Rewire Your Brain for Less Anxiety & More Love and Acceptance
Is it possible to rewire your brain? Brains are all the rage right now. From the brains of concussed pro football players to those of the tiniest fetus. We can’t get enough.
A quick Google search will highlight a wealth of articles like these:
• 10 Ways to Boost Your Brainpower
• How to Fuel Your Brain with Superfoods
• Can You Rewire Your Brain?
• What Your Brain Scan Says about Your Social Status
And then there are all the books and websites that implore you to rewire your brain for this or that:
• Rewire Your Brain to Break Bad Habits or Addiction
• Rewire Your Brain for Weight Loss Success
• Rewire Your Brain to Be Positive and Productive
Ah. Those are the ones that really reel us in, don’t they?
Why? Because they promise something most of us long for: lasting change in areas we thought were unchangeable.
We’re not as “stuck” as we think we are
Who wouldn’t want to be rewired? To literally retrain our minds away from some of that ineffective childhood programming? To sever the wiring that supports the sneaky negativity that accompanied a troubling break up or traumatic life transition?
Well, the science says you’re in luck. It is very possible to improve your life and retrain your brain in some of the most important and satisfying areas of your life.
How? The experts call it neuroplasticity. Essentially, the brain is not the genetically fixed organ scientists once believed. The brain can change, and so can your behavior with intentional retraining. It’s a matter of growing new “wiring” or neural pathways to replace the problematic ones. And that bit of scientific knowledge changes everything!
Wow. You’re not stuck with the anxiety that plagues you. You can love differently and deeply. You are able to accept yourself and others and finally move forward!
So, what does it look like to rewire your brain?
To really take advantage of your brain’s ability to change, you need to address your thought life, relationships, and a genuine ability to reflect on both gratefully. Consider the following:
Rewire Your Brain to Lose the Weight of Anxiety
Neuroscientific research indicates that some degree of anxiety is normal and even optimal for neuroplasticity. After all, fight or flight is necessary at times. Still, too much or too little anxiety is not helpful. Many scientists, including researcher John B. Arden, Ph. D, author of, “Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life,” note that it is possible to tap into your own parasympathetic nervous system in an effort to calm yourself down.
The key to managing anxiety? Confront it and make it useful for you.
Essentially, it is important to engage your thoughts and challenge your automatic responses (including your body’s responses) to people so that new neural pathways begin retraining your brain.
• Do something daily to reduce stress. Regular breathing exercises throughout the day. Get outside for a walk. Practice prayer or meditation.
• Ask yourself questions regarding the reality of your perceptions. Are you unsafe? Or do you feel unsafe? Noting the difference when you feel anxious can help.
• Face your fears rather than avoiding them. Go out of your way to make eye contact, connect, and push past the fear of doing so.
The research says this will help strengthen your vagus nerve, thereby improving “vagal tone.” This is a neural network that soothes the stress response so that you can calm down, accurately read a situation, and connect with other people safely.
Retrain your Brain to Gain More Love and Acceptance
Your brain is extremely sensitive to the signal and intentions of others. Your brain’s mirror neurons allow you to mirror someone else, or to feel what they feel without even thinking it. It’s like “brain empathy.”
To rewire your brain for more love and acceptance, it is important to routinely and actively engage the mirror neuron system in healthful ways.
• Identify relationships that you enjoy and look forward to. Reach out to that person regularly to build a strong love and acceptance “wiring” in your brain.
• Volunteer your time or give to your community in some way routinely in ways that connect you with others.
Fully develop that empathetic sensibility.
According to Dr. Arden, “Some researchers have proposed that experiencing empathy and compassion through the mirror neuron system is equivalent to having compassion for yourself.” Thus, “giving is receiving” is a brain-based truth. Insensitivity and selfishness are essentially bad for your brain and your mental health. In contrast, compassion (including self-compassion) and loving relationships are good for your brain and your mental health.
Rewire your Brain to Enjoy a Life of Gratitude
In 2009, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a study indicating that the region of our brains called the hypothalamus swings into action when we feel gratitude, or behave kindly. Why is that a big deal? Because the hypothalamus is a big deal. It regulates appetite, sleep patterns, body temperature, metabolism, and growth, among other bodily functions. So this research seems to reveal that gratitude is integral to our happiness. In fact, we really can’t function well without it.
That really is a big deal.
Research shows too, that gratitude is addictive—in a good way. Both performing acts of kindness and experiencing true gratitude releases dopamine, helping to form strong neural pathways and motivate us to seek out that natural high again and again by giving thanks and doing good things for others.
It’s also then that the mirror neuron system comes into play again, as it is the part of the brain involved in mindfulness prayer and meditation. Those practices, used for periods of grateful reflection, help rewire the brain for calm and focus, thus promoting better health and deeper connections with other people.
If you’re ready for real change, develop a new mindful attitude of gratefulness, step outside your routine to serve others in community with a supportive group of people, and look into ways that develop new body-based responses to stress.
Many people can make big improvements on their own with these methods. But, if change feels overwhelming or elusive, support from a trusted friend, pastor, mentor, or therapist can really help. Whether it’s working with me, or setting up accountability and support with a friend, don’t wait to start reprogramming yourself for less anxiety and more acceptance.