Can Negativity Rewire Your Brain?

Ever get stuck in that mode where a bad day seems to repeat itself everyday and you feel like you’re staring in the movie Groundhog Day?  Well, believe it or not, that “bad day” is often controlled by how you perceive things and your self-talk.  We all have bad days.  Days where from the very start things just seem to go wrong for us and put us in a crappy mood.  The dangerous part is when we allow those events to control our thought process.

Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, teaches us that neurons that fire together, wire together.  In other words, whenever we think a thought or have a feeling or physical sensation, thousands of neurons are triggered and they all get together to form a neural network.

There are two big reasons that negativity can take over our brains:

  1. Our brains are actually wired to pay more attention to negative experiences. When information is received, we take it in at the base of our brains and then it travels through the brain, first hitting the Lympic System – otherwise know as our “Reptile Brain”.If you can remember back to your school days, the “Reptile Brain” is the source of our emotions and is controlled by the Fight or Flight syndrome.  As a self-protective characteristic, we are constantly scanning our environments for threats, but such a search for negative information can be harmful. With repetitive thinking, negative thinking in this situation, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time.  So, if you keep your mind looping on self-criticism, worries, and how nothing is working out for you, your mind will more easily find that part of your brain and will quickly assist you in thinking those same thoughts again.
  1. Our brains are wired to take the most efficient path possible. When a behavior is repeated, such as negative thoughts, complaining, etc. the neurons in our brain branch out to each other creating paths for the flow of information.  It’s like building a bridge from one island to another.  But in this case, the bridge is our negative thoughts.  This makes it much easier to repeat the negative behavior in the future without you even realizing it!  Complaining or negative thoughts then becomes your default behavior.

Brain Damage, oh my!

So we know the negativity breeds negativity but did you also know that that negativity can also cause brain damage?  Research from Standford University has shown that complaining can actually shrink your hippocampus.  Hippocampus is the area of the brain that is critical to problem solving and intelligent thought.  It is also one of the primary parts of the brain that is destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

Your brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol when you engage in negative thoughts and behaviors.  Once released, cortisol shifts you into that fight or flight mode and re-directs oxygen, blood and energy away from other areas of your body.  The result: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and even strokes.

The Brain Fix

Lucky for us, neuroplasticity gives us the power to change our brain structures through repetitive mental and physical activities and can be completely life-altering!  What once was thought to be cemented in childhood, science is discovering, now can be changed as adults.

To change your brain and rewire yourselves for a healthier life try these activities:

  • Practice Mindfulness: Research has shown that mindfulness can increase gray matter in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associtated with learning, memory and emotion and can reduce gray matter in the amygdala, an area of the brain known for stress and anxiety.
  • Replace negative thought with positive: Every time a negative thought creeps in, retrain your brain to think of a positive.  One way to help you do this is to take time to sit and write out negative thoughts that seem repetitive.  (i.e. Nothing ever works out for me, what a crappy day, I hate my job).  Now, write an alternative for that thought, instead of

“Nothing Works Out for Me” say “Challenges help me grow forward”

“What a Crappy Day” to “Today I am thankful for……”

“I hate my job” becomes “I am so blessed to have employment when so many are out of work.”

If you choose your alternative voice ahead of time you will be more likely to replace those thoughts when they creep in.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

Start today on a Growth Mindset. Now that science has proven that we can rewire our brain to a more positive thought process, our only limit is the limit we set ourselves.

Begin today with replacing those negative thought to happier ones, look towards the bright side, and refocusing your brain when negative thoughts occur. You have the ability to determine how your brain thinks about what happens in your life. Use it to your advantage!