Resist Getting Drawn into the Abyss

Excerpt from "Tired of Feeling Bad? The New Science of Feelings Can Help," by Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley, Newsweek, February 20, 2012:

Jill Greenberg for Newsweek; Photo illustration by NewsweekWhen it comes to your Emotional Style, we know that changes to the neural structure of the brain are possible. We don’t know exactly how much plasticity the brain has, but we do know that some neurally inspired interventions—forms of mental training that target patterns of brain activity—can work. Mental activity, ranging from meditation to cognitive-behavior therapy, can help you develop a broader awareness of social signals, a deeper sensitivity to your own feelings and bodily sensations, a more consistently positive outlook, and a greater capacity for Resilience. Do you feel yourself to be too negative in outlook? Pay heightened attention to the ways in which you can be more generous and upbeat, through processes therapists call “well-being therapy.” Are you very Self-Aware, so much so that your internal chatter threatens to take over your day-to-day life? Practice observing your thoughts, feelings, and sensations nonjudgmentally moment by moment.

This practice, known as “mindfulness meditation,” is one of the most effective tools for changing our Emotional Style. In patients with depression—whom we call “Slow to Recover” on the Resilience scale—every disappointment and setback is shattering. These patients need to increase activity in the prefrontal cortex (especially on the left side), to strengthen the neuronal highways between it and the amygdala, or both. Mindfulness meditation cultivates greater Resilience and faster recovery from setbacks by weakening the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about and even wallowing in a setback. It strengthens connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, promoting an equanimity that will help keep you from spiraling down. As soon as your thoughts begin to leap from one catastrophe to the next in this chain of woe, you have the mental wherewithal to pause, observe how easily the mind does this, note that it is an interesting mental process, and resist getting drawn into the abyss.

[Thanks, Patricia!]