We all know how powerful gratitude is and have heard the advice, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but at times, that advice is certainly easier said than done. Sometimes it feels impossible to break out of a funk or negative state of mind, but there are lots of specific strategies for this.
One of these strategies is to train your brain to catch yourself in that emotion and then label it. Is it Fear? Anger? Sadness? Stress, or another? Take a moment to find the closest label and then give it that label. It doesn’t really matter what you call it, so don’t get hung up on trying to be exact in your labeling. It’s the process of doing this that’s important because this exercise pulls your brain energy out of the area of the brain that ruminates about emotionsand makes it worse, namely, the amygdala. Once pulled out of the amygdala, your brain impulses are then shunted into the area of the brain that can think of things logically and put them in true perspective, namely, the prefrontal cortex.
In one study using brain scans, participants viewed pictures of people with varying emotional facial expressions. Researchers observed each participant’s amygdala being activated to the emotions in the picture. When the subjects were asked to name the emotion, the logical and rational prefrontal cortex increased in activity and the emotional amygdala decreased in activity.
The amygdala is important for fight or flight processing, which can help us escape or avoid an immediate threat, but if allowed to remain active for too long, it can create an unnecessary escalation of the emotions and blow things out of proportion. When you are upset, stressed or feel yourself ruminating and escalating in emotional intensity, the prefrontal cortex can come to your rescue with this technique.
The reason this works is because the brain has significant difficulty sending energy to more than one part simultaneously, so when you are consciously shunting energy to the prefrontal cortex, you are necessarily shunting it away from the amygdala. This not only makes you feel better at the time, but trains your brain to do this process more easily and subsequent efforts later.
Try it out. You will be surprised how easily a simple thing like naming your mood or emotion can help you escape that state and even prevent associated behaviors like emotional eating!