Whether you suffer from depression or just want a better understanding of the brain, ‘Upward Spiral’ gives you an interesting and informative look at the science behind our emotions and actions. You’ll also learn tried-and-true solutions to immediately start feeling better, get out of depression and step in the right direction to go upward spiral, one small change at a time.
Depression generally involves the problem with how the thinking and feeling circuits in the brain get out of wack.
Prefrontal cortex is basically the thinking part of the brain. Prefrontal cortex gets its name from the fact that it’s the front most part of the brain, sitting just behind the forehead. It’s the CEO of the brain. Prefrontal cortex is the recently most evolved part of the brain and humans has more of it than any other animal. It gives us evolutionary advantage but it also causes problems. In depression, it is responsible for worrying, guilt, shame, problem with thinking clearly and indecisiveness.
Limbic brain is basically the feeling part of the brain. Think of it this way. Prefrontal cortex thinks about the emotion while the limbic feels them. In contrast to the highly evolved prefrontal cortex, the limbic system is an ancient collection located much deeper in the brain. Even mammals 100 years ago had limbic systems. It’s responsible for our fight-or-flight response and emotions like fear, excitement, anxiety, memory and desire.
When stressed, we usually default on our deeply ingrained routines.
Take for example, you might be exercising regularly until family drama raises its ugly head and you start to develop a binge eating habit.
When you start to feel stressed or anxious, don’t let yourself become a victim of your impulses. Instead, take a deep breath. Let it out slowly and take another deep breath. Repeat as necessary. Long slow breathing calms the brain stress response.
Practice is the key to rewiring your habits.
Breaking down old habits or building new habits almost always come down to the most cliche but scientifically true advice – practice, practice, practice. Repeat your behaviors over and over again until your brain rewires itself.
This is also backed up by science. Research shows that repeating actions is the only way to get them encoded in the dorso striatum. It may take a lot of time but once you train your dorso striatum, it will start working for you, instead of against you.
Worrying and anxiety are your foes for upward spiral.
The same part of the brain, your prefrontal cortex, is responsible for planning and worrying. When you think about potential problems that may or may not occur most of the time, you start to worry. Anxiety on the other hand is prompted by potential from danger.
Worry and anxiety accomplish nothing but exacerbate one another and lock people into the downward spiral.
Increasing negativity is one telling sign of depression.
According to the researchers, depressed people are more likely to interpret the neutral facial expressions as sad. Think about it for a moment. Obese people feel bad and they encounter the negative emotions by eating more, which just makes obesity worse and exacerbates their negative emotions, thereby compelling them to eat even more.
Studies also found that depressed brains have a reduced reaction to dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. Eating junk food, taking drugs, gambling all has one thing in common. They release dopamine. Unfortunately, the more depressed you are, the less reactive you become to dopamine, which is why depression can cause you to indulge in feel-good activities more.
Your Best Friends To Get Into The Upward Spiral
Friend #1 Exercise
Exercise can do wonders for you on many levels. On a physical level, working out improves your sleep and give you more energy in the long run. On a mental level, it reduces anxiety and stress. On a social level, it gets you out into the world.
Friend #2 Long-term Goal
Having a long-term goal in mind releases dopamine. For this to work, you must set ultra-specific goals using SMART framework. Only when your goals are dialed in, your brain knows where to go and how to get there. For example, if your goal is to land a job, set the goal as setting five resumes a week, or attending three networking events a month.
Friend #3 Sleep
Sleep effects just about every physiological aspect of human beings. A good night’s sleep not only helps you feel better and think more clearly, it helps you make better decisions. Steering clear of screens, avoiding caffeine late in the day and exercising early in the morning can improve your quality and quantity of sleep.
Friend #4 Gratitude
Gratitude is another compound that combats depression. When everything spirals out of control, be mindful and grateful. Even if a hundred things are going out of control, try to find one thing that’s going right and be grateful for that. When you’re grateful, your relationships also improves.
Friend #5 Social Support
Social contact releases Oxytocin, a feel-happy-and-trust hormones. You can easily trigger Oxytocin by hugging, shaking hands or getting a massage. Being around friends, family or even a temporary contact with total strangers can make you feel better and lift your spirits.
Friend #6 Medication
Don’t downplay the value of medication and professional help. The same way an architect can help you when building a new house, both psychotherapists and medications are helpful to lift yourself out of the downward spiral. Many people see dramatic improvements after taking anti-depressant medicines, and some do after switching up doses. Understand that there’s no reason not to seek for professional help because self-help can only take you far.