Tag Archives: Meditation

Emotional Dysregulation : The Vital Importance Of Reducing It.

emotional dysregulation

Childhood Trauma Leading To Emotional Dysregulation In Adulthood :

If we have suffered significant and chronic childhood trauma we are at increased risk, as adults, of suffering from ’emotional dysregulation.’ Indeed, if our traumatic early experiences were so severe that we have gone on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) then this is especially likely to be the case (emotional deregulation is a classic feature and hallmark of BPD and one of the nine key symptoms of the disorder listed in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, or, in its abbreviated form, DSM V).

What Is Meant By The Term ‘Emotional Dysregulation?’ :

Other terms for ’emotional dysregulation’ include ’emotional instability’, ‘affective volatility’ and high ’emotional lability.’ In other words, an individual who is emotionally deregulated is prone to experiencing extreme and rapid fluctuations in his/her moods and feelings.

emotional_dysregulation

Recent Research Into Emotional Dysregulation In BPD Sufferers :

Recent research into BPD suggests that, in the case of individuals afflicted by this disorder,  not all emotions are involved in these dramatic fluctuations of mood. The main emotions that ARE involved have been found to be :

  • anger
  • anxiety
  • depressive feelings

To elaborate a little further, anger appears to be the emotion most strongly associated with BPD and severe swings between feelings of depression and anxiety have been found to be particularly prevalent in those suffering from the condition.

Devastating Effects On Life :

Anyone who suffers from, or has suffered from, significant emotional deregulation knows the devastating effects the condition can have on various aspects of one’s life : it can ruin friendships, family relationships and intimate relationships ; it can also cause problems at work, including job loss ; it may even lead to legal difficulties (and these examples by no means constitute an exhaustive list).

If, then, we suffer from emotional dysregulation, it is vital, if we wish to reclaim, and establish some semblance of control over, our lives, that we reduce our level of emotional deregulation and, thus, become more emotionally stable.

How Can We Reduce Our Level Of Emotional Dysregulation And Regain Some Control Over How We Feel And Behave?

A study carried out by Bailey and Chambers (2016) found that by undergoing an eight week course in mindfulness meditation, it was possible for an individual to increase the volume of the dentate gyrus, an area of the hippocampus (the hippocampus is the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation) by 22.8% – this is possible because of a quality of the brain known as neuroplasticity.

And other research has found that mindfulness meditation can also have beneficial effects upon other brain regions and their associated functions. For example, a review of research, carried out by the researchers Tang, Holzel and Posner (2015) and published in a journal called Nature Reviews Neuroscience focused upon 21 studies on the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain. Findings of the studies include :

Mindfulness meditation can increase the size of the following brain regions :

  • anterior cingulate cortex and striatum (involved in attention control)
  • multiple prefrontal regions and limbic region (involved in emotional regulation)
  • insula, medial prefrontal cortex (involved in self-awareness)

Resource :

Mindfulness Meditation Hypnosis Pack | Self Hypnosis Downloads

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

The Brain, Neuroscience and Meditation

brain meditation

THE PHYSICAL BRAIN :

The brain – the most complex entity in the known universe – controls our thoughts, moods, behavior and memories. It is clearly a physical entity, but neuroscientists are still a long way from being able to explain how something purely physical can give rise to conscious experience.

In simplified terms, the brain can be split into 3 main parts :

– THE CEREBRUM

– THE BRAIN STEM

– THE CEREBELLUM

brain regions

brain regions

The brain contains about 10 BILLION NEURONS (brain cells) and about 50 TRILLION SYNAPSES (connections between neurons).

The brain is also split into 2 halves (LEFT and RIGHT HEMISPHERES) which are connected by the CORPUS CALLOSUM (a collection of nerve fibres).

The two hemispheres can be further sub-divided into 4 lobes :

– THE FRONTAL LOBES (concerned with reasoning, voluntary movement, planning, emotions and intelligence)

– THE PARIETAL LOBES (concerned with spatial awareness, sensory information and body movement)

– THE OCCIPITAL LOBES (concerned with vision and visual memories)

– THE TEMPEROL LOBES (concerned with generating memory and emotions and also with comprehending sounds and images)

the brain's lobes

THE BRAIN’S EFFECT ON CRITICAL BODY FUNCTIONS :

The CEREBRUM is CONNECTED TO THE SPINAL CORD by the BRAIN STEM and, via this route, AUTOMATICALLY REGULATES VITAL BODY FUNCTIONS such as BREATHING, SWALLOWING, BLOOD PRESSURE, HEART BEAT and POSTURE ADJUSTMENTS.

THE CHEMICAL BRAIN :

The brain produces over 50 drugs and chemical reactions within it are continuous : these chemical reactions are linked to the brain’s electrical activity and together they are responsible for our behaviour, mood and health. It follows, then, that as the brain’s chemistry and electrical activity alter, so, too, does our behaviour and mood.

3 chemicals produced by the brain which affect mood

3 chemicals produced by the brain which affect mood

One group of brain chemicals which are of particular interest in connection with our mood and behaviour are called ENDORPHINS. Endorphin is, in fact, morphine (a powerful pain killing drug) that is produced within the body itself – it is able to produce analgesia and a general sense of well-being.

FOUR KEY EFFECTS OF ENDORPHINS :

1) improve immune system

2) relieve pain

3) reduce stress

4) postpone the ageing process

Endorphins are not only produced by the brain, but secreted throughout the whole body (which underlines the intimate connection between the mind and body).

HOW CAN WE MAXIMIZE OUR PRODUCTION OF ENDORPHINS?

The neuroscientist, Candice Pert, a research expert in this field of study, suggests that the following will help to maximize our production of endorphins :

– daily relaxation

– enjoyable exercise

– ‘goaless’ recreation (ie recreation we do for its own sake, rather like children at play)

– displays of affection (both public and private)

– guiltless sex

– laughing/humour/sense of the ridiculous

– deep breathing/meditation

– massage

– music

BRAIN CHEMISTRY AND MENTAL / PHYSICAL HEALTH :

Research has demonstrated that severe and long-lasting stress, as well as depression and anger, cause the body to produce chemicals which block healing (both psychological and physical) and even reduce life expectancy. Whereas, on the other hand, the production of endorphins protects us from stress and illness as well as increasing our life expectancy.

THE EMOTIONAL BRAIN :

The neurophysiologist, Paul MacLean, stated that, in effect, we have ‘three brains’ which are connected to one another but which also process information independently. These are :

1) THE NEOCORTEX – this only exists in humans and the other higher mammals (most recent, and relatively newly evolved)

2) THE LIMBIC SYSTEM – this is the paleo mammalian part of our brain (second part to evolve)

3) BRAIN STEM and CERREBELLUM – this is the reptilian part of our brain (first part to evolve)

I remember, when doing my first degree in psychology at university, we were told that, in effect, this meant that our brains were part lizard, part horse and part higher mammalian/human.

Indeed, our rational thought processes, generated by our recent acquistion of the neocortex, can easily be swamped and over-ruled by the more primitive parts of our brain which control our basic, instinctual drives. The three parts of the brain can be seen as being at conflict with one another, or even at war. This echoes Freud’s view of the Id, Ego and Superego being similarly at war with one another, leading to neurosis or psychosis (although there is no room to go into Freud’s theory here, unfortunately).

THE AMYGDALA :

It is thought that our most basic instinctual survival drives are centred on the part of the brain called the amygdala. Under stress, this part of the brain can completely disrupt thinking. It responds to both conscious and unconscious perceptions, non-verbal signs of fear and anger, to produce hormones that lead to physical responses of the body including sweating, muscular tension and defensive body postures.

location of the amygdala

location of the amygdala

Once aroused, it can completely inhibit rationality and create actions of passion, anger and violence. Whilst this function served our ancestors well (as they frequently needed to protect themselves from life – threatening attack), in the modern world ( where we are now rarely in physical danger), this very same function is now usually maladaptive (or, to put it another way, can create far more problems than it solves).

THE AMYGDALA, ANXIETY, DEPRESSION, PHOBIA AND PTSD.

Modern brain scanning techniques show that when the amygdala becomes active it interferes with parts of the brain responsible for processing information rationally. The amygdala also stores emotionally charged memories and, in conditions in which such memories seem to overwhelm the individual, such as can occur in anxiety, depression, phobia and PTSD, it is now believed the symptoms such conditions generate may be in large part due to a malfunctioning amydala.

The amygdala is highly sensitive, and, because it works as an INTERNAL ALARM SYSTEM, it can be easily triggered.

FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS ARE PHYSICAL BRAIN PROCESSES :

Knowing the above about the amygdala, we can see that feelings and emotions are essentially ‘just’ brain processes.

Unfortunately, due to the way various parts of the brain are interconnected, it is much easier for thoughts to turn the amygdala ON than it is for them to turn the amygdala OFF (this is evolution’s way of expressing the sentiment, ‘better safe than sorry’).

THE ELECTRICAL BRAIN :

The brain is an electrochemical processing system. Neurons (brain cells) communicate with one another by the means of tiny electric impulses. There are 4 frequency bands utilized by the brain. These are ;

– DELTA FREQUENCY :  0.1-4 Hz, characterized by deep sleep

– THETA FREQUENCY : 4-8 Hz, characterized by drowsiness, hypnosis and deep daydreaming

– ALPHA FREQUENCY : 8-13 Hz, characterized by a relaxed but alert mental state

– BETA FREQUENCY : Above 13Hz, characterized by deep concentration and/or anxious thinking

measuring electrical activity in the brain

measuring electrical activity in the brain

Very recent research has also discovered that much higher frequencies can also be detected, above 40Hz, and even as high as 100Hz. This has been termed GAMMA FREQUENCY. This brand new area of study is of much interest as it is believed that these frequency levels have important implications for our higher mental processes including perception, self-awareness and insight.  The GAMMA STATE is also associated with deep meditative states in which people report phenomena such as ‘feeling at one with the universe’ and a ‘loss of the sense of the self as a separate entity.

THE IMPLICATIONS OF NEUROSCIENCE FOR UNDERSTANDING THE EFFECTS OF MEDITATION :

Neuroscience has now demonstrated that meditation alters the frequency level at which the brain operates.

Studies have revealed that novice meditators can cause the gamma activity in their brains to increase slightly, whereas expert meditators can produce gamma activity in their brains 30 times stronger. These high levels of gamma activity were found to be concentrated in brain areas associated with positive emotions.

I have already written articles about the brain’s neuroplasticity (ie its ability to physically change itself even in adulthood ; CLICK HERE to read one of my articles on this). It now seems clear that meditation is one of the ways in which the brain’s structure and function can be caused to undergo such change.

Indeed, research suggests that meditation can greatly increase acivity on the left hand side of the brain near the front of the cortex (eg regions in which activity is correlated with positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm and happiness) whilst greatly reducing activity on the right hand side of the brain (eg regions associated with negative emotions such as anxiety and sadness).

Through meditation, then, it is now clear we can train our brains to make ourselves experts in habitually generating  positive emotions and feelings of well being in much the same way that training in a sport like tennis can make us a talented tennis player.

 

brain meditation

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).