Our quarantined brain lies to us and insists that traps of depression, panic, fear, and anxiety offer no exit strategy. This lie may appear supported by the National Institute of Mental Health reports that well over 58 million people suffer from anxiety disorders. This series of five blogs, however, offers 50 proven exit tools for our personal escape to decrease anxiety in tough times.
Find the first 10 tools in previous blog, and enjoy tools 11 – 20 in this blog. Play with suggestions that relate to personal anxiety triggers and ignore the rest. Why allow anxiety to become our sucker punch to the gut? Together, we can step away from the many millions who live with anxiety disorders and let’s inspire others to do the same.
Tool 11 starts with risks we take to steer our brains beyond boredom. Not that we waltz into a bear cave in spring with a steak strapped to our foot or expect anxiety to flee in vicious battles that would surely erupt in that cave. But a risk separates us at times from the calm or emotional quiet we crave and the calamity or chaos we live.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 11: Risk like Martin Luther King and we propel a dream beyond frustration that many hold toward tragedies such as racism. What dream do we hold that’s worth risking a trek to the peaks? If we lack awareness of our brain’s wheelhouse for stepping out of comfort zones, while hanging onto comfort, we likely sense danger lurking, and miss extravagant opportunities. Risks are actually made harder by hiding out alone in safe zones, just as sailing is impossible for a ship hidden in a dry dock.
We train best for risks when times are calm or trusted friends are nearby to
determine how well we’ll weather challenges with nobody watching our
back. Risk-takers who believe pray, and trust God in chancy situations or when things go wrong. We all fail at times, yet we can learn through taking risks, not to cringe and run when disappointments challenge our emotions. Most agree that a gamblers’ blind risks likely lead to regrets. But are you aware that most seniors interviewed wish they’d taken more risks in life. A survey showed the majority of seniors regretted not taking more risks while they still could. Interestingly, we build capacity for tackling challenges by tackling them. Our courageous or adrenaline-building actions prime our brains for stepping outside comfort zones without stress.
Healthy challenges at any age add the chemical dopamine to fuel and awaken our unique mental capabilities as well as sharpen our vision to deflect danger. Risk amps up courage to drop untested assumptions or anxieties about a friend or loved one, and simply trust they care even if care is not evident. Would you agree that when we take well planned risks to move forward, our unruffled responses to life and to others tend to improve?
We simply act – and the brain does the rest, even without support from others at times. Paul Bach-y-Rita, famous for his work in neuroplasticity, risked supporting a miraculous come-back after his father’s crippling stroke in New York. It seemed he failed a month’s therapy with little progress, and medical experts insisted no more could be done. Brains cannot repair themselves every medical leader argued and nothing else could help their 65 year old father to walk or talk again.
The senior patient spiraled from well-respected professor at City College in NY to complete dependency on others for his basic needs. Anxiety struck the entire family, until they risked that first step. One son, George brought his Papa back to Mexico and began to teach him to crawl again. Using the wall to support his limp shoulder, Bach-y-Rita, inched along clumsily for months, as he and his sons created marble games that required a reach and movement to play on the floor. Cynics in medical schools warned that this was wasted time, and neighbors criticized the Bach-y-Rita family when their papa crawled outside, saying, “They are treating this old man like a dog.”
With every spark of progress, the boys persisted more to help their papa do acts on the opposite side of his weakness and loss. Over time progress began to show, as the brain reorganized itself to take over where damaged parts destroyed abilities. After many more months of crawling and learning to talk again, and through the same painful building of new neuron pathways for language to take over where damaged brain cells failed, Bach-y-Rita returned to teach at City College in New York, at 68, and three years after his stroke.
We too can improve our lives in difficult areas, and reshape prosperity, when we recognize the brain’s proclivities to progress. When we simply risk and persist on the other side of loss.
Younger son, Paul’s life was shaped by what he described as seeing with our brains and not our eyes, as his papa’s brain reorganized itself for new directions. He went on to explain a great deal of the foundations that move research forward today in areas of plasticity – or the brain’s ability to rewire and find solutions when cynics and naysayers shout words of doom and disaster.
Reflection after tool 11 use: Taking stock of risks that failed and those that help me live without anxiety on a tough day. We don’t need to snatch up a spare seat on a rocket ship, sky dive without a parachute or join a gang for thrillers. Our exhilarating free fall towards astonishing new experiences comes after we make choices that illustrate an awareness of how our odds are always stacked in gravity’s favor. Nor do we need to flirt with disaster in order to risk adventures that remove stress.
It takes mental muscle to live with uncertainty where we can least predict possible woes. Yet, have you ever considered that life itself is inherently risky from dawn to dusk? A key recipe that defaults us to stress is our choice for safety at all costs. Fear increases when we place ourselves unprepared at the mercy of inevitable and uncertain risks of life. Just like those many seniors, who regretted too few risks taken during their lives, unprepared and unwilling, we get tossed and tumbled with unpredictable winds of change.
The key is to know when to take risks. No need to begin as if we’re an elf in a Grim fairy tale climbing latest whimsy to secure the treasure of a golden ring. When we believe that life offers more wonder than ruts and routines, we advance as our confident selves, sidestepping those who see our steps as showboating, and beyond those who’d rather we simply play it safe at all costs.
When we give ourselves permission to do something we’ve never done before we also cast nets wider and fulfill passions and purpose worthy of a finer legacy. As we become comfortable taking risks, we also get quicker at moving on from shortcomings and failures. We begin to live a life of excellence, regardless of age or situation. We climb new mountains beyond scary shortcomings that held us back in past, we cling to courage and aspire to enjoy excellence.
Life’s trials may test us, and shape us, they don’t need to rob who we are. We can resist fear for the rewards and treasures of winners, who risk slip ups today, knowing that life is a series of experiments and that the sun will rise again tomorrow.
Even when we feel averse to adventure, and in spite of dares that didn’t go as planned, we each hold a warehouse of tools in our minds to help us take risks that lead to freedom, fun and exhilaration. It’s our reflection about problems or possibilities which provides a positive or negative result. Sure, if we toss all our talents in one ring, any dare may be a dangerous one.
For Helen Keller and for us, there is no adventure in living a life without risk. Her caution that life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all, reminds us not to grow timid and squeamish by not daring at all. To sit around, think about risking only when things are perfect is to immerse ourselves in all facets of a tumultuous outcome, far short of Keller-like ambitions.
Risk-taking offers us a force of courage and humility that radiates from the inside out. Let’s face it, most ventures worth pursuing come with their fair share of risks, and may be costly, but they pay dividends in courage too. And have you noticed that its handmaiden, humility offers us that secret sauce with nothing left to prove to anybody and with courage overflowing in spite of challenges?
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 12: Turn our daily walk into a debate and we can pit two opposing views together and debate them fairly as if we alone were two passionate debaters. This tool helps us build kindness to replace conflict that slips in when we use poor tone to disagree, especially with those we love. If we’ve suffered from or caused any conflicts, this risk-taking tool is for us.
We struggle to discuss our unique differences in ways that benefit all if we lack mental skills to hear and empathize with people who disagree. We see our only defense as judgment, avoid or attack. See where the frustration enters our amygdala and breaks communication?
No wonder anxiety results between people who hold deep, rigid and unquestioned beliefs. Pause for a moment and consider an opinionated or narrow-minded idea you’ve heard or spoken lately. Listen to one person tell another why one view is far more qualified to ensure one-sided versions of a topic that dismisses any view on the other side. Notice put-downs or attacks that fall like pellets in a hail storm? Or imagine the silent killer that torpedoes good people on either side. In one-sided views, we often hear diminishing words such as bogus or ridiculous to describe differences. Not surprisingly for that reason, opinionated comments online, rarely attach names or ID beside terrible tone tactics that refuse to learn from differences.
While it’s true that opinionated people may be highly specialized in their fields, it’s also true that brain-powered tools engage other people’s views in ways that value diversity by learning deeply from another side in ways that benefit all. This tool is challenging initially but stress-reducing-rewards are life-changing. When my graduate leadership students wrote papers to engage opposing views with equal evidence on two opposite sides, they struggled with their personal bias for one side only at first, yet eventually reported sheer delight in learning to hear and value another passionate view on controversial topics. We can do the same to cut conflict and increase calm, caring communication.
Reflection after tool 12 use: A few mental tweaks can help us retain our calm and love those close to us who disagree with us. My personal love for research leaves me understanding a thing more clearly when I look at its opposite hues and shapes through other people’s eyes. Have you noticed that too? It’s a stretch at first as it involves practice debating alone before we engage others. Stress-free results make this skill more than worth the challenge. Ignore it to our mental health peril. How so?
To diminish opposing views is to cause flame wars. Without diverse ideas, we tend to truncate discussions that could lead to amazing understanding from deeper and wider angles across different minds. Research helps us to discover and support with specific evidence and a calming sense of humility, rather than defend our views and attack others we care about. Great communicators often tend to avoid polemics in favor of a vibrant back-and-forth that reflects value on interesting opposites, in ways that generate a new whole with facts from both sides.
Take the topic of war and peace as cultural norms. Some say peace offers a natural escape from our broken world. Brain gurus would add that it not only rewires brains, but can blast open communication paths where all benefit. Peacekeepers who model the art and science of disagreement tend to risk asking, “What if…?” and engage tools such as brainstorming, listening, admitting mistakes, trying out other people’s ideas, and evaluating alternative solutions that remove guns from the equation. To act vulnerably or compassionately is to awaken serotonin, the brain’s aha fuel to sustain common ground by engaging opposing views.
We build innovative projects together when we borrow genuinely from ideas on opposite sides of an issue. If we take a tone survey we will spot any weaker skills we have here to help us grow and increase our intrapersonal intelligence to engage differences. See how we begin to repair anxiety-causing-conflicts?
To value opposing views is to free people too. In fact I keep this mental health tool nearby and ready to use at a moments notice. Not to change other people but to change my own approach and show the genuine care I feel for others who differ. Commenters from opposite sides leave us learning more from unexpected melodies on interesting topics. Worth another look at tone tactics that replace flame wars with peace plans to move genius ideas forward together?
When we turn our daily walk into a debate and pit two opposing views together mentally, we can debate counterpoints more fairly, as if we alone were two passionate debaters (not one opinionated one). This tool tricks the brain to build kindness and replace conflict that slips in when we use poor tone to disagree, especially with those we love. If we’ve suffered from or caused any conflicts, this risk-taking tool is for us, regardless of who else is involved.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 13: A lethargic brain may look great on a slug, but the same lackluster brain in us likely means we are headed to anxiety or depression. Appropriate electrical activity in our brain is as vital to our intelligence and emotional or mental health as electrical lights are essential to our home. Thanks to imaging techniques, researchers can now watch brain waves perform, yet it will take more testing to use that knowledge to rewire our mind for far fewer anxiety-driven episodes.
Luckily in the meantime, we can learn what activities will shift into brain waves from sluggish to speeded up for higher performance. For instance when we listen to certain musical genres) we move our electrical waves from slow or listless waves to a faster wave that inspires innovations and healthy emotional responses to our day. Lifestyle matters here and healthy food, along with exercise impact our brain’s chemical and electrical circuitry.
Delta is the slowest wave and healthy doses kick in to support empathy and deep thought. Anxiety can increase though, from too much activity at this slow level. In Delta wave speeds we pack on another’s baggage as if it were our own, for instance. Wake up feeling emotionally slumped into a corner and Delta electricity provides personal radar and feelings at deep unconscious and sometimes distraught and scary levels. For awhile our brain shifts back and forth between Delta and Theta movement. Yet if we focus on lies about our lack of self-worth, for instance, we can find ourselves locked into sluggish brain waves and imprisoned in despair. In healthy doses however, Delta signals will support meditations, reflection and even a good night’s sleep. We differ in a brain wave’s usefulness. If we read others’ minds, for instance, we likely engage more Delta activity than most. If we tend to step on toes or create conflicts, we likely engage less Delta electrical activity.
Theta waves slow us down yet move at a faster rate than sleepy Delta waves. When our mind and body relaxes through theta wave actions such as listening to classical music, we raise our heart rate and respiration slightly, and our mind tends to move back and forth between creative energy and deep relaxation. It’s important to remember that Theta electricity engages inner or intuitive subconscious, while stimulating activity for emotional well being. We store deep secrets there, which we block out in times of pain, in order to survive emotional challenges we feel unprepared to face.
Researchers predict our brain is organized into a hierarchy of electrical waves that control how one neuron communicates to another neuron.
Reflection after tool 13 use: Consider our emotional health at any moment, and we can determine the effectiveness of brain waves currently operating. Do we feel up or down? Do we hold hope or fight frustration? Brain waves are part of our brain’s chemical and electrical circuitry. If serotonin chemicals fuel our brain waves, we are more likely to be in a reflective or sleepy mode. If cortisol chemicals slow down our brain waves, we could be headed for anxiety or depression disorders.
It is vital to retain healthy chemical and electrical activity because if we grow anxious, we shut down our frontal cortex, where we make better choices in healthier states. Once we shut down that capability we are prone to depression and a lack of vision or exit strategy.
Can you see how we flee from anxiety or fear mongering, and how to relax so we can create more innovative solutions? It’s about our brain’s electrical wiring and about getting it to work mostly in our favor with healthy responses for facing difficulty and retaining delight.
One amazing way I discovered to move past anxiety was to complete and submit every PhD assignment one day early. That simple strategy removed my stress over working full time, trying to parent alone, and completing a challenging PhD. Rather than stressing about PhD tasks, I took delight in relaxing on the day each task was due. I exchanged stress for success with my exit plan for operating chemical and electrical circuitry for sidestepping stress. If I can plan and execute a winning brain based strategy to enjoy a difficult process with balanced brain waves, so can you! Simply identify one event or person that causes stress, and then devise a plan to ensure benefits to all concerned. Then go for it!
Music is an easy, inexpensive, and fun way to alter brain waves. Plans that pre-empt stress can be golden brain wave regulators. Additionally, solutions such a biofeedback also work well for some who hope to speed up or slow down electrical waves.
EEG biofeedback is a mind-body technique that can help us when we lose an ability to pay attention or slip into anxiety or depression. For biofeedback sessions a therapist attaches electrodes to our skin, as a way to send feedback about specific aspects of your body.
Biofeedback make subtle changes to brain waves so we can relax certain muscles slowing heart rate or respiration, or reducing feelings of pain, in ways that improve our emotional, and mental health. Over time brain wave changes can endure without continued use of biofeedback tools. Think of it as altering the speed of a metronome to a more appropriate speed for the mental state we desire.
Check back in the next blog post to see two more brain wave speeds that also demonstrate and determine if our chemical and electrical circuitry works for or against our mental health.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 14: Ready to retire for the day, relax, or plan an awesome and deep adventure, but instead our brain races in all directions at once? Do our moods lately look more like a lightning strike? Or do we enjoy the electrical mental benefits of a light bulb gently switched on? You’ll remember that Tool 13 posted above helped us to amp up sluggish waves. In contrast, this post (and Tool 14 inclusion) offers practical ways we can slow those bullying or aggressive brainwave speeds that tend to intimidate us into panic, when we long to slow down, think deeply or relax.
The first predictor of healthier brain wave action ahead, is an awareness of where we stand at any moment. A healthy brain tends to move its speeds back and forth, shifting gears from slow to fast and visa versa, as our activities or rest require. Often our brains need a bit of support to shift gears down or up. When we recognize how stubbornly sluggish waves indicate depression, and furiously fast racing waves point to possible panic or manic attacks, help comes faster. That mental and emotional awareness allows us to see where and how personal intervention can help. Support can come early and often enough to maintain optimum brain wave speeds, long before we slide into stress related emotional problems or mental disorders.
Not that we’re going for perfection here, yet there are practical exit strategies to move us beyond racing into slower and highly effective creative or relaxing waves. When we capitalize on using all four waves effectively, we also open opportunities to take on mental challenges with more fun and less fury.
Sure, it takes a decision and likely requires a wee action on our part to make it work. It’s well worth our effort though. For instance, music of certain genres often works to rest and relax our minds, so it’s no surprise that music usually worked wonders for international leaders I mentor. Some health professionals and other leaders went on to complete PhDs on the award winning Mita model as a result. Not that we need to become experts, though. Play with ideas offered here to find a strategy that helps us balance brain waves best for our needs, and we enjoy similar benefits. Do share results!
For instance, if we find ourselves laying awake too long at night try this ambient music to alter our waves into sleep or rest mode. Or if unable to think deeply, write clearly or reflect well to create innovative solutions for some area of our lives, we can get instant slow-down help through this ambient music selection. Simply search out an ambient YouTube created for purposes of deep thought or sleep, and hit play. Ear buds work if others choose not to listen to the mood you are after.
My senior VP played music too fast or too slow for my focus needs at times, and we both learned to smile, request a different timbre or don ear buds with an alternative pace that inspired results from focus we needed at that time. Waves will differ depending on what we are after. Whenever we attempt to relax and allow that ambient music to alter our inner metronome in this way, we are also retraining our brains to shift from race mode to rest mode. The more opportunities we nudge our waves into more appropriate speeds, the more our brains will familiarize ways to shift up or down without supportive tools such as music.
Who’d have expected the music we hear, for instance, would alter the brain waves we wear? Mental health includes well balanced brain waves, where we may differ in strategies that fit best, yet where small supports help in large ways. Emotional well-being may take daily attention to retrain brain wave routines using suggested tools provided here. Remain at the helm of mental and emotional health, and we will know when to pull back on external supports. Evidence and outcomes will make it clear when we achieve our optimum speeds.
Is our emotional health ready to handle stressors or surprises our day may deliver? If not a new musical playlist may slow down racing brain waves, to help us out. Over time, these tools will become less needed as our brains retrain to shift wave speeds back and forth for more appropriate jolts suited to different needs.
Good news is that we can manage our stress or prevent emotional problems of anxiety or fear, ahead of depression’s strike. Sobering reality is that we actually build new routines such as these tools in order to launch straightforward strategies that balance our mental health, and regulate our brain waves in accordance with our desired outcomes. Once depression sets in, we will experience difficulty spotting problems or controlling responses, because depression shuts down our frontal cortex where our ability to see problems and make good choices exist. In that case, we inch forward in tiny increments. By planning and doing simple daily routines we set the tone for each day’s well-balanced electrical circuitry, regardless of challenges we face.
We sometimes wonder what skews our mental waves in the first place? Unfortunately, no one thing messes with our electrical wiring, just as no one tool reboots its healthier functions. Researchers predict the brain is organized by a hierarchy of electrical waves that control how one neuron communicates to another neuron. We’ve heard that external forces such as cell phone emissions, especially those that emit electromagnetic fields, can excite brain waves in potentially harmful ways. Side effects are still not understood well, and while the average cell phone is thought to be safe, scientists are still learning about forces that surge or slow our brain’s electrical circuitry.
Luckily there are various helps out there for better brain wave balance. Depending on what we do or think, waves shift back and forth as our brain learns appropriate patterns for different outcomes. Meet a person who intimidates us and one brainwave activity leaps. Pause over a glass of wine in a quiet grove to think deeply, and another wave stirs.
Start with a straightforward tool (such as listening to certain musical genres) and we can move our brains from panic waves to sleep waves, or quiet moments to set the stage for inspired innovations. In the process we learn to adjust brain waves to our advantage and for healthy mental results desired, much the way we dim or bring up lights for effect. It starts with knowing what waves can do or not do, even though tools to heal may differ from person to person.
Reflection after tool 14 use: Not surprisingly, our fearfully-and-wonderfully made brains can learn to alternate among all four waves at appropriate times. Simply stated, faster waves can segue into adventures at one healthy end, and slower waves inspire reflective insights at the other. More specifically, we learn to shift into brain waves for higher performance! By growing our awareness for desired brain wave speeds for different outcomes we then apply tools that show evidence of working well.
Previously, Tool 13 illustrated slowest speeds of Delta and then Theta at their worst and best operations. Following here in Tool 14 see our brain’s two faster speeds, of Beta (fastest) and then Alpha to see how these faster speeds work for or against our benefit. More importantly, we see how to regulate faster waves to shift our brains down a gear or two, when needed.
Luckily in the meantime, we can learn to shift into brain waves from fast waves to a slower, relaxed waves for higher performance. For instance when we listen to certain musical genres) we move our electrical waves from racing waves to slower, calmer waves that inspire innovations and healthy sleep patterns to end our day. As with slower waves, diet matters here and healthy food, along with exercise. Yes, healthy habits impact our brain’s chemical and electrical circuitry. Additional tactics are used by therapists to help regulate brain wave shifts from faster racing waves into slower, more restful waves.
For instance, EEG biofeedback is another frequently used mind-body technique that can help us when we lose an ability to pay attention or slip into anxiety or depression. For biofeedback sessions a therapist attaches electrodes to our skin, as a way to send feedback about specific aspects of our body. Biofeedback makes subtle changes to brain waves so we can relax certain muscles slowing heart rate or respiration, or reducing feelings of pain, in ways that improve our emotional, and mental health. Over time brain wave changes can endure without continued use of biofeedback or other mental tools. Think of it as altering the speed of a metronome to a more appropriate speed for the mental state or inner mental metronome we desire at any given time.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 15: Now that we know a racing or sluggish brain can be regulated, we are ready to consider a strategy to fix and retain more appropriate speeds for any outcome we desire. If we find ourselves longing to think deeply, or create innovative solutions for a problem we face, we might place one of these ambient tracks to think well into our earbuds and have at it!
Chemical and electrical forces work together so that our mental circuitry either gives a thumbs up or down to our moods. Now that we see how Tools 13 and 14 move electrical activity back and forth into healthier speeds that enhance our activity or rest, we see in Tool 15 how mental chemicals interact well with our electrical circuitry. Our brains come equipped to help us choose well daily, and thereby default to a healthy growth mindset. Or we choose poorly and default to an unhealthy fixed mindset. Choose growth or ruts – either way actions count more than most realize. See practical examples following.
It’s more about our responses than our situation, for instance. Blame a sour mood on bad disposition of others, on stress, or on poor weather, and cortisol chemicals impact electrical support so our zest for fun disappears like sparks die under a water hose. Simple choices determine if we’ll smile or sneer? Look to serotonin fuels – and our brain builds better moods. We can expects power punches for our day because that potent drug upgrades our moods. See why it’s not about what comes to us, but more about our actions in response?
Our moods impact ourselves and others, even when we’re unaware of this. We can tank or energize entire groups – without a word spoken, all because of chemical and electrical circuitry. Our brains come equipped with mirror neurons that show how we mimic and are impacted by others’ moods, like it or not. Ever notice how enjoyable it is to hang out with happy, self-confident peers? The opposite is also true. We feel drained by bad moods.
Simply stated we do far better, even when we feel down or angry, if we maintain good moods by acting as if they were present! If we remember that actions alter chemical and electrical circuitry. We’ll also benefit from good moods that shine light on new growth opportunities. Yes, even in spite of problems such as a pandemic. The opposite is also true, since opportunity knocks on moody doors in vain. Good reason to run from sour attitudes or closed minds?
It’s also true that our bad moods can topple a house, when we least expect it to fall on our head! How exciting that we can actually grow IQ for good moods, operated by healthy chemical and electrical mental health. If we buildintrapersonal intelligence, we tend to see issues from others’ viewpoint. Can you see why good moods follow, as they refuse to take jabs personally?
Who can we count on to come down on the side of compassion when conflict strikes? Social and emotional learning tools help us to build good moods through chemical and electrical health maintained in tough times. In so doing we build stronger relationships, in spite of storm clouds.
Moods appear in far more than our words however. Our body language fosters or kills wonder in moods that impact us all, even when words go unspoken! Few people though, recognize how body language fosters or diminishes delight in people nearby, especially those who love us! How so?
Watch others behave badly when we feel edgy, or when our untamed amygdala handles stressful situations poorly. The cortisol chemical that controls human brains may be quietly moody – but cortisol screams discontent through body language. Chemical and electrical circuitry works for or against us regardless of spoken or “out of sorts” unspoken gestures.
Fortunately, our brains come equipped to hone in on both good or bad moods around us daily. That is because moods impact behavior through mirror neurons (the brain’s innate mimicking equipment). Here choices and their triggered chemical and electrical circuitry either drag us down, or soar our wonder onto the next rooftop to help us build better moods going forward.
Choice is daily, yet moody habits are hard to transform without chemical and electrical tools to help us build curiosity and confidence on their other side. Moods we choose become habits we live with daily. Tucked away in our basal ganglia we store lifelong skills that transform moods into excellent pick-me-up tools or outmoded traps that kill others’ spirit.
One key to transform a bad mood is to act as if we just won a lottery, rather than react poorly to loss we may feel. Not that we deny our disappointments, but more that we capitalize on our enormous chemical and electrical brainpower to grow and move forward to a better mental place.
Chemical and electrical supports help us to speak to others as if we walked in their moccasins. Say nothing when you feel ignored, rejected, or slighted, and moods take you to delightful new heights. At one brain conference I led, a participant described it this way, “Always treat others as if their best selves were inviting them to a better place they’d enjoy.” Choose to care for others as if we’d never been hurt, and caring moods tend to follow. Why so? Actions literally reshape our brain’s circuitry, so that emotions line up and eventually follow the new us.
Moods shout louder than words often because they influence brain wave activity and determine circuitry. They hold power to alter contentment and can upgrade outcomes when influenced by supports such as background music. Choice becomes the operative tool! Sluggish brains, for instance, can create toxins that lead to depression and trigger moodiness we may not recognize.
So why do we revert to moods that hurt ourselves and others? Amazing as it seems, it’s often a matter of learned choices! Focus on action that sidesteps feelings of loss! Move multiple intelligences up a notch, for instance, and watch others toss talents on board too. Moods change when we look at problems with strategies or solutions in mind.
Through moods we choose to add value or to sink any project. Show impatience with those around us, for instance, and we’ll empower the cynic possibly, but exclude genuine talents. This is because we create spaces for good moods whenever we trigger serotonin fuel to energize chemically and electrically around us. Model good moods when challenges strike to plug mental leaks that allow in cortisol that poisons moods for all.
Reflection after tool 15 use: When we become aware of chemical and electrical equipment we possess, we soon see how our moods impact others. Not that we beat up on ourselves, but we learn to expect new neuron pathways to dynamic solutions. We help to prevent boredom that shuts down innovation or invention and in so doing we open opportunities with mental growth for all.
Good moods take advantage of our working memory (that area of the brain we use to grow new skills) and in growth, we tend to encourage others to take informed risks that move us beyond conflicts into creation and productivity. Rather than lock our mind into tough times, we can choose moods that inspire discouraged peers who may feel stuck in mental myths.
As our mental circuitry works more in our favor, we understand why top organizations are beginning to teach brain science at school.
Imagine a setting where learners of any age find spaces to grow around us, even when their chips are down. It’s less about judging others here for what fails, and more about celebrating mental health we generate. We identify good mood chemical and electrical circuitry, and by so doing we also remap unused mental real estate for more moods that bare benefits to boot!
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 16: Take a power nap for no more than 20 minutes for a reason. Set an alarm to avoid exceeding our light sleep cycle, or plan to sleep into the next lighter cycle. If we avoid waking up during deeper sleep called REM (or rapid eye movement) we awaken more refreshed. REM is as if our brains are completely unconscious, so they cannot interfere with a heavy lift our brains need to rewire and reboot. So even if we are forced to sleep less in a night, we’ll want to plan to awaken in the lighter sleep segments. A healthy brain requires REM cycles repeated over seven or eight hours in order to rewire dendrite brain cells and prepare for optimizing what we did the day before and preparing for what feats we will do well (and without anxiety) when we awaken.
In a normal sleep cycle, EEGs show our brain slowing down progressively over a thirty minute period. After that point, the brain shifts into a trance-like sleep known as REM, or rapid eye movement state. Without enough deep sleep, or REM, people are prone to workplace disasters caused by sleep deprivation.
Serious accidents, caused by poor sleep, show how we act slower and often get it wrong. How so? Consider the Bhapol explosion on December 2, 1984, for instance, which shot poisonous gas that killed over 6000 people. We saw again two years later, on April 26th, the Chernobyl explosion exposed millions to radioactivity 100 more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Sadly, on March 24th, 1989, 12 million gallons of crude oil gushed from Exxon Valdez and wiped out sea life across Prince William Sound. Sleep matters more than we may realize.
Sleep problems as well as related accidents are more common than most people realize, and so it’s no surprise that sleep-deprived people also succumb more to sickness. Research shows 51% of the American workforce feels exhausted at work.
Sleep disorders hurt both groups and individuals. Organizations pay more than $100 billion in lost productivity we are told. People pay in personal problems such as depression, anxiety, or human failure.
If we sleep well, we likely benefit from all three 30 minute cycles, as they play out and replay several times throughout a good night’s rest. Think of ideal sleep in 90 minute segments that replay consistently for about 7 to 8 hours. When shut eye functions well, the process rewires our brain’s dendrite brain cells in unique ways. When we know the brain’s sleep cycles we’ll awaken in the best times.
For brief power naps we’ll consider the first 30 minutes that we sleep rather lightly, and be sure to awaken within 20 minutes. For regular daily sleep we’ll plan to cycle through enough 30 minute deep segments, where REM takes over and allows our brain to restore levels of oxygen to the cornea, while we dream. We’ll avoid waking in REM, unless we’re prepared to feel like a Mack truck rammed us, and then left us groggy or cranky for much of our day. Mindful of that next 30 minute phase, we’ll ensure good sleep routines, so that our brain shifts backs into lighter sleep. If awakened in this third phase, we’ll likely feel frisky and ready to take on whatever a new day tosses our way.
Reflection after tool 16 use: We can increase anxiety-freeing sleep benefits, by balancing our chemical and electrical circuitry for finer sleep in several practical ways. Want fewer sucker punches from cortisol, or better chances of facing stressors without anxiety? First plan to sleep in 90 minute chunks, for instance, and we avoid waking in any REM phase throughout the sleep cycle. In addition, darken the room and our brain releases more melatonin (a chemical produced in our pineal gland) for better sleep. Melatonin regulates our circadian rhythm, blood pressure, and body temperature. We grow sleepy as it increases at night when darkness sets in and lowers in the morning’s light, so that we feel fully awake.
Other sleep habits also enhance our mental rest. Avoid too much food or drink close to bedtime and be careful what medications we take late at night. In addition, we’ll want to ensure a better sleep by planning to awaken in the lighter cycles that either precedes or follows REM sleep.
Interestingly, if we tend to sleep about the same time each night, eventually our brain no longer needs an alarm clock, because our circadian rhythm learns our sleep patterns. It may be impossible to form a steady sleep pattern because of lifestyle needs, however, and the brain comes equipped to help us here also.
Luckily, research shows how sleep debts can be repaid! To ward off negative effects of snooze loss, experts tell us to simply repay any outstanding slumber debts, once life quietens down a bit. If we stay up too late during the week, sleep in a bit more on weekends. If last week saw us moonlighting on a few occasions, crawl under the covers early a few nights this week.
For those who need help with more serious sleep dysfunctions, new research and supports come in frequently at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. For instance, it was discovered quite recently that sleep deprivation can also raise the risk of cardiovascular problems.
At Sleepeducation, we discover additional sleep solutions to keep us in sweeter dreams at night, and peak performances handled without excess fear, worry or anxiety during our day.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 17: To imagine is to spawn neurological shifts that help us to shape our imagination into reality, in ways that can transforms our world. No wonder Einstein thought imagination was more important than knowledge.
When we imagine a finer future we have already begun to plot our brain’s architectural blueprints to help us step into a plan to bring it about. We sidestep anxiety, worry or fear since these toxins prevent imagination by imprisoning us and hijacking our focus.
One alternative to wisdom that will trigger mind-bending images is Weed or inhaled narcotics to break out better dreams from happier places. No question, science affirms that some synthetic drugs can definitely lift moods. Cultivate natural chemicals such as serotonin though, and we can avoid both human-made and natural chemicals that come with toxic side-effects. Why bully our talents to transform our world into traps that trigger those not-so-delightful experiences. We come equipped to imagine improvements from both sides of our brain, which will be discussed further in Tools 40 and 50.
Before anxiety strikes, we can craft neurological shifts that help us to imagine new opportunities from a fully charged muse, without side effects of synthetic drugs. To start, we might stimulate and awaken pleasant memories of holidays, heroes, or homestead get-togethers when we increased the brain’s aha hormone, serotonin. Daydream about an adventure you enjoyed with people you trusted, before you launch out to imagine a better world, beyond current challenges you face.
Ambiance counts to our brains. Hang a favorite picture, write improvement ideas under natural light. Toss a soft blanket over your knees. Sip green tea. Or simply remind yourself of a close friend’s genuine care, and we can spike dopamine to tap into that nostalgia factor for a feel-good hormone to imagine.
We unleash imagination to create change that supports anxiety-free settings. Bright lights lower the impact of a sleepy drug, such as melatonin for instance, while bright colors tend to ramp up energy and boost happiness drugs from serotonin drugs. Go with new tips from a field of research called neuro-architecture, and we’ll begin to build brain-friendly imagining spaces. Design areas that affect good moods to spike fun, focus and fancy, and we fire up our creative capabilities.
Dreamers tend to benefit more from chemicals currently coursing through our minds. These neurotransmitters become channels into imagination and crack open windows into creativity. Get high on an adrenaline rush to ask better questions from both sides of our brain. Visionaries listen to answers with the curiosity of a young child’s eagerness to learn for the first time. Gandhi uncovered tools to, “Be the change.” The opposite is also true. If we underestimate the power of our minds to imagine change for our world, we tend to default mentally to downers or poor coping habits stockpiled in our brain’s warehouse, or basal ganglia.
Most futurists agree that fear’s a normal mental reaction at times. But did you know anxiety, fear and worry are fueled by dangerous toxins that diminish talents and shut down innovative thinking. In contrast, courage is a decision that opens our minds to build a yes-and-I-can-create-it ethos. I start many creative projects with the question, “What about this project inspires my imagination?”
Why do we find more flaws to vent about at times than mindful communication capabilities to imagine a finer future? Possibly schools or traditional critique practices failed to acknowledge a wider array of visionary competencies. Or maybe we fail to use our brain’s ready-to-roll equipment to cascade imagination and creativity into our unique contribution to a better world.
It’s no surprise that our three pound brain, fueled by thousands of miles of blood vessels, can also help us stretch our imagination into creativity. But a brain gulps up 21% of our oxygen, so it simply makes sense to exercise and replenish its hundred trillion electrical connections. Imagine visionary connections that stand equal to the number of stars in a thousand Milky Way galaxies, and we’ve captured the wonder of our life-changing capabilities.
Luckily mindfulness, or our focused attention on any moment, also awakens neurotransmitters that can fuel our creative efforts. Mindfulness calls for mental tools such as multiple intelligences illustrated further in Tool 25. Rather than remain prisoner in Plato’s cave in the shadows where we fool ourselves into thinking that place is truth, brain based imagination generates new worlds and reshapes images that ensure our future becomes bigger and better than our past.
I imagined we could use more practical tips from neural and cognitive sciences and then created six characters called namungos for instance, to show how neurotransmitters regulate our moods, motivation, cravings, energy, stress and ability to focus. These little critters take center stage in international brain conferences, as fictitious characters with real brain parts to move our mojo out of shadows and into a brain-friendly future. Namungos help us to become students of our own imagination, as we create brain-friendly paths into highs, happiness and harmony. We take down walls between our personal potential and creative opportunities as we imagine new possibilities.
When mind-bending chemicals surge through our brains and shape our ideas, we tend to generate new inspiration and insights by our natural neurotransmission activity. Have you seen it happen?
Ok, no credible ways exist yet to measure exact neurotransmitter levels in our brain, yet we do know that certain symptoms are linked to the brain’s neurotransmitters. And we can observe tangible benefits they offer. Recently I encountered the word, “anger-porn.” Just the right word to showcase how we hold onto anger that increases anxiety. If we fail to let go of emotional hurts we also increase cortisol, a dangerous stress chemical that shuts down our ability to think, learn or imagine a better way forward.
Could our well-oiled imagination generate new words, like the word “namungo” came to me? Could we enjoy the mental energy to chase creativity needed in an epic project we imagine?
Sometimes we simply lack drive, and need to rev up serotonin or oxytocin chemicals to provide the boost we crave as thinkers headed for flow. When we feel drained or stuck in a slump, it helps to consider serotonin’s impact on imagination and creativity. Simple reminders of this molecule of wellbeing will help us to fuel peacefulness, confidence, serenity and hopefulness that expels anxiety and fear. We can learn to pre-empt low levels of serotonin that leave us depressed or feeling hopeless. Anger cannot hold our brains hostage in its porn-like-grip, and fear cannot covet our focus, when we mentally shift into choices for hormones such as oxytocin that reduces stress, adds feelings of warmth, and spikes our trust in people close to us. Such a shift optimizes our imagination’s ability and generates energy for cathedral insights with increased tryptophan, which is serotonin’s core building block. How so?
Natural shifts to increase imagination’s happiness molecules include eating protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs, fish, and dairy. Carbohydrates can also boost serotonin levels as we dream or envision. Take a brisk walk before we create, start a creative project after a good sleep, or we might bring our laptop out to a sunny spot on the patio to increase serotonin levels as we think and plan. Serotonin works with other neurotransmitters such as endorphins that keep imagination running in relaxed and euphoric directions toward change. Dopamine becomes our imagination’s reward chemical in such settings.
Looking for more drive to finish that oversized project? Dreamers who need motivation may wish to access our brain’s reward chemicals, associated with pleasure and the ability to take risks. Our brains release dopamine for example, when needs are met and a feeling of satisfaction follows its uptick to hand us energy needed to accomplish our imagination’s goal with zest.
In similar ways imagination increases serotonin, we also boost dopamine naturally with the right foods, supplements, and lifestyle activities. Amino acid tyrosine makes dopamine, for instance, and it’s found in avocados, green leafy vegetables, apples, beets, chocolate, oatmeal, nuts, and seeds. Drink coffee or sip green tea as we create and we’ll also increase dopamine benefits. Walk to plan and imagine, or meditate as another way to focus and dopamine also increases naturally. Even a glass of wine works well here. Be careful to limit alcohol though, to avoid slipping from increased serotonin to imagine into cortisol’s pit to panic.
Visionaries who take regulated risks with new challenges will boost dopamine levels far faster. Avoid mental blockers such as stress and dopamine reboots healthy risk-taking. How so? Accept that brain buster tools in this series, and then break down oversized projects, for instance. Check off bite sized pieces completed with each tool and expect small dopamine boosts with each tick.
Reflection after tool 17 use: By now we’ll likely agree that an imaginative neurotransmitters or chemical messengers become the brain cells’ unique way to communicate with each other for a finer future. They also determine the creativity and imagination our brains enjoy.
Surprisingly though, thinkers who naturally increase serotonin or dopamine chemicals to kick-start their imagination tend to also produce “endogenous” cannabinoids. That’s of course the same chemicals contained in weed. Expect further benefits, as natural cannabinoids located in our hippocampus will improve memory. At the same time, cognition is impacted by cannabinoids located in our cerebral cortex. And cannabinoids in the amygdala impact a visionary’s moods to help us regulate emotions that enhance creative skills.
This weed-like endocannabinoid system impacts mental functions in the central and peripheral nervous systems and in peripheral organs. It acts as a type of dimmer switch which controls our moods and affects levels of anxiety, by slowing down synaptic firings between neurons. The jury is still out, however, on what specific actions or conditions will help us to stimulate our endocannabinoid system.
Creative thinkers share similar frustrations on their journeys from raw ideas to polished projects. That’s where our unique intelligences become game changers. “It’s not possible,” the cortisol-driven brain will insist. Focus on serotonin-fueled tools and our wider array of intelligences open different views though, for new observations of our possibilities from within different castle-tower-intelligences.
Picture our brain as a castle that holds visionary talents as mental treasures. Imagination is cultivated consistently as we move from mental tower to tower, and view scenes through our unique intelligences! Why not go for a refreshing new view through Einstein’s creed that imagination is more important than knowledge?
Creating with mental magic takes practice though. Our imagination can act a bit like a duck- or turkey-flushing golden retriever on a leash. Gently redirect our brain every time it darts away from key ideas. Guide it back through a different intelligence, and we’ll likely also boost its germane chemical fuels such as natural marijuana to plan and create the finer worlds we crave.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 18: When we slide into ruts or slip into anxiety our working memory kicks in to help us boost calm, yet sadly we can also default here and increase calamity. Consider what adds stress and then outsource memory to create a solution. Panic because we forget where keys are? Outsource working memory’s tiny space by hanging a hook on the wall and one on our belt to keep keys in the same place at all times. Worry we might forget to complete a task or buy an item. Create a list of tasks to complete and items to purchase and we have outsourced working memory for building new mental creations such as healthier emotional responses to daily challenges. So what does outsourcing have to do with exchanging fears for courageous counterpart emotions? Consider the tiny space working memory provides where we can reflect and create mentally healthy outcomes such as inner quiet in difficult times, and then visualize the value of outsourcing mundane things in order to free up space for more important work such as boosting emotional health.
Focus on a crisis and working memory equips us to fan fears that grow and cling to our emotions, only to reappear in similar situations. Panic and feelings of powerlessness spawn long before flames of fear or fury burn strong in us, and can continue to burn long after a crisis ends. The opposite is also true. If we outsource our panic by considering fearless possibilities to live without anxiety, we optimize the working memory’s ability to sustain emotional health in moments of calm or calamity. The question we may ask here is, “How can we outsource anxiety and build calmer dispositions within working memory?”
Let’s say we’d like to consider how others changed a debilitating behavior, as a way to understand new insights about how we can use working memory’s help to improve our mental health. You may remember that working memory positions tiny bits of information up front temporarily, so other parts of the brain can use these few data bites to problem solve. It’s a bit like a sticky note on our brain that allows us a temporary holding tank for new facts until we do something with them, and before they exit our working memory.
In spite of its small size working memory offers us an opportunity to affirm reluctance or resilience, anxiety or abilities to remain calm even if others panic. This mental miracle allows us a workroom of sorts with tools to learn how to risk calm, lead courage, and propose anti-anxiety alternatives. Unlike our brain’s basal ganglia that stores our habits and routines working memory springs us forward into practical solutions we can create there.
We can count on working memory to create or discover innovative answers on opposite sides of anxiety. It also can outsource fear and frustrations when we mix in a few What if … possibilities so that working memory can exchange worries for new alternatives. It takes determination to live with uncertainty at times, but a lively working memory wheelhouse is worth the risk when we find solutions beyond stress.
Consider how fear got outsourced in an autistic teen who ran from a basketball bench for his one chance to create wonder. When his team lost yet another devastating shot, J-Mac wondered what if he could score a winning shot? In spite of the fact he’d never before been allowed off the bench. With all hope appearing lost, the coach pointed to J-Mac who suddenly shocked an entire nation. As if Magic Johnson shot, this differently abled teen scored 20 points in the final four minutes. Shock fill the arena, as J-Mac’s working memory kicked in and this autistic teen won the golden title for his Greece Athena High School. Nobody except this alert teen expected it. In fact, when denied a place on his dream team previously, J-Mac agreed to serve as water boy, cheer leader, and captain just to participate in the fun of being near basketball games.
A resilient what if question led J-Mac to outsource fear and win gold on his first time off the bench, and the same working memory wheelhouse will kick in for us to find solutions we can live with beyond stress. J-Mac’s risk triggered a best-selling book with Daniel Paiser titled, The Game of My Life: a True Story of Struggle, Triumph and Growing Up Autistic. We may not end up on CNN as J-Mac did, but imagine a replacement initiative stoked to live more anxiety-free days.
Calm emotions rarely take as long as people think, and often come with more missteps than most expect. J-Mac put it this way, “My first shot was an air ball. Then I missed a lay up., and then as soon as the second shot, as soon as that went in, I started to catch fire.”
Ask what if, and we are set to jump in with two feet. We power the brain’s best wheelhouse as J-Mac did in last few seconds of that transformational game. From the second he suited up, J-Mac expected gold. Others saw an autistic player enter an already lost game. J-Mac spotted an opportunity and his working memory did the rest to set up a win. It’s the same working memory that let those few see J-Mac’s genuine talent, and that lets us see strengths when we outsource past failures and focus on alternative brainpower as this teen did. What if questions simply open opportunities to live a calmer disposition in spite of crisis, one brain cell at a time. Stoke curiosity for what could be, and our brain’s creative capability begins to convert ordinary steps into practical doable strategies.
Brain gurus would say J-Mac’s working memory generated new neuron pathways to achieve his dream. Whatever we call this mental reboot, it’s worth a risk.
Whenever we discover the power of our working memory to outsource old habits such as anxiety and learn to apply new facts that launch calmer emotional responses we are suited up like J-Mac to expect gold.
When we get used to building solutions in working memory, we dwell less on past endless anxieties or perceived limitations. Working memory positions new information and creative skills up front, so when we apply tools in this series for instance, we build calmer responses to life’s challenges. It’s our efforts in working memory that keep intelligence fluid as we raise intrapersonal and emotional IQ across a wider range of calm capabilities.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 19: We may be unable to fix problems that messed up our emotional past but we can enjoy fully functioning mental health in spite of our past. Our brains come well equipped to pound new pathways away from fear and worries and even to heal or repair some relationships that result from human imperfections on any side. We lay down new neural connections toward a kinder outcome and away from bullying or blame, simply by rewiring neurons through doing a kinder action.
Let’s say we tried everything we can think of yet do not find a solution to repair a broken relationship. Perhaps the person avoids us, shows anger or indicates indifference. Likely anxiety washes over our amygdala or takes up residence in this seat of our emotions. Worries about our inability to heal rapport with the person increase stress and our failed responses lead to self-annihilation over time. It may seem that panic is our only choice left, because anxiety surges our inadequate efforts again and again.
We may not fix the fractured bond, but we can heal from emotional sucker punches we all experience at one time or another. We can slow the cortisol that rushes in, and nudge our emotional sting from heading us down a dangerous cliff. Yes, we may still grieve what we cannot mend, but our chemical and electrical motherboard can escape toxins that plunge us into despair. Fortunately, our brain offers choices here to pound a new mental pathway toward our inner contentment and away from desperate feelings that shrouded our past responses. The brain boosters here are never intended to change others, and always about personal changes that leave us stronger emotionally, and better equipped to offer calm and kindness in spite of challenges.
In toxic circuitry we regret nebulous issues we fail to understand, we fight off depression, we apologize repeatedly for messing up, we beat up on ourselves, and when we feel worthless, we strive to do even more to fix the problem that pulls us down. In these situations, the brain often does far better to “let it go.” Full on release frees our brain to lay down new neural connections in the opposite direction of the emotional pain we feel. If sad, we might offer unconditional kindness to another person and the brain strengthens kindness, rather than dwell on despair from fractured connections.
We drop expectations as much as possible, we refuse to replay sad personal memories again and again, we no longer react with endless remedies to try and fix what we cannot see or understand. Having let go, the brain prepares again to regain health after any emotional blow that robbed our inner strength. Mental health is evident when we give back out of kindness alone, and without feeling victimized in any way. Not that letting go is easy. Sometimes we must hit repeat and try again.
Act first though, and anxiety-free feelings will eventually follow, because action on our part alters our brain by laying down new neural connections and can create contentment in spite of disappointment. We simply become more of what we hope others will see in us. Let’s say our actions address the 2-footed question, What daily act of kindness would leave (name person who will receive your kind act) more appreciated and ourselves more victors than victims? This question sparks our working memory to act kindly to somebody who may least expect it and without expectations to change another person or win personal favor. Pound a path of genuine kindness and we leap enormous mental steps away from anxiety and toward emotional wellbeing in times of difficulty.
We step away from a toxic problem that robs our joy, by laying down new neural connections in the opposite direction. This path pounding method may not change our situation, but it will change our resilience to cope and regain contentment to cope. Feeling stressed, isolated or overwhelmed during this coronavirus pandemic? If so, we can be glad to know that our brains hold enormous tools for another run at a life in a healthier, more enjoyable lane. It’s also true that when we upstage an unhelpful habit by a hopeful response, at the same time we change the neural connections that can prosper our emotional health in similar challenges going forward.
Reflection after Tool 19 use: We’ve all been there. Our brain’s basal ganglia keeps us running on endless treadmills trying to fix a broken situation, but actions that add new neural connections can pound new pathways running toward delightful destinations. In order to heal places we failed and repair mistakes we made we move mentally from stuck and frustrated to talented and transformational one small step at a time.
Whether it’s about relating better to a cherished family member who appears angry or hurt, or simply lifting our moods from sadness to acceptance, we come mentally equipped to overcome emotionally and get through challenging situations. Deliberate mental path pounding enables us to rely less on miserably tired anxieties that may have plagued our past, to let go of ticker-tape reliving failed attempts in a broken relationship. Unhealthy habits such as sadness and disappointment can only rob our joy and fun until we reboot our neural connections with a get-out-of jail-free card. That sets us off in a different direction, with new opportunities for coping emotionally and new emotional skills to give back from a freer place.
COFFEE CONSIDERATION 20: If we’ve ever jacked up a favorite melody to move from moody to mellow we already know music’s power to take down anxiety and amp up retention to improve focus. If we survey our musical IQ as part of multiple intelligences, we’ll see how its cadence can enhance our mental health more than we may realize.
Not all music is equal in its impact on our emotional wellbeing, however. It’s quite well know that rhythms such as baroque, tend to induce enzymes in the brain and add amazing contentment and focus. Lesser known is how other tunes leave us punchy, anxious and unable to focus. Has it happened to you?
Music holds an immensely powerful influence over our work and wellbeing. We benefit from certain background musical sounds. Listen to inspirational music and we calm anxious concerns for instance. Or ratchet up brainpower without worry in Makeba’s, Pata Pata. Research offers us several ways that music reaches into our inner beliefs and clarifies deep desires. Its cadence can create an amazing mental landscape for us to read, relax or reflect on our day, without the background clutter of emotional distress.
Unfortunately some music also triggers edgy and anxious moods. Music shifts our brain waves that control how neurons talk to one another. Think of its pendulum timer as it alters our mental metronome and the measure of its beats. Watch a visible shift happen for people in this video.
Start with a favorite tune from Psychologist Don Campbell’s list here and we notice how music alters our mental state. In his book The Mozart Effect, Campbell shows emotional results for listeners:
Gregorian chant creates quiet in our minds and can reduce stress.
Slower Baroque music, such as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi or Corelli, can create mentally stimulating environments for creativity and new innovations.
Classical music, such as Haydn and Mozart, often improves concentration and memory when played in the background.
Romantic music, such as Schubert, Schumann, Tchaikovsky , Chopin and Liszt, enhances our senses and increases a sense of sympathy and love.
Impressionist music, such as Debussy, Faure and Ravel, can unlock dreamlike images that put us in touch with our unconscious thoughts and belief systems.
Jazz, blues, soul or calypso music can uplift and inspire us, releasing deep joy or even deep sadness, conveying wit and affirming our common humanity.
Salsa, rhumba, merengue and any form of South American music sets our hearts racing, gets us moving, both relaxing us and awakening us at the same time.
Big band, Top 40 and country music engage our emotions and comfort us.
Rock music, from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, stirs passion and activity, and so can release daily tensions. Rock can also mask pain and cover up unpleasant noises. It also has the power to create dissonance, stress or physical pain if we are not in the mood for energizing.
Ambient or New Age music such as Stephen Halpern and Brian Eno has no dominant rhythm, so it elongates the sense of space and time, inducing a state of relaxed alertness.
Heavy metal and hip-hop music excites our nervous system, and sometimes leads us into acting out dynamic behavior and self-expression.
Religious and sacred music such as hymns and gospel moves us to feel grounded in the moment, and leads to deep peace and spiritual awareness. Sacred music often helps us to transcend pain.
Reflection after Tool 20 use: Consider what work without worry would look like if we hum or sing a bar or two of our favorite tunes, to help us relax or think. A brain guru would say, music recruits neural mechanisms similar to pleasant or unpleasant emotional states. No wonder music’s metronome also rocks productivity and prevents panic!
I’m listening to Benjamin Britton as I write. How could music affect your work and wellbeing today? What musical ditty would get you up and moving for a terrific day, in spite of challenges? Dr. Mark Andrews, at Lake Erie College, found that rhythm and cadence increased physical performance by more than 20% in many unmotivated fitness folks. In addition to improving memory, music increased both physical performance and added a level of emotional alertness.
The key is to match our music with our movements and moods to prime our emotional brains for an anxiety-free day. To calm a racing brain, choose one musical selection from the list above to chill in a hammock and slow down brain waves. Or speed up your mental metronome with a faster genre from the list while you wash the car or chop firewood. In the next blog, we’ll find anxiety busting tools 21 to 30 to offer proven tools for stress free days, regardless of your situation. Let us know what tools are working well for you and what tools you still look forward to build a better situation for your brain to enjoy this week.