In a world where we have so many ideas and plans and an exploding “to do” list, staying calm and focused can be one of our most valuable assets: it can be a real, concrete, competitive advantage. We all have our own ways to calm ourselves and remain focused, and now neuroscience is showing us another great way: In his book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, Alex Korb, shows that when you are dealing with a problem or uncertainty, the brain thinks it’s better to keep worrying rather than do nothing, and so you start spiraling down. We know worrying and anxiety doesn’t help the situation, but it’s hard to stop yourself. He gives us a few brain friendly tips on what to do minimize stress and slow the downward spiral. Here are my two favorites: practicing gratefulness and touch.
- Re-focus the Brain by practicing gratefulness. Korb (along with many others!) suggests focusing on what you have to be grateful for and then try to feel grateful for it. The amazing thing is that you don’t actually need to be or feel grateful, just the act of trying to be grateful refocuses your brain and moves away from the anxiety to make you feel better. For all the sceptics out there – there’s no voodoo thinking going on here: It’s just a matter of chemistry – countless studies have shown that gratitude actually boosts the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which therefore increasing a sense of wellbeing and positivity
- Release Oxytocin. Oxytocin, known as the “cuddly” hormone is what makesus feel “warm and cuddly”. It dampens activity of the amygdala which drives the anxiety response. Touch is the fastest, easiest way to release oxytocin (think of the initial maternal-infant bonding). So a big long hug is the best option, but pats on the back, hand squeezes will work too. There is so much research that shows how hand-holding, literally, reduces activity in the stress and anxiety circuits. (Of course, here you need to be careful, particularly if you’re in a work environment.)
Obviously, there is no magic formula that lets people be in a good mood all the time. But next time you feel yourself spiraling down. What about trying these? And let me know what you think!