and muscles — the opposite of what you want at bedtime. It also raises your body temperature right before bed, which, you’ll soon discover, is not what you want.
Morning exercise can relieve stress and improve mood. These effects can indirectly improve sleep, no doubt. To get a more direct sleep-promoting benefit from morning exercise, however, you can couple it with exposure to outdoor light. Being exposed to natural light in the morning, whether you’re exercising or not, can improve your sleep at night by reinforcing your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
When it comes to having a direct effect on getting a good night’s sleep, it’s vigorous exercise in the late afternoon or early evening that appears most beneficial. That’s because it raises your body temperature above normal a few hours before bed, allowing it to start falling just as you’re getting ready for bed. This decrease in body temperature appears to be a trigger that helps ease you into sleep.
The type of vigorous workout we’re talking about is a cardiovascular workout. That means you engage in some activity in which you keep your heart rate up and your muscles pumping continuously for at least 20 minutes. Although strength-training, stretching, yoga, and other methods of exercise are beneficial, none match the sleep-enhancing benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
Try to schedule at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three or four times a week. Choose whatever activity you enjoy. Walk to and from work, or walk the dog. Jog, swim, bike, ski, jump rope, dance or play tennis — just make it part of your routine.
If you have any serious medical conditions, are very overweight, or haven’t exercised in years, talk to your doctor about your plans for exercising before you begin. Be sure to start exercising slowly, gradually increasing your workout time and intensity, so you don’t get sidelined by injury. Remember, regular exercise can help you feel, look and sleep better.
The effect that sunlight has on the sleep-wake cycle can be just as complex. Learn about this connection on the next page.
Assignment: Watch the video on Chris Tracht. Then answer the questions below.