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Mindfulness Changes The Way Our Brains React to Sadness, Study Shows

Mindfulness Changes The Way Our Brains React to Sadness, Study Shows

Almost every guide to happiness whether it’s a self-help book or an online checklist will extol the numerous benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Being acutely aware of the present moment and yet remaining detached is hailed as the key to a satisfying and fulfilling life. If you’ve already mastered the art of being mindful and in control of your emotions, you’ve already won more than half the battle and you’re on your way to incredible success. And now, even science has proved that being mindful actually changes the way our brains react to particular emotions, especially sadness.

The Research

In an early study, led by Norman Farb and his colleagues, the participants were asked several questions about their personal traits, such as if they felt foolish, intelligent, trustworthy, responsible and so on, all the while being scanned by an MRI machine. What they found out was that such interrogation activated either the “narrative or analytic” mode of the brain which deals with questions like is it a good or bad thing?, What does this reveal about my personality?, or the “experiential/concrete” mode that grapples with questions like, what is happening in this moment and the next? What am I currently acutely aware of?

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After training the participants, the researchers began to study how mindful training was related to each of these two modes. The participants were tested twice-once before beginning an MBSR program and again after its completion. The results were startling.

Mindfulness leads to increase in activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex

Those who practised mindfulness displayed a decrease in the medial prefrontal cortex region of the brain which is associated it with analytical thinking and self-evaluation. Instead there was an increase in activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, especially the insula region of the brain which is linked to direct, in-the-moment sensory experiences.

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In other words, being mindful literally stops you from thinking too much and over-reacting. Just as there is a shift of activity in the brain from one region to another, there is an equal shift in thinking. Instead of blaming yourself or others, you learn to concentrate on the present moment and make the most out of it.

They were less likely to be caught up in the sadness than the other group

Farb and his colleagues then played sad and neutral film clips to the participants. Once again, the results were similar. The sad film clips were overall associated with greater medial prefrontal cortex activation and with regions linked to self-appraisal and less activity in the region associated with awareness in the present moment.

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However, the interesting fact was those who had undergone the mindfulness training course had higher activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex region. In other words, they were less likely to be caught up in the sadness than the other group. Once again, being mindful affords greater self-control and shift of attention to what is really important and not drown in one’s emotions.

How to be Mindful in Your Daily Life

1. Be mindful the moment you wake up. Sit in silence, relishing the present moment and being grateful for being so gloriously alive. Don’t let your phone or other noises distract you.

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2. Practise for short periods at first. Try 5 minutes at first, then increase it to 10 and 20 and so on.

3. Use prompts to remind yourself to be mindful. Have a personal cue: be it the morning coffee, or a certain activity, or a reminder on your phone, or even a particular symbol to remind yourself to practise mindfulness throughout the day.

If you can opt for a mindfulness training course, by all means go for it, but even if you can’t, it’s not the end of the world. Incorporate these valuable habits in your daily routine and watch your life change for the better in front of your eyes!

Featured photo credit: Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, Oxford University via brainfacts.org

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Archita Mittra

wordsmith, graphic designer, ideator, creative consultant, full time freelancer

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Last Updated on November 12, 2020

13 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory

13 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Memory

Life is made up of memories, what you have seen, heard, and done. Every bit of information you take in is only useful if you can remember it at the right time. How can you improve memory and ensure information is there when you need it?

There are many scientific theories and observations on how memories work. These theories provide us with an understanding of how feelings, routine, context, and recollection affect our memories. Here are some tips backed by scientific insights for improving memory.

1. Method of Loci

Method of Loci is a popular mnemonic technique that helps you recollect a large amount of information.[1] It works by utilizing your spatial and navigational skills as you envision your memories as part of a geographical entity. This is the technique that the famous fictional detective Sherlock calls the Mind Palace.

memory techniques loci

    This method is extremely useful when you are preparing for a speech or an exam[2]. Here is how you can make use of it:

    • Visualize a space you are most familiar with. It could be your home, your favorite park, or your school.
    • Construct the rooms, shelves, furniture, and everything inside it in your mind.
    • Imagine yourself keeping the items you want to remember in each of the rooms or in/on/around specific objects.
    • Next time you want to remember something, walk through room by room to recall what you placed there.

    Repeating this exercise has proven to be a great way to improve memory and remember loads of information with ease.

    You can learn more about this method in this article: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

    2. Acronyms

    Acronyms are proven to be very effective in memorizing a group of words. Research has shown that our brains are better at retrieving things when we associate meaning to them.[3] This is why recollecting a single meaningful word or phrase is easy compared to trying to remember a list of words.

    For instance, to memorize the directions on the compass, you can use the acronym NEWS (North, East, West, and South); or, when you want to remember the Great Lakes basin, you can make us of the acronym HOMES (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior), etc.

    Make up your own acronyms to the list of things you want to remember. All you need to do is list the things that you want to memorize and arrange them in an order such that the first letter of each word spells a real word.

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    3. Rhyming

    There is a reason why rhymes are still a popular way to teach kids. Our brains are great at acoustic encoding, which means breaking down sound structures.[4] We can easily remember stuff when they sound similar.

    The peg method can help you out. You first need to memorize the list in the exact order given below:

    one = bun

    two = shoe

    three= tree

    four = door

    five = hive

    six = sticks

    seven = heaven

    eight = gate

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    nine = vine

    ten = hen

    After you have memorized this list, now connect the first word to bun, second word to shoe, and so on. This will help you in making a memorable connection.

    Another way is to construct rhymes on the information you want to remember. For instance, if you want to remember that Mr. Jones runs a real-estate business, you can remember him with a rhyme:Mr. Jones from Homes.

    Although this may seem a bit weird and funny, this method will help you to improve memory overall.

    4. Linking

    This is a useful technique to help you stay sharp in many everyday scenarios, like remembering shopping lists. This is a visualization and association technique where you associate meaning to visual imagery. However, it is important to ensure that the images stored in your mind are as vivid as possible.

    For instance, if you want to remember a set of items, just link them up in a story. Let’s say that you want to remember the South England countries: Avon, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Somerset, Surrey, and Wiltshire.

    You can link all these countries in the form of a story to improve memory. An AVON lady is looking for a house. She is sweating and thirsty due to high SUMMER (Somerset). Along the way, she came across a giant CORN (Cornwall), but it is about to WILT (Wiltshire), etc.

    5. Chunking

    Very few people bother to remember phone numbers by heart nowadays. But what if you lose your contacts and need a way to recollect those long numbers? This memory technique will be handy in those situations.

    Chunking is basically breaking down the information into smaller pieces that are easy to remember. Start with a small number, say 379372518. Break it to three chunks 378 372 518. Improve your skills every day by trying to remember more numbers this way.

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    6. Write It Down

    Writing stimulates your reticular activating system (RAS).[5] So whenever you are trying to learn something and improve memory, try writing it down. Review what you have written and test yourself.

    You can also hand draw memory maps to further develop your memorization power.

    7. Be Busy

    Repeat all your brain exercises regularly and keep testing yourself to get better. A recent study revealed that our brain needs to be busy to keep itself fit as well.[6]

    Test yourself repeatedly if you want to retain the correct information for the longest time.

    Take walks or indulge in some physical activities as well. Research shows that healthy people who exercise regularly have better memories than those who don’t.

    8. Give Yourself a Good Sleep

    Sleeping is very much necessary if you want to improve memory. A tired body that lacks sleep will not be able to recollect or retain information effectively. Rest well and make sure your body and mind are rejuvenated every day.

    Furthermore, studies show that a lack of sleep can increase risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease[7]. Do your body and mind a favor and get a good night’s sleep as often as possible.

    9. Eat Healthy

    Try to include more memory-boosting fruits and vegetables into a healthy diet to improve memory. A study conducted by Harvard medical school backs this as well. Scientists believe that the antioxidants and vitamins from vegetables and fruits help to reduce oxidative stress in the brain and help battle age-related memory issues.[8]

    Learn about the brain foods you should include in your diet: 12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health

    10. Play Video Games and Brain Training Apps

    Now here is a fun way to improve memory. Playing video games may not seem the best way to study for an exam, but regular video game playing can actually improve certain memory-associated regions of the brain. Studies have shown that video games helps in total knowledge recall and can reduce dementia risk.[9]

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    Considering the benefits, maybe you can make brain training apps a regular pastime or something to do on your breaks.

    11. Think of the Ways in Which Things Relate to You

    According to a recent research, you can boost your memory considerably by contemplating why the information is important to you.[10] This signals your brain to convert the short-term memories into long-term ones, thus helping you remember effortlessly.

    12. Exercise Regularly

    You might not see this coming, but people who exercise daily, whether it be leisurely walking or long-distance running, have better memories when compared to their counterparts who do no physical activity.[11]

    If you’re really interested in learning how to improve memory, shoot for aerobic exercises to reduce cognitive decline and increase blood flow.

    13. Pay Attention to Essence

    Although practice makes perfect, this might not necessarily be true when it comes to boosting memory. Scientists have found that while repetitive practice could help you in remembering things, you might miss out on the bigger picture.[12]

    Do you remember that one presentation when you memorized everything by heart without giving much thought to it? What happened next? Someone interrupted in the middle, and you were not able to recall information after.

    Thus, rote repetition will not do any good. You need to complement repetition through a proper understanding of the finer details.

    The Bottom Line

    Sharpening your memory is not rocket science. All you need to do is follow the fun and simple ways mentioned above to improve memory, and eat right to boost your brain health!

    For more tips on boosting your memory, check out the following video:

    More on How to Improve Memory

    Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

    Reference

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