Neurofeedback training with the NeurOptimal system is an effective and non-invasive method to improve brain health. Watch our success stories here. Besides brain training with neurofeedback, there are more drug-free ways to improve your overall health. Read these interesting articles from our social media feed.
- 7 Ways Sleep Affects The Brain (And What Happens If It Doesn't Get Enough)
- How to Turn Down Our “What If” Brain (Mindful)
- 5 Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience
- Mindfulness for Anxiety: A podcast
Articles about Brain Health:
The brain needs its sleep more than any other organ. Here's the science behind that.
For a long time, researchers weren’t quite sure why we sleep. There are a number of different theories. Some are evolutionary: For instance, sleep keeps us out of trouble at night and away from animals who wake up and hunt after the sun goes down. Some are physiological: Sleep lets us conserve precious energy. And some are anecdotal: Parents joke that they’d go nuts if sleep didn’t exist, since it affords them a much-needed break from their kids. But the reality is that the brain does a lot of work while we’re sleeping—even though we’re unconscious, this doesn’t at all mean the brain is “off.” In fact, in many ways, it's incredibly "on."
The RAND research group just came out with a 100-page analysis of how sleep affects us and what sleep deprivation can do to us—and to the economy. They estimate that between lost work and poor performance at work from lack of sleep, the U.S. alone loses $411 billion each year. Though businesses and policy makers may be interested in the financial repercussions of sleep deprivation, these repercussions stem from people being unwell because of it, which underlines the very real consequences of sleep deprivation.
Recent research has laid out some of the reasons why we need sleep, and all the functions the brain seems to perform while we’re sleeping. There's more to figure out, but here are a few reasons why the brain needs sleep, and why things tend to go downhill without it.
Sleep helps solidify memory
One of the central functions of sleep is that it helps consolidate long-term memory—it seems to do this, not only through strengthening certain neural connections, but also through pruning back unwanted ones. The brain makes a lot of connections during the day, but not all of them are worth saving; so sleep is a time in which the brain streamlines the connections it “needs.”
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One of the top benefits of Neurofeedback Training is improvement in sleep. Get practical tips on how to sleep better!
In this article from Mindful Magazine "How to Turn Down Our “What If” Brain, the author explains what happens when fear takes control of our thoughts and what we can do to counter-act fear.
Fear has the volume control on your thoughts:
The part of our brain designed to keep us safe is Frightened Fred (along with his friends Big Boss Bootsy and Alerting Allie) who can trigger our ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. This part of the brain has been brilliantly effective in the survival of humankind, but it can also get in the way of our daily living sometimes. We have become GREAT at listening to Frightened Fred and spotting the potential pitfalls at every turn: “Did that person in the supermarket just give me a dodgy look?” “Is that chap standing a bit too close to my kids?”
We are primed to take care of our own survival and that of our off-spring. Some days, Fred turns up the volume and we focus all our attention on these risks, potential dangers, failures and worst-case scenarios.
Sometimes I listen to fear. Sometimes I don’t.
Recently, I was invited to speak at a big conference next year. I came off the phone feeling dizzy with excitement. I sat down with a huge grin on my face and allowed the feelings of self- congratulatory praise to come flooding in. Except they didn’t. Fred started making an appearance. “What if I make a terrible mistake?” “What if I face-plant on stage?” “What if I quote someone’s research and that person is actually there, and they tell me I’ve got it all wrong?”
“What if…?” “What if…?”
Let me slow this down. Fred sees the potential threat of a big crowd looking at me. Fred decides to warn me: “Don’t do it, it will end in tears!”
Sometimes I listen to Fred (remember he IS trying to keep me safe) and sometimes he is silenced by Problem Solving Pete and Calming Carl. They say things like: “But what’s the best that could happen?” and “If the worst case scenario does happen, you’ll still be okay – except perhaps for face-planting, you may need medical assistance for that one.”
How do we learn to turn down the hum of unhelpful fear-based negativity?
Here’s one way: Gratitude
In Woods, Froh and Geraghty’s review of the gratitude research they explain gratitude as “noticing and appreciating the positive in the world”. This could include: the appreciation of other people’s help; feelings of awe when we see something amazing; focusing on the positive in the ‘here and now’ moments; or an appreciation rising from the understanding that life is short.
Let me introduce you to Grateful Gerty, our brain’s gratitude representative. The research tells us that building up Grateful Gerty’s strength is associated with a whole host of benefits. Gerty can make Frightened Fred simmer down and reduce anxiety. Expressing gratitude provides a path to more positive emotions. People who express more gratitude have also been found to have better physical and psychological health.
Robert Emmons is one of the world leading gratitude researchers. Here’s what he says about the benefits of gratitude:
“We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:
Physical benefits of gratitude:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
Psychological benefits of gratitude:
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness
Social benefits of gratitude:
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- Feel less lonely and isolated
- More outgoing
How does gratitude work?
When we search for things to be grateful for, neuroscientist Alex Korb explains that this activates the part of our brain that releases dopamine (the feel-good hormone) and it can also boost serotonin production (low levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with depression).
Gratitude can change our thinking habits. Regularly spotting the good things in our life can also make it more likely that (even when we’re not looking for them) we see more positives.
And gratitude works on a social level too. It can help us feel more connected to others, which in turn can improve our well-being.
One Simple Way to Strengthen Gratitude:
Grab a journal and, before you go to sleep each night, write 3 things that went well that day and why you think they went well. Keep doing it for a week. That’s it.
When I first read the research on gratitude, I felt like there must have been some pages missing. “So, they wrote about things they were grateful for, and then they…”? But no. It really is as simple as that.
As Froh and Bono point out, we can be great at analyzing why we’re anxious or sad. But when we’re happy, we don’t often stop to ponder why. Mainly because when we are experiencing positive emotions, it’s a signal that all is well in the world; we can relax and enjoy ourselves.
Keeping a gratitude journal allows us to focus on the positive things. It teaches us how to strengthen Gerty’s ability to spot them in the first place – and how to savor them. Some people worry that they won’t be able to find anything to be grateful for. While it’s true that some days the searching may be harder than on others, Korb reminds us that “it’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place.”
There will always be more important things than gratitude.
Pets will need taking to the vets, reports will need to be finished, kids will need feeding, cups will need cleaning… gratitude can quickly fall down the ‘to do’ list. But that’s the challenge with taking a proactive approach to well-being. It’s hard to prioritize because you can’t easily see the things you’re preventing. But here’s what’s at stake:
- You may be preventing the onset of depression or anxiety.
- You may be moving yourself further up the well-being spectrum towards thriving.
But scientifically, it’s very hard to prove all of that.
Why you should be a scientist of your own world:
Just like we know why it’s good to eat healthily and exercise, my mission is to help share the research on ways that we can all take better care of our well-being. I want people to have access to evidence-based ways to improve their mental health.
Some of these ideas might work for you, some of them might not. So, what I’d encourage you to do is this: become a scientist of you own life, and if you decide to try keeping a gratitude journal, observe how it feels for you.
And maybe, just maybe, Gerty will get stronger.
When the road gets rocky, what do you do?
A mentor of mine recently passed away, and I was heartbroken—so I tried my best to avoid thinking about it. I didn’t even mention it to my family because I didn’t want those sad feelings to resurface.
In other words, I took the very enlightened approach of pretend it didn’t happen—one that’s about as effective as other common responses such as get angry, push people away, blame yourself, or wallow in the pain.
Even for the relatively self-aware and emotionally adept, struggles can take us by surprise. But learning healthy ways to move through adversity—a collection of skills that researchers call resilience—can help us cope better and recover more quickly, or at least start heading in that direction.
The Greater Good Science Center has collected many resilience practices on our website Greater Good in Action, alongside other research-based exercises for fostering kindness, connection, and happiness. Here are 12 of those resilience practices (squeezed into five categories), which can help you confront emotional pain more skillfully.
1. Change the narrative
When something bad happens, we often relive the event over and over in our heads, rehashing the pain. This process is called rumination; it’s like a cognitive spinning of the wheels, and it doesn’t move us forward toward healing and growth.
The practice of Expressive Writing can move us forward by helping us gain new insights on the challenges in our lives. It involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper, not to create a memoir-like masterpiece.
2. Face your fears
The practices above are helpful for past struggles, ones that we’ve gained enough distance from to be able to get some perspective. But what about knee-shaking fears that we’re experiencing in the here and now?
The Overcoming a Fear practice is designed to help with everyday fears that get in the way of life, such as the fear of public speaking, heights, or flying. We can’t talk ourselves out of such fears; instead, we have to tackle the emotions directly.
The first step is to slowly, and repeatedly, expose yourself to the thing that scares you—in small doses. For example, people with a fear of public speaking might try talking more in meetings, then perhaps giving a toast at a small wedding. Over time, you can incrementally increase the challenge until you’re ready to nail that big speech or TV interview.
3. Practice self-compassion
Self-compassion involves offering compassion to ourselves: confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment. In one study, participants in an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion program reported more mindfulness and life satisfaction, with lower depression, anxiety, and stress afterward compared to people who didn’t participate—and the benefits lasted up to a year.
One practice, the Self-Compassion Break, is something you can do any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress. It has three steps, which correspond to the three aspects of self-compassion:
- Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”
- Remember that you’re not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” or “We all feel this way” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
- Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like “May I give myself compassion” or “May I accept myself as I am” or “May I be patient.”
If being kind to yourself is a challenge, an exercise called How Would You Treat a Friend? could help. Here, you compare how you respond to your own struggles—and the tone you use—with how you respond to a friend’s. Often, this comparison unearths some surprising differences and valuable reflections: Why am I so harsh on myself, and what would happen if I weren’t?
The Practice Of Mindfulness Meditation Is The Latest Trend In Effective Drug-Free Approaches To Decreasing Anxiety And Stress.
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The NeurOptimal neurofeedback system we use for sessions and home system rentals is a life-changing technology, solidly founded in neuroscience, that can significantly enhance the humanexperience. Learn how it can help with sleep issues, depression and anxiety.