The environment shapes the structure and function of the human brain. This occurs on a daily basis and is a natural occurrence as we manage our lives. Sometimes we feel peaceful because the environment provides our brain a sense of joy and peace. Sometimes, the environment causes our brain experience stress, anger, and sadness. Each of these feelings, and certainly many more, are simply part of being human. The key is to discover what environments our brain finds most pleasing and try to increase our exposure to these “happy” settings. In contrast, we need to consciously work on trying to limit “stressful” settings that can limit the full potential of our brains.
This is a good introduction to appreciating the holiday season and how it will impact our brains. More specifically, how will you handle or manage this holiday season? Interestingly, even though the holiday season has just begun, you already have certain thoughts and feelings about the holiday season. What thoughts and feelings do you experience when you think about this time of year and why are these the thoughts and feelings that permeate your brain?
It is true that the holiday season brings a full array of emotion for the human brain and human being. We can experience joy, love, peace, sadness, anger, distress, fatigue, compassion, and fear just to name a few! The holiday season can cause us to rush, to focus on the material world, and to lose sight of what the season is supposed to represent. There is certainly a family dynamic factor that can contribute the good, the bad, and the ugly of the holiday season. The good news is that we have some control over what are brain experiences and we can work on keeping the focus on the positive.
There is a growing body of research that indicates our brains respond in a relatively predictable way when we experience happiness or think positively. This could have major consequences for how we think about brain health. Indeed, some research indicates the left front part of our brain is a region that helps to process positive or happy thoughts and feelings. Imagine, engaging in a daily mindfulness exercise that focuses you on positive thoughts to work that left frontal lobe of your brain.
How do you want to experience this holiday season? Recall a peaceful and balanced brain is a happy and well-functioning brain. A stressed and hurried brain is not only unhappy, it will not perform as it can and mistakes will be made. Part of the reason for this is that negative thinking and perception can trigger our Amygdala, the part of the brain that tells us we are in danger and to prepare to fight or flee. This is a wonderful, self-preserving part of our brain when we are in real danger. Unfortunately, our thoughts can convince our brain we are in real danger when we really are not. This is known as “catastrophizing.” Everything is a catastrophe!
Try to take a deep breath and think about what a wonderful holiday season might look like to you. Write down or make a mental note of the three or four factors or ingredients that define a positive and enriching holiday season. Consider why you identified the three or four factors and what each means to you. These factors are the pathway, the guiding light to your brain feeling happiness and balance this holiday season. Remain focused on these factors and your brain will respond with highly efficient and emotionally pleasant outcomes.
An important suggestion to help you experience a wonderful holiday is to simply (or not so simply) slow down. Create moments of space and time for yourself each day starting today. Engage in deep breathing and close your eyes to focus on those three or four important factors each and every day. Make this a meditative practice to ignite the positive flow of chemicals in your brain that will energize your entire body. Try to limit the attention you allocate to those factors that will cause you negativity and stress.
On a daily basis this holiday season, repeat the following words in your brain while in a quiet and focused moment:
When you are finished with this daily exercise, pay attention to how nice you feel. You have succeeded at placing your brain in a wonderful and balanced state. You are prepared to enjoy the day and to celebrate a holiday season filled with positive energy.