How many times have you thought, “Sheesh 2020 has been a bitch of a year, hope 2021 is better!” ? How many times today?
Our wonderful, brilliant, sensitive and productive brains are always hard at work, whether we’re staring at a window or typing away on new article for the website. In addition to a myriad of “behind-the-scenes’” functions, our brains actually generate thoughts thousands of times daily. It counts as a thought whether it’s as mundane as “I hate that fly” or as deep as “People are all basically __________, deep inside.” I am less interested in the actual number of thoughts (estimates range from 6,000 to 50,000 or more, every day which means approaching the one per second rate) than I am in the evolving science of understanding the nature and effects of our thoughts.
Thoughts have been categorized in ways that refer to the creation of a thought: was that a spontaneous thought or a continuous stream? You’ve had both types I know. A spontaneous thought can be based on an observation, “That is the bluest lake I’ve ever seen”, an intention that yields a delayed response (“Oh, yes, it was Elizabeth—I was trying to remember her name”) or a sequential one, “I’m going to figure out that puzzle if it takes all day.” A thought can be a memory or a belief. As you read this, you might be unintentionally thinking of yet another category of thought—good idea!
Thoughts are also categorized into single or repetitive thoughts, and repetitive thoughts in particular can be associated with emotions. The good ones are great to experience and actually good for us. Then there are the negative thoughts, or even worse: the repetitive negative thoughts(RNT’s). A recent study found an association with RNT’s and the development of cognitive decline, loss of memory and even the accumulation of amyloid and tau, proteins associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. The study followed 292 older adults (a longitudinal study) and measured cognitive function, amyloid markers and emotional state based on questionnaires (an observational study). The study found a correlation between the tendency to RNT’s and the adverse mental outcomes measured. Although a proper reverse study has not been done—where RNT’s are reversed and cognitive decline assessed—it is an interesting observation from which we might launch some reasonable theories.
What if somehow coercing your RNT’s into a positive attitude were better for your brain, what’s the down side? None, right! And, in fact, there may be another up side…
According to a recent Opinion piece in the New York Times, written by neuroscientist Dr. Lisa Barrett, our brains are actually much more interested in its “behind-the-scenes” functions than we might realize. Keeping our bodies alive and well is the #1 task in our brains’ to-do list. Which means that some of our negative thoughts might be thought of as alarm bells.
You might feel really despondent about the state of the world, and that feeling might also reflect something about your physiological state, and a hint that your physical body needs some attention.
There are many ways to respond to a bad mood or negative thoughts, once identified. We might feel curious—wondering: if there were a physiological need, what would it be. We might decide to be productive—rake leaves or wash dishes, with some rousing dance music in the background. Or generous—think of someone who would love a call, just to chat: even commiseration feels better than private misery. Or we might choose to feel kind—as we would towards a beloved child who doesn’t feel well: I am so sorry you are having such a bad day, here’s a hug and what might make you feel a little better? A little nap or read on the sofa, a long bath, be kind to yourself as you would to another.
And there’s always humor: “Just a short hop across this bridge, and 2020 will be history.” A good laugh helps body and mind recover, so if my photo hasn’t tickled your sense of humor, watch your favorite funny movie and I’ll see you on the other side of that bridge. (We’re much farther along than you think, I’m quite sure that photo was taken in September, the shore is within a hop, skip and jump!)
Gratitude: today mine goes out to Dr. Suzanne Gazda's who recent post about negative thoughts inspired me to think and get creative about the topic. Her Blog is well worth checking out if you're interested in your brain!