Written by: Fanny Elizaga, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Cultivating Emotional Resilience Maybe Easier Than You Thought
The fascinating field of neuroscience is constantly evolving. One area that has seen exciting advancements is the study of networks in the brain. Using the new brain-scan technology "Diffusion Tensor Imaging," neuroscientists were able to map out the ways in which different brain regions interact with others.
Network neuroscience makes it easier to explain how the brain works and how we can manipulate different structures and functions with our thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs. We can "see" where our worries and fears are occurring – in real-time – and how they interfere with our ability to achieve desired goals; it also provides new evidence showing why contemplative forms of meditation improve the overall functioning of our brain.
Even taking 10-60 seconds to mindfully relax and become aware of our constantly changing thoughts and feelings will help balance and integrate many key networks in the brain that are essential for maintaining optimal psychological health. Making a daily gratitude list or practicing kindness or forgiveness will also balance brain networks.
Here is What the Research Shows:
Most of the new research is focused on the interaction – called "functional connectivity"–between the Default Mode, Executive, and Salience Networks.
Other important areas include the emotional networks of caring, curiosity, social playfulness, grief, rage, lust, and fear.
These instinctual emotions – if they are strong enough – will stimulate the Motivation Network to release the neurochemical dopamine ‒ which stimulates the rest of your brain to take action, either to get away from painful experiences (which will release a cascade of stress chemicals) or to seek out pleasurable experiences and potentially rewarding goals.
As the dopamine moves into the upper regions of your cerebral cortex, it first stimulates the Default Mode Network (DMN), also called the Imagination Network – where your brain unconsciously imagines all of the possible ways to respond to the current situation. It is attempting to predict and anticipate the future – as a way to keep you safe.
And this is where the Salience Network (SN) becomes active. Its job is to look at those fantasies and decide which ones deserve the most attention. It puts a "value" on our emotional and imaginative experiences (which include feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that could lead to depression and other psychological problems. Your SN is also the center of your social brain. It creates your ability to feel empathy and compassion toward others. It also contains von-Economo neurons (fast-firing neurons that can intuitively find creative solutions to your problems).
Next, your Executive Network (EN) becomes active – as you consciously become aware of the emotions, feelings, and potential actions that you need to initiate to either achieve a desired goal, move away from unpleasant situations, and evaluate the intuitive impressions generated by your SN and DMN. The key "node" in your EN is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex ‒ a small area just above and behind your eyes ‒ and this is where you consciously call up old memories to help you plan and decide what actions you need to take to carry out a specific task and achieve specific goals.
But what happens when you hit an obstacle you haven't encountered before?
Your EN briefly shuts off, and your creative, imaginative DMN becomes briefly active.
Also, it turns out that you can't focus on a task for more than 10-30 seconds before you use up the neurochemicals needed to keep you focused and attentive. In this case, your EN takes a rest, and your mind begins to wander and daydream.
If you spend too much time in your DMN, you'll be trapped in states of anxiety and confusion, but if you spend too much time staying focused – you'll experience work burnout.
The solution? You need to rapidly shift back and forth between your DMN and EN networks – alternating from your daydreaming to the focused attention state – in order to maintain a healthy brain. Activating your Salient Network will modulate and balance the activity on the other networks.
Here's what's important: By consciously choosing to relax and become aware of your thinking and imagination – through meditation or mindfulness – you create the ideal balance between all three networks. When you are in this state of "Relaxed Mindful Awareness," you can watch all your positive and negative thoughts and feelings without reacting to them. This helps you to build emotional resilience. Mindfulness meditation stimulates the Salience Network, slows down the worry/distraction processes in the Imagination/Default Network, and allows you to focus your attention on what is essential.
Let me introduce you to one of the easiest ways to balance your brain networks: Gratitude...
BUILD EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE THRU THE POWER OF GRATITUDE
Use this specific mental practice when you catch yourself worrying, slipping into self-doubt or ruminating anxious thoughts. Follow the recipe below.
First, let's get you into a state of presence – deeply grounded and mindfully aware:
Start by yawning 3 to 5 times and stretch very, very slowly.
1. Next, become Aware, Acknowledge and Notice your emotions, thoughts, or negativity.
The first step is to bring awareness. Catch yourself when you slip into self-doubt, rumination, anxiety, and fear. Notice and allow those emotions without reacting.
2. Then, Change the Channel: Shift to a Moment of Gratitude.
Change the Channel: Shift and feel gratitude: Think of one thing you're grateful for. Your home. Your job. Your health. Your family. Vocalize what are you thankful for with intention and emotion, allowing yourself to feel the gratitude. Notice where you sense gratitude in your body; what lights up, or feels warm or relaxed when you are grateful.
This moment of deep appreciation turns off all the negative chatter instantaneously. It is that powerful.
Take a moment to acknowledge and notice how your worries, fears or anxiety have disappeared and a sense of well-being and calm has set in.
3. Lastly, Reframe and Rewire Your Brain.
Here's where the real work begins. You start creating a new mindset by savoring this grateful moment for 15 seconds or more. New neuropathways start forming: repeating this exercise frequently will rewire your brain and develop emotional resilience.
Give it a try! This simple but powerful strategy can transform your life thru the power of neuroplasticity.
To the power of gratitude,
This post was mindfully crafted by Fanny Elizaga, OTR/L, certified Neuro-Coach, and mindfulness trainer.
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Click HERE to visit my website and learn how these brain-based strategies can help you get unstuck, develop emotional resilience and fully embody your brilliance.
Fanny Elizaga, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Fanny Elizaga is an occupational therapist, certified Neuro-Coach, and trauma-informed mindfulness trainer. Over the years, she has embraced her passion for learning and applying holistic modalities for mind-body healing in her personal and professional life. Fanny is also a Reiki master practitioner and certified instructor in the art of Qi-Gong. Fanny inspires, empowers, and educates her clients by teaching brain-enhancing tools for self-improvement, expanding out of their comfort zone, and thriving. Fanny is also the founder and trainer of Neuro-Wellness Academy; she is genuinely passionate about creating content and courses based on practical brain science – for wellness, resilience, personal transformation.
Causal interactions between fronto-parietal central executive and default-mode networks in humans. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1311772110
The effects of gratitude expression on neural activity. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26746580/