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“Good-Brain” Health

Posted in Blog by Elizabeth Neeld, Joie de Vivre: Enjoying Life, Living As Wisely As Possible

Daniel Amen, M. D., has written a book called Change Your Brain: Change Your Life. It turns out that some of my friends have known about this book for years and have found Dr. Amen’s suggestions very valuable. I, however, only recently discovered the book when it was listed on the home page of Amazon.com. Based on decades of research at the Amen Clinic for Behavior Medicine, Change Your Brain: Change Your Life offers simple and practical ideas for improving the quality of our daily lives by knowing more about how our brains work.

How It Feels to Have a Centered Brain"

How It Feels to Have a Centered Brain

When I read some of the suggestions, I thought about Einstein’s assertion that some of the most elegant things in the universe are the most simple. Dr. Amen’s recommendations for “good-brain” health are simple…and I can attest that the ones I have already tried for myself do make a difference.

Let me give you an example:

One morning recently I started my day feeling lethargic and, generally, off-kilter. My mood was low, although I had no explanation for why I woke up feeling this way. Having just read Dr. Amen’s chapter on the temporal lobes of our brain—areas of our brain that affect our emotional feelings—I decided to go to his book and read what “prescriptions” he gave that would produce “good-brain” health in the temporal lobes.

Prescription #2 for temporal lobe “good-brain” health was this: Sing Whenever/Wherever You Can.

Sing? Sing for “good-brain” health in my temporal lobes? Sing when you have a pitch and tone like mine??

“Well,” I thought, “give it a try. You won’t have to spend any money or get in the car and go somewhere or take the morning off from work. The doctor says, ‘Sing,’ so why don’t you sing?”

So I went in search of an old book I knew we had somewhere on the bookshelves: The Reader’s Digest Family Song Book. The wire-bound collection was on the highest shelf of the bookcase (letting me know we hadn’t had it down in years!), so I climbed up and got it. I flipped through until I found a song I remembered the tune to, “Embraceable You.” I took the book into the kitchen, propped it up on the counter, and started “singing”: It had to be you…my sweet embraceable you.

Then I went on to sing two or three more songs there at the kitchen counter. I finished, put the book back on a shelf (lower down this time!), and went on about my business. I have to tell you the truth: I did feel better. In fact, my low, draggy mood had changed. Those temporal lobes liked my singing, whether I carried the tune or not! And the effect lasted for the rest of the day.

Dr. Amen has chapters on all the major parts of our brain, including the basal ganglia, which is related to our anxiety and fears. The basal ganglia are involved with setting the body’s “idle speed,” or anxiety level. Let’s say that a person’s anxiety increases in the car on the way home from a meeting: did I make my points clear…did people think what I said made sense…am I still seen as a valuable member of the group? Now, the logic part of our brains might recognize that these are worrying questions; but the basal ganglia has been over stimulated at the meeting and our anxiety level is now high.

Dr. Amen has Prescription #5 for “good-brain” health for the basal ganglia: Think About the “18/40/60 Rule.”

When you’re eighteen, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you.
When you’re forty, you don’t give a d… about what people think of you.
When you’re sixty, you realize nobody’s been thinking about you at all.

As humorous as these statements might be, they work, according to Dr. Amen’s brain research, to reset the anxiety level of the basal ganglia of our brains, and we feel less agitated and upset.

How It Feels to Have an Upset Brain

How It Feels to Have an Upset Brain

One last example: about the deep limbic system of the brain. This part of the brain is roughly the size of a walnut and is located at the center of the brain. Problems with the deep limbic system can result in appetite and sleep problems, decreased motivation, and an increase in negative thinking. Dr. Amen has eleven prescriptions for “good-brain” health for the deep limbic system, including this really easy one: Surround Yourself With Good Smells.

It seems the right smells can cool the deep limbic system. Dr. Amen cites a study in the British medical journal, The Lancet, about the benefits of the smell of lavender. According to the study, when people smelled lavender, they felt less stressed and less depressed. Their sleep was enhanced. This smell of lavender goes directly to the deep limbic system and helps increase “good-brain” health.

I know all of us appreciate every accurate and useful suggestion we can get for feeling more centered and balanced and less anxious and upset. Dr. Amen’s book reminded me of some things I had already known but hadn’t thought about lately. And he taught me many new things about what I can do to have “good-brain” health. To that I say, Thank you and Amen!

Note: The wonderful dogs who illustrate this blog were drawn by my dear friend, Erik Kuntz. Erik has a website called www.dogadayproject.com whgere he posts a new dog he has drawn or photographed each day. He also has a comic strip website called www.hexlibriscomic.com where he draws a terrific comic strip about a person who lives in a library and has all kinds of adventures there. Check out Erik’s work. It will be “good-brain” health in and of itself!

Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld offers wisdom and practical insights to anyone whose life is in a time of transition, change, grief and loss of any kind. As an internationally recognized and accomplished consultant, and author of more than twenty books - including Tough Transitions and Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World - she is committed to work that helps lift the human spirit.

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