You’re watching puppy videos on social media and can’t help but smile and say “Awwww….”
You’re engaged in an argument so intense that you’re in a shouting match.
In either scenario, there’s a lot happening between your brain and body. Between physical reactions in your body to what you’re feeling mentally, your brain and body are connected in many ways. Read on to learn how your brain regulates your mind and body, and what you can do to tap into the power of the brain for your mental well-being.
Put your limbic system to work to stay emotionally healthy
Smiling at puppy videos or shouting in an argument are two examples of expressing emotions. This is your limbic system at work — it’s the part of the brain that controls emotion and memory and regulates sexual stimulation and learning. It also plays a part in how your body reacts to stressful situations because it’s constantly looking for threats and rewards around us. How we respond to these threats and rewards are what we call emotions.
Emotional health is important to your mental and overall health. Being emotionally healthy means you’re in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This helps you cope with life’s challenges, supports your self-esteem, and helps you form and maintain good relationships.
You can tap into your brain power to improve your emotional health by being aware of how you react to certain situations, being purposeful in expressing your feelings in a healthy, appropriate way, and thinking before you act on an emotion or feeling. Here are a few more tips to help you check in on your emotions.
If you’re wondering what your reactions are to certain emotional cues, try this facial expression brain game. It’ll help you recognize positive cues in your interactions with others and have you smiling when you’re done.
Exercise your vagus nerve to stay positive
Imagine you’re hiking in the woods and meet a bear. What do you do?
Thankfully, your chances of being attacked by a bear at one of America’s favorite national parks — Yellowstone — is 1 in 2.7 million people per year. Definitely not a huge chance. But if you happen to be hiking and come across a bear,your body will trigger the fight or flight response.
This is when your body helps you decide whether to run or to fight and occurs when you’re faced with a potentially dangerous situation. Your brain sends signals throughout your body that makes:
- Your heart beat faster
- Your breathing increase
- You start to sweat
- Your muscles tense up
What part of your body does this? Enter the vagus nerve. It controls functions in your body like breathing, digesting food, sweating — things that you don’t even need to think about. The vagus nerve also calms your body after a stressful situation. So, let’s say the bear did not see you and went on its way. You breathe the biggest sigh of relief. Now, your vagus nerve sends signals to your body that puts it back to a calm state so you can feel more relaxed.
Did you know that you can actually exercise your vagus nerve to shift negative thoughts into positive ones? Try this emotion regulation brain game to see how you can reframe your perspective, and get your body into a calm state.
Your body also triggers the fight or flight response when you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. It’s normal to experience these feelings; we all experience it in different ways. But if any of these feelings interfere with your daily life, it may be time to talk to a mental health professional who can help you assess your feelings and work with you to get your life back on track.
Strengthen cognition to sharpen focus
You might have heard of the word “cognition” or the term “cognitive function.” But what does it mean?
Simply put, cognition is “thinking” according to Psychology Today. It's your brain’s ability to reason, make decisions, learn, and more. It’s how you use your knowledge to do complex tasks, plan for changes, and learn from experience.
It’s also related to emotion and feelings, especially stress. When negative emotions trigger your fight or flight response and increase your stress levels, your cognition or ability to focus is affected.
When positive emotions put a halt on your flight-or-flight response, your thinking becomes clearer. Try these cognition brain exercises to help you maintain and improve your ability to focus and think clearly.
Improve resilience with self control
Imagine this: you’re craving a donut and are so tempted to go to your local donut shop and indulge in a glazed delight. But you remember your new year’s resolution to lay off on the sweets. So, you reach for a piece of fruit instead. That’s self control — the ability to control your impulses, emotions, and behaviors.
The part of the brain that is making this happen is the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain enables you to plan, solve problems, and make decisions. It also helps you align your emotion, feeling, and cognition so you can react to situations and regulate your negative emotions and feelings.
Put your prefrontal cortex to work to help you build self control and resilience by:
- Practicing self-awareness
- Recognizing and avoiding temptation
- Creating an if-then gameplan to help you make the right decisions to reach a goal
- Being flexible in how you think about things
- Sharing positive affirmations
Get support for you, and your brain
Now that you’ve tapped into the power of your brain to reframe your thoughts and emotions, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re feeling stressed and anxious or feeling sad, and it’s interfering with your relationships and daily life, talking to a mental health professional can help. With SonderMind, you can connect to a licensed therapist who understands you, can assess your symptoms, and help you build skills for resilience and self control over your emotions and behaviors.