How Mindfulness Literally Changes Your Brain

Practicing mindfulness helps your brain rewire itself so that your mind functions at a much calmer level. Practicing mindfulness helps take your brain from chaos to calm in a fairly short period of time.

Neuroscience now knows that the brain is an unbelievably plastic organ that does not remain static over a lifetime. I know this is true because about 12 years ago I gave myself a traumatic brain injury following a massive drug overdose which I took during a suicide attempt. The doctors told me that however much recovery I had achieved after two years would likely be all I would gain but even now, some 12 years later, I still see improvement on a weekly basis. I attribute much of this to my daily practice of mindfulness.

Our brains were born to adapt. Scientists know that people are able to train their brains to change and that these changes can be measured. They also know that when you teach your brain to think in different ways that it causes the brain to change as well for the better.

You may wonder how these things are possible. Mindfulness plays an important role in this type of thing. But practicing mindfulness is not the same as taking a pill. It doesn’t have an immediate effect on one’s bloodstream.The changes one sees when practicing mindfulness are more subtle and a bit more gradual but they are there nevertheless.

Practicing mindfulness intentionally changes the brain’s plasticity by teaching the brain to focus on positive thoughts. By focusing on qualities such as happiness and the present moment, we learn new distress tolerance skills.

Scientists now know that practicing mindfulness for as little as thirty minutes per day has a profound effect on the brain. These changes can be seen during an MRI scan.

Scientists also now know that practicing mindfulness increase the grey matter in the brain. This occurs in the region known as the anterior cingulate cortex which is found just behind the frontal cortex of the human brain. This region is responsible for helping the person monitor the way they handle conflicts and governs the brain’s cognitive flexibility.

The second area which undergoes changes is the all important prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain is where executive functions are carried out. Executive functions are things such as planning, emotion regulation and problem solving.

The hippocampus is also radically affected by the practice of mindfulness. This part of what is known as the limbic system deals with the brain’s ability to learn and generate memories. The hippocampus is highly vulnerable to stress and is the area which is usually affected the most when a person suffers from post traumatic stress disorder or depression.

And last but not least is the amygdala  a little known region which regulates the body’s fight or flight reflex. This is the place where our anxiety and fears are generated and live. The practice of daily mindfulness decreases activity in the amygdala and helps it to help the brain regulate itself better.

Any time spent practising mindfulness will start to make an important and positive difference to the structure and function of your brain. The important part is to be consistent. Start with ten minutes a day and work up from there. The benefits of mindfulness are profound, as science is only just beginning to discover.


About the Author: Dee Chan

Dee Chan was diagnosed with BPD more than 35 years ago back when the diagnosis was still fairly new and not very well understood. She has been living with it and coping with it ever since and finding ways to thrive despite it. She has been able to put it into complete remission and turned her life around completely through the practices of gratitude, forgiveness and accountability. Find out more about Dee’s work on her website bpdnomore.com.

2 Comments

Roberta J L

I have a grandson who has been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. He is 10 years old and the light of my life. How can I help him learn mindfulness? He stays with me often and I can work with him when he is with me. When he has an attack, he freezes. doesn’t speak or move. He is aware because he will look at you if you talk to him. He has also been diagnosed with ADHD and defiance disorder, which make it harder to work with him. He is very intelligent. The Dr. has put him on Concerta ( a high dose) any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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