We all have them: personality traits, behaviors, moods, reactions, or habits that we wish we didn’t posses. Whether you get road rage easily, lash out when you’re upset, smoke cigarettes, or binge-eat when your stressed (I could list thousands of others but you get the idea), but there is no denying that all of us are human and all of us have some things we wish we could change about our brain and how it responds or reacts. I have heard over the years when other people describe their negative traits, they also say, ‘well, thats just who I am’. False. What if I told you that you can change anything you want to change about the way your brain responds, reacts, and handles stress and triggers?
I used to believe that I was someone who was so conditioned from my past that I simply was going to be an anxious person for the rest of my life. It was part of who I was, or was it? It was only in becoming aware of where my anxiety comes from, and no I’m not talking about anxiety about an interview or anything like that, I’m talking about where it really comes from- deep inside your brain where you developed these traits as a child. Wouldn’t it make sense then that if we could somehow find closure with our unresolved past trauma, that we could essentially eliminate those triggers once and for all?
How can we do this? Just wish we were different and it is so? Sort of. But to put it into context, I want to talk to you about neuroplasticity and building new neural pathways. A neural pathway is a connection between neurons in your brain that elicits a certain response, good or bad. Think of it like your driving to the store. You do this drive so much over time that you could do it with your eyes closed and the process is almost automatic. Now think about changing the route to the store, there will be times where you forget and go back on the old path, but that is ok! The key is that you are trying to go a new route. This same analogy holds true when it comes to building new neural pathways. The more you practice building new neural pathways through living in the moment and choosing to respond differently, talking yourself down when you are triggered, mindfulness, meditation, the more habitual these responses will become and the more the old behavior patterns will be faded out. The more neural connections are made and grow stronger in the areas of sensory stimulation, stress response, cognitive patterns, the more improvement you will see in emotional, mental, and physical functioning,
When it comes to breaking negative response patterns such as anxiety and depression, neuroplasticity allows your brain to outsmart depression and anxiety by routinely doing interventions targeted to your emotional and mental problem areas. Anxiety and depressive episodes arise from repetitive thinking patterns that become habitual in nature. If you brain has been wired to be tense, anxious, stressed, and depressed, then surely you can re-wire your brain to form new neural pathways to get rid of those unfavorable patterns of thinking.
What is anxiety exactly? It is essentially an over-reaction to a perceived threat. This neurological process was instilled in humans to protect us from the many dangers that we were faced with back when mankind was first created. Now that we live in a society, at least here in America, where we don’t struggle for basic survival, why are we constantly getting hits of cortisol for the slightest triggers? For most people, they develop their own coping mechanisms to help them cope with stress. However, this is simply a coping mechanism; wouldn’t it be amazing to get rid of the anxiety for good- once and for all? When you develop coping mechanisms such as self-medicating with food/alcohol/drugs, you are not re-wiring your brain, you are simply coping with the symptoms of that programming and that wiring is going to continue to be there and ready to ignite at the next trigger.
What if I told you that through hard work, neuroplasticity training, and determination, you could create new neural pathways that will rewire the way your brain thinks, feels, and responds to any given situation? Think about the changes you ‘wish’ you could implement when it comes to how you manage anxiety, depression, stress, etc. Let us not forget that stress, fear, anger, sadness, and many other emotions are all normal, we are humans after all and we have these emotions to experience the broad spectrum of highs and lows that comes with being alive. The trick is to not let yourself get stuck in a habitual response to those ‘negative’ emotions. I put negative in quotes because I don’t believe they are really negative, its just negative if you let these emotions control your life and happiness.
For me, it took several years of antidepressant medication (which I eventually quit altogether because they didn’t help), studying psychology & counseling, as well as therapy to help me discover the root cause of the behavior patterns that I wanted to change. The root cause was that I was running on the program that was instilled in me since childhood. This program made me hypersensitive to the emotions of others, I would get overstimulated extremely easily (volume, commotion, too many people, etc) and I would clam up and need to leave immediately, as well as being extremely stressed over very minor situations. These behaviors were ones that only my close circle knew about, after all, I would be completely mortified if everybody had an opportunity to see me near a total panic attack over essentially nothing. I was not in danger of my life, so why does my brain pump out that cortisol as if I am? Because of conditioning folks. Growing up in a stressful household made my brain, over time, constantly release that cortisol over the slightest triggers. As an adult who now knows the root cause of it and what is happening chemically in my brain, it is my duty and sole mission in life to overcome these negative behavior patterns and to share this knowledge with all of you.
Building new neural pathways takes time. It isn’t something learned over night, you didn’t pick up unsavory thoughts or behavior patterns over night, it was a learned behavior, so wouldn’t it make sense that we must unlearn that behavior/response/thoughts? We do so with constant practice. Have you ever heard of the idea that it takes 21 days to break a habit? I have found this to be true in my own life. I have also know first hand the change in my view on my circumstances by waking up every morning and before I check my phone or get out of bed, I truly feel in my heart something that I am grateful for. This led me to develop a more grateful internal dialogue which in turn, led me to start focusing on my blessings rather than my perceived shortcomings. Essentially, I switched my outlook on life to strength-based focusing rather than weakness based. Again, this takes time, effort, discipline, and the will to want to change your brain if you are looking to decrease your reaction to stress, eliminate anxiety, or snap out of depressive episodes. Just like starting a new fitness journey, you won’t see the desired results immediately, you see results over time as long as you are dedicated and persistent!
Life is too amazing and too short to be anxious about stupid shit. We all deserve a life of peace and happiness, so why are we oftentimes the one standing in our own way? I want you to repeat after me, ‘I have full control over how my brain responds to my triggers’. I want you to believe this and feel it in your heart because it is true. We can chat about this all we want, but you can only implement this mantra in the moment it is happening. I will give you an example. Not long ago, I was at a seminar and it was completely packed (I don’t do well in crowds). The chairs were packed so tightly that I was shoulder to shoulder with the people sitting next to me. I began to feel my heart pounding in my throat, I felt my cheeks get hot, and I felt like my breath was suppressed. I was having a panic attack. Since I knew that I was fine, I wasn’t going to suffocate, I could clearly see the exits, and I was having an irrational response to my trigger- I forced myself to talk myself down. I lived in the moment and kept telling myself in my head that I was going to be ok, I was having a habitual, irrational response to a trigger and that the only way to eventually beat this pattern of thinking was repetitive action in terms of calming myself down and choosing to respond differently.
Believe in yourself that you are in full control of your brain! You don’t have to fall victim to the conditioning of your past, your addiction, or your mental health issues. You can overcome them by building these new neural pathways combined with a growth mindset and determination! I believe in you! If I can do this, you can do this! Whatever your bad habits/responses/behavior patterns that you want to change, only YOU can choose your response. Don’t let your brain run on programs created from your past. You can break free from that programming so you can enjoy your life experience to the fullest. Choose to respond differently when you sense that trigger. By choosing to respond differently, you are building new neural pathways and overtime, it will become habitual but this time in a positive way!
If you’re curious about neuroplasticity, research it! You can find so many great tips on the subject of building new neural pathways online. My favorite site for this is called www.brainhq.com, you can sign up for free and take free little tests that help you improve memory, focus, and people skills.