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You are hearing it everywhere. Every magazine, newspaper and even news channels are boasting about the amazing benefits of meditation or a mindfulness practice. Are they lying to us or just jumping onto the latest fad or craze? Neither, in fact one could say they are late to the party. The science community is finally embracing these practices due to the large amount of data proving their benefits, some have even referring to it as a technology of sorts because its effects are measurable; but the best part for you and I is you don’t have to believe in it to see results. It just works. The studies are repeatedly showing the same benefits:
• Increase focus and concentration
• Reduce emotional reactivity
• Reduce stress
• Improve memory
• Enhance empathy
• Increase cognitive flexibility
• Lower sensitivity to pain
I don’t know about you, but I would do almost anything to get all of these benefits at once! This is a vast subject that could fill 10 giant books but suffice it to say that you learn it simply by doing it. There is no other practice out there that can give you this kind of mental and emotional enhancement, producing the fastest changes in your brain and your life. A simple mindfulness practice every morning, if only for one to five minutes, is all it takes to start. Before you tell me you can’t do that because your mind wanders, know that such an argument is like saying you can’t go to a gym because you are out of shape. You do this to gain control over the wandering! Now don’t get all wigged out about this. If you are someone who has been avoiding this kind of practice, but are still unhappy. Maybe it’s time to give it a try. I promise there is no sitting cross-legged, no “ohm-ing,” and no trying to stop your mind from thinking! Thinking is what your mind does. The act of mindfulness or meditation is simply maintaining a pure awareness that allows you to become extremely aware of each thought going through your mind, allowing you to know what is traveling through your mind in nanoseconds. This awareness is what will allow you to finally control your moods.So just do start it already!
Does this sound familiar?
Your head hits the pillow and you begin having a heated one-sided discussion with that coworker, child, or spouse, and although this is happening only in your head, you get as angry and upset as if it were happening in real life, with all the same harmful chemicals in play. (My personal favorite is rehashing a situation from childhood or with someone who isn’t even in my life anymore.) Talk about insane behavior! Over and over in your head, you will make your point, chasing some sort of elusive validation like a dog chasing his tail. Before you know it, you’re tossing and turning and can’t sleep.
For others, fears of your loved ones being in danger take over. If you are a parent you know this all too well and mothers are especially good at it. As we toss and turn witnessing this horror movie of our own making, we search for any reliable gut feeling or sense that we are correct in our fears. As if knowing something bad was coming would allow us to prevent it anyway.
Oh sure were their dangers at some point, yes but never affiliated with a particular night of tossing and turning. So after all the stress one day can hand you, you climb into bed exhausted and your brain hops back on the Worry-Go-Round.
Dieting is another example of how beliefs/perception can alter people’s experience and outcome. In the first few months, many individuals become frustrated that they can’t eat the way others do. They may believe they are being deprived or even punished, causing a lowering of the feel-good chemicals, dopamine, and serotonin. However, if they stick with it, and begin to lose the weight, they feel better about themselves. Then their brains release hits of dopamine and serotonin whenever they just think about their new eating habits. (Why people go off their diet is a subject for an entire book). The job of these neurochemicals is to make us feel good when we do things that benefit us. The issue is that sometimes we have to teach our brains WHAT IS GOOD for us!
For thousands of years, our amygdala functioned very well at keeping us alive in the wild by sending waves of these stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and epinephrine through our bodies as soon as we saw a lion in the bushes or a dangerous snake. It did that so we would do one thing… run like hell. Not worry, evaluate, or analyze it.
Back then, people’s lives were in constant jeopardy, either from physical harm or from becoming a social outcast. Ten thousand years ago, if a woman’s mate seemed unhappy with her, the woman’s alarm bells would scream because if the man left, her family would have no food or protection and her offspring would die. The same happened when people were shunned by the other members of their tribe, causing them to become outcasts. That was a death sentence within hours. So it was not only the lion in the bushes but also the treatment they received from their inner social circle that meant life or death.
Now here you are today with a brain that is still interpreting any problem as a life-threatening situation! Your superior annoyed with you, a fight with your spouse, car trouble making you late for a meeting, or your in-laws coming for a two-week stay—all of these are often interpreted as life threatening as far as this little amygdala is concerned. It focuses on what will kill you—not on what keeps you happy—and therefore, so do you.
Excerpt from “Why We Are Wired to Worry and How Neuroscience Will Help You Fix It Stop Stressing, Reduce Anxiety, Feel Happy Finally!”
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