I find it tremendously exciting that neuroscience is discovering ways in which we can all help ourselves to make highly significant, or even profound, positive changes to how we respond to our lives on an emotional level. One of the main reasons we can do this is that it is now known that through training our brains in certain ways we can ALTER IT ON A PHYSICAL LEVEL due to a property it has which neuroscientists have called NEUROPLASTICITY (click here to read my article on this).
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BRAIN’S LEFT HEMISPHERE :
Neuroscientific research has revealed to us that the brain’s left hemisphere is associated with generating positive emotions whilst the right hemisphere is associated with generating negative emotions. Below, I list a sample of the evidence for this :
1) Individuals who suffer a stroke located in the left hemisphere become profoundly depressed whereas people who suffer a stroke located in their right hemisphere actually become less anxious and more easy-going
2) Brain imaging techniques reveal that negative feelings are accompanied by greater activation of the right hemisphere whereas positive feelings such as optimism are associated with more activation of the right hemisphere
3) Depressed people generalize their feelings of negativity onto all aspects of their lives ; it is the right hemisphere that is associated with such generalized thinking
THE NEED FOR US TO STIMULATE ACTIVITY IN OUR BRAIN’S LEFT HEMISPHERE IN ORDER TO CREATE POSITIVE MOODS :
It follows from the above that in order for us to elevate our mood we need to stimulate our left hemisphere much more. How do we do this?
To answer this question it is useful to refer to research conducted by the psychologist Kelly Lambert : she drew our attention to the fact that there is a network in the brain’s left hemisphere that connects movement, emotion and thinking, which means these three things affect each other. Because of these connections in the brain, it has been found that increasing physical activity has the knock on effects of lifting mood and creating more positive thinking. Lambert named this technique for treating depression ‘BEHAVIOURAL ACTIVATION.‘
Following on from this research, it has been emphasized that an especially effective way to benefit from the behavioural activation mechanism is, when we are depressed, TO ACT AS WE WOULD IF WE WERE IN A GOOD MOOD. This might involve, for example, undertaking an activity we used to enjoy such as a sport or hobby.
Also, whilst it might sound a little silly, it has also been found that even the physical act of smiling (even when we are depressed and don’t feel like smiling) helps to activate the left hemisphere due to the way in which our brains are wired up.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE FACT THAT THE LEFT HEMISPHERE CONTROLS LANGUAGE :
Because the left hemisphere controls language, the more we use language in relation to our condition, the more this hemisphere is activated. We therefore need to try to put our feelings into words when we are depressed (for example linguistically labelling our feelings rather than just passively experiencing them, or verbally interpreting and analysing our situation).
Also, writing a daily diary , including writing about feelings and emotions, is a good idea.
In my own case, my main motivation for creating this site was for the therapeutic effect of doing so.
NEUROPLASTICITY REVISITED :
Due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, the more we activate our left hemisphere the more it undergoes beneficial physiological change increasing neural connections that lift our mood. Just as depression leads to vicious cycle affecting our mood, thoughts and behaviour, stimulating our left hemisphere leads to a virtuous, and, ultimately, self-perpetuating, positive cycle.
FOR PART TWO, CLICK HERE.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).