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  • Writer's pictureDayna Sharp, LCSW

Neuroscience Part 2: The Geography of our Mind

Updated: Jan 3, 2019

Neuroscience for Healing Anxiety
A Journey Into the Brain

Having a basic understanding of the way your brain works can help you understand, have compassion for, and better cope with your mind. This is true for both adults and for kids!

The brain is extremely complex, and neuroscientists are only beginning their exploration. We still have a lot to learn! But thinking about the makeup of our brain in a condensed, simple way can help us to better manage our thoughts and emotions.


The Three Major Parts of Your Brain and Why You Should Care

The Power of Your Brain at Your Fingertips!

1. The Brainstem

Our Brainstem is responsible for regulating our involuntary reflexes and processes. For example, breathing and sleep are largely controlled by your brainstem.

2. The Limbic System

This is the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotional world, and for our memories. It also plays a role in motivation and learning. Deep within the Limbic System is the Amygdala, which is our emergency alarm center. Any time we perceive that we are in danger, the Amygdala sends off an alarm that alerts our body and mind to enter survival mode: Fight, Flight or Freeze. That is, depending on past experiences and own temperament, we either react by fighting, trying to escape or we "play dead".

3. The Prefrontal Cortex

This is the "thinking" part of the brain. It helps us to plan, problem solve, contain our impulses, organize information and prepare to respond in a thoughtful way.


Navigating the Neighborhoods of Your Mind

When you are "in" the space of your Prefrontal Cortex, you are able to intentionally and thoughtfully respond to the world around you and your own thoughts and experiences.

When you are "in" the space of your Limbic System, you are in a highly emotional space. In these times, your affect is dysregulated, and you are unable to think clearly, problems solve, prepare, organize information, take in new information, etc. During these times, we tend to react. We yell, we run away, we act impulsively, because we are flooded by our survival system and disconnected from our cortex. These things are important if we truly are fighting for our lives, but this unmanaged response can also sabotage our every day lives.

By intentionally engaging our Brainstem through deep breathing, we can effectively put on the brakes of our parasympathetic nervous system, and actually stop the Limbic flooding!


The Bottom Line

Checking in with where you are in your brain can be helpful. If you find yourself in the Limbic Area, use your new knowledge to engage in some re-centering deep breathing to bring you back into balance. If you find yourself exclusively in your Cortex, give yourself permission and space to experience your whole human self! Balance is key to mental health and wellness.

I like to think of therapy as a process that builds a GPS-type app inside of us, so that we can grow the power to reflect on our experience, to know "where we are" in our brain, and to create the space to intentionally decide where we want to be going, rather than reactively ending up somewhere. Call today, and let Creating Space Counseling and Wellness help you draft your map!

Mantra for anxiety, anger, grief, trauma
Balanced Brain, Balanced Mind


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