A brain is for movement, and movement has two objectives: avoid death and pursue life. A well-regulated brain appropriately senses when to do each of these things, and when to stop.
When things are going well,
- the amygdala implicitly learns arousing emotions, particularly fear
- the hippocampus explicitly learns facts
- the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal gland (HPA axis) produce cortisol and other stress-response signals that direct the body’s energy towards survival only when needed, and towards growth otherwise
- the Nucleus Accumbens and Ventral Tegmental Area produce dopamine (Dopaminergic system) which encourages us to pursue life-giving activities (nourishment, mating, cooperation)
- the Anterior Cingulate Cortex and Insula integrate learnings from empathizing with others and from self-awareness
- the ventro-medial and dorso-lateral Pre Frontal Cortex lead us to emotional and rational decisions, respectively.
When things have been rough for a while, the brain can become dys-regulated and malfunctioning:
- the amygdala is overly activated
- the hippocampus shrinks and loses the strength of its connections to the Pre-Frontal Cortex
- the HPA axis becomes hyper or hypo sensitized and does not respond appropriately to stress
- dopamine starts running low,
- we lose empathy and self-awareness
- we make worse risk calculations
Brains are wired and tuned (i.e. “regulated”) while infants interact with their caregivers and their environment. Their interactions result in attachment patterns that are either secure, with attuned caregivers, or non-secure (avoidant, anxious or disorganized) otherwise. Fascinatingly, secure attachments correlate with positive adult life outcomes, while non-secure constitute risk factors via dysregulated stress-responses.
Alarmingly, only ~50% of infants are securely attached to their caregivers, which raises questions about the tuning of our stress-response systems and our capacity for caregiving relationships.
- Attachment style
- Adverse Childhood Experiences score
- Healing / nourishing practices
- Talk things through, journal
- Mindfulness/ awareness/ meditation
- Rythmic, repetitive sensory stimulation (e.g. music, swimming)
- Body (‘interoceptive’) awareness (e.g. yoga, breathing exercises)
Treat your brain well
- Lower stress
- Close, positive connections