In my last post I wrote about the intelligent brain, governed mostly by our pre frontal cortex. I also spoke about the primitive brain, with the most influential bit of this brain being the amygdala and our fight/flight button. The amygdala is associated closely with another part of the brain, the Hypothalamus. I give you the name so you can research more if you wish, though in short the hypothalamus regulates chemical responses in the body and mind.
Chemicals we hear of the most are adrenaline or norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Today I would like to talk about how we stay logical, positive and coping. Serotonin and dopamine.
Serotonin is what we want to have consistently in our bodies to cope with life. Good levels of serotonin keep the glass half full, help us see the funny side and ultimately help us cope with life. Serotonin is made in the gut so eating well will help keep your serotonin levels consistent. Neuroscientists have also discovered that positive actions, positive interactions and positive thinking also help us keep that constant flow of serotonin. In Solution Focused Therapy we call it the 3 P's and we encourage you to find your own 3P's and do more of it! Getting some good 3P's can be phoning a friend for a catch up, cuddling your cat or thinking about making something nice for dinner. Serotonin really appreciates the simple things in life.
When we don't have enough serotonin we struggle a bit more, feel a bit flat and a bit stuck in a rut. People can be prescribed serotonin in the form of antidepressants which help utilise the serotonin we have in our bodies already, but they cannot create more for us without some side effects. the side effects are due to the serotonin attaching itself to parts of our brain that don't need it and can decrease our appetite, motivation and libido. Creating our own serotonin through the 3P'sis the best way to ensure we are getting all the good stuff and no side effects. Antidepressants are such a wonderful invention to help those who need some external help and can provide people with that extra boost to keep getting better, but the decision to make a full recovery must come from your mind first and foremost. Start small with one P, stick at it for a week and you will see a difference.
Dopamine was originally seen as the 'reward' or 'pleasure' chemical but we know now it's more relevant to motivation and movement - the desire to spring into action. When we are going about our normal day low levels of dopamine are released. This is controlled by our pre frontal cortex (read the blog below for more info). If our prefrontal cortex didn't regulate this release of dopamine we would be crazed, purely pleasure seeking beings with a disregard for most other things - not ideal when you have to sit in meetings all day and watch the kid's nativity. Dopamine output increases when we get excited about something - we begin imagining what the end goal would be and dopamine makes you want to get up and start working towards that goal.
However, there is such a thing as too much dopamine. Let's imagine when you were a child and you were allowed some sweets, or a teenager getting ready to go clubbing with your friends, then an adult getting your first job and driving your car. None of these things now give you quite that same rush, so it takes a bit more to get that "dopamine fix". You need bigger goals to keep you motivated. This is where some people begin to become unsatisfied with our lives and involve themselves in more risky behaviours. For some, it's plane tickets but for others - it's drugs. Certain class A's give a dopamine hit almost 1000x more than anything the body can naturally produce, it's easy then - to lose that PFC logical control and become that kind of dopamine chaser. Addiction can be overcome with a lot of work to engage that pre frontal cortex, so back to your 3P's. Ask for help.
With social media showing us what it would be like to be a billionaire, or have the perfect photoshopped body it's easy to quite frankly, dream too big. Unless you want to be the next huge entrepreneur and make SO many sacrifices in your personal life it's time to really start appreciating the small things. They're what's real and that is where we exist.
In your initial consultation I will talk about your brain basics, how our thoughts determine our wellbeing, why we can struggle sometimes and what we can do about it.
It helps enormously if you can understand how your brain is working. At the front of your brain, you have your pre-frontal cortex. This is your conscious part, the part that is aware of world events and interactions. The PFC is attached to a vast intellectual resource, the intelligent mind, this is the part that only humans have which is why we have more advanced intelligence and build houses, drive cars and have jobs.
When we use this part of our brain, we are logical, methodical and positive – solution focused!
The other part of our brain is the original caveman part. The most influential part of this Primitive Brain is the amygdala – this is our fight/flight/freeze response. For those of you who have animals (and especially horses!) you will have heard this, I’m sure. Of course, we still need our amygdala in this modern-day world – to get us to jump back onto the pavement if a car beeps at us, to help increase our adrenaline before a competition – but we don’t need it to the extremes of cavemen days – there aren’t any polar bears or other wild tribesmen to fight off in our every-day life (generally, I would hope).
Our Primitive Brain and the amygdala unfortunately has not developed as quickly as our modern day world, so sometimes it will create a fight, flight or freeze reaction that ends up affecting us too much, we have renamed these primitive terms into unwanted pathologies:
Fight = Anger Issues
Flight = Anxiety
Freeze = Depression
So, in our sessions we need to work towards understanding exactly what is causing you to shift from your intelligent, logical, positive brain to your primitive, angry, anxious and depressed brain
Because the primitive brain has to operate from a negative perspective, it catastrophises and clings onto the smallest irrational and negative thoughts. The more time we spend thinking negatively, our brain creates neural pathways, think of this a bit like a stream – following the dips in terrain to travel along. The more time this negative stream is allowed to travel that route, the stronger the current will get and before we know it, we have a fast flowing river sending you and keeping you in a pool of negativity, depression and anxiety.
Luckily, our brain is capable of making changes in these pathways throughout our lifetime, this is called neuroplasticity. So those negative and primitive thoughts you have been stuck in are very easily and quickly reprogrammed following a bit of training. Just like going to the gym, you wouldn’t complete a single workout and expect muscles, so this new positive way of thinking may seem tricky at first, but stick with it for a couple of weeks and you will be on a roll.
Start out by writing one positive thing that has happened each day, as big or as small as you like. Then try three things. Then start writing down what you’re looking forward to tomorrow. You will notice changes quickly.
Solution Focused Therapists want to give you the tools to maintain your healthy brain function, in the nicest possible way, we don’t want you to keep coming back for years on end – we want to hand you the keys, so you can open the doors.
My name is Hannah Walters and I am a Solution-Focused Hypnotherapist based online and in Horsham, West Sussex. I hold a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Hypnotherapy from the prestigious Clifton Practice. I am registered with the National Council for Hypnotherapy (NCH) and the Association for Solution Focused Hypnotherapists (AfSFH), and I hold a current DBS, First Aid and Safeguarding Certificate. Additionally, I am a qualified Equestrian Coach and enjoy teaching and riding horses in my spare time.