Knowing and Restoring Your Moods

AgingEducationHealthStoriesWellness

It is a myth that our emotions are beyond our control. Those who claim this are really saying, “I choose not to exercise control over my feelings.” Often this attitude is born of a sense that negative emotions are just part of who we are — that feeling persistently angry or sad is something that just comes through the hard knocks of life. But how sensible is it to continue harboring such ideas when they wreak havoc on our bodies and our energies?

The path of personal wisdom is to harness the brain’s great powers of self-awareness — the watcher watching the watcher — to uncover the hidden patterns of mood and emotion that we bear within us and change the way we view the world. We have the power to change our set points, as it were. Have you ever wondered how some families living in poverty in the inner city or in a small village in the third World can live with so much joy? It’s because their set points are modest. They have each other, food to eat, a roof over their heads, and, often, their faith. That is all they need. What do you need to truly be happy and at peace with this life?

Let’s differentiate between emotion and mood. Our marvelous brains recognize emotions from the time we are born. Feelings become hardwired into our neural connections long before we can manage the complex dance of cognitive thought and language. Emotion is like weather; it is what we feel in the moment as we encounter the conditions and people in our lives. Mood is like climate; it lingers and engulfs us. Thus, we say, “He’s in a bad mood.” Moods are emotion made persistent and can go on for an hour, a day, or even develop into a life-long disposition. Sometimes, when a melancholy mood becomes dark and helpless and hopeless, and persists for a long time, it is called clinical depression.

Both emotion and mood create new pathways in the brain and release specific chemicals, from dopamine to epinephrine. But whereas emotions come and go, moods are a choice. Sometimes you cannot avoid situations that will bring forth anger, fear, irritation, or sadness. Life is filled with them and to avoid them is to avoid living. However, if you choose to have a positive view of the difficult things in life — if you possess strong self-esteem — those emotions do not affect you in the long run. You face them, deal with the situation that created them, and move on.

However, moods do last and can shape your life in a healthful or dangerous way. If you hold on to insults, tragedies, or losses, or if you consider yourself responsible for them, you can breed dark, brooding, sullen moods that cause you nothing but misery. Friends stay away. Your health deteriorates. The world seems filled with no-good people and misfortune.

“Brain refreshing” is your defense against such negative moods. Using breathing, meditation, and self-awareness exercises, it helps you catch yourself in the process of harboring negative emotions and helps you clear them from your brain. In this way, neural pathways that fuel troubling emotions are never built. The mind remains open to beauty and joy and a positive outlook. Remember, a world view is a choice!

The Persistence of Memory

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.” this captures some sense of the elusive, ethereal quality of memory, yet memory is an important aspect of our identity. This is why so many people fear old age. They fear that they will inevitably have short-term memory loss, be unable to recall what they had for breakfast, or forget who they met the day before. But as “brain education” system training shows, aging need not be that way.

First, understand that we know very little about the ways memory works. To be sure, we know the areas of the brain that are associated with short-term and long-term memory. There is also episodic memory (associated with past events), semantic memory (having to do with facts), spatial memory (allowing us to create a mental picture of what is around us), emotional memory (feelings and fears), and procedural memory (which helps us remember how to do something). The part of the brain known as the hippocampus and the various cortexes surrounding it are deeply involved in all types of memory, but many other areas of the brain work with memory as well.

However, we really don’t know what a memory is. Some scientists have thought it was an electrical trace left by an event in a specific part of the brain. But subsequent research has shown this trace theory to be mistaken.

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