We can actually change our own brain. When our anger is triggered, it can turn into rage very quickly. When we feel rage, we are no longer in wise mind and all logic is gone. This is when we cause ourselves problems.
Our amygdala, the emotional part of our brain that assesses whether we are safe or in danger, responds within 50 milliseconds- that is quicker than the blink of an eye.
Our prefrontal cortex– the part of our brain that plans, reasons, and holds our attention responds about ten times slower.
Years and years ago this helped us survive. If we got thrown out of the cave and we were being chased by a wild animal, we would be up and running before we even had time to think. But in today’s world, responding off of pure emotion often causes us a lot of problems.
When our brain senses threat, whether it is real or imaged, we automatically go into this fight or flight response without thinking. Many times our brain perceives threat when we are not actually in danger and it overreacts. This is usually when we say and do things that we later regret.
This weekend I attended an excellent workshop taught by Dr. Marsha Lucas who is a neuropsychologist, a psychotherapist, and author of the book, Rewire Your Brain for Love. Dr. Lucas has done some amazing research and her findings are very exciting.
We can indeed rewire our brain. By practicing certain mindful exercises for only five minutes everyday, we retrain our brain to pause when our extreme emotions are triggered. Research on the brain shows that these exercises not only change the way in which we react to stimuli, but they also change the brain’s actual physical appearance.
Our mental practices create new pathways in our brain. We can train our brain to pause before our amygdala responds off of pure emotion without reasoning things through.
In my post, It is All About the Pause, I have written about inserting a pause between a triggering event and our reaction, but I know have a clearer picture about the way the brain changes in the process.
By practicing mindfulness, that 50 millisecond space will automatically become a longer pause giving you time to reason before reacting.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment and focusing on what is happening within your body in the here and now.
Below I have given you a five-minute mindful exercise.
Gently close your eyes.
Focus only on your body. Where do you feel tension? Start with your head and work your way down to your toes, relaxing every part of your body. Then begin to focus on your breathing. Notice the air coming in and out of your mouth. If your mind begins to wander, bring it back to your breath without judging yourself. Then gently open your eyes.
Five minutes everyday. That’s it. With lots of practice, you will eventually find yourself much less explosive when your anger is triggered. The connections in your brain will change and you will be able to better control your reactions.
Remember practice makes progress not perfection. While practicing mindfulness, you must be patient and treat yourself with compassion.
Warning: People with a history of trauma should not practice mindfulness without consulting a mental health professional.
For information about rewiring your brain for healthier relationships, check out Dr. Marsha Lucas at www.rewireyourbrainforlove.com.