How Not to Be a Slave to Your Brain: Mindfulness for Mental Health

It's possible to develop the areas of your brain that control feelings such as kindness, as well as the regulation of difficult emotions. In this way, you can train your brain to be a tougher guard against negativity.

Big Think and the Mental Health Channel are proud to present Big Thinkers on Mental Health, a new series dedicated to open discussion of anxiety, depression, and the many other psychological disorders that affect millions worldwide.


What does mindfulness have to do with neuroplasticity? Well, as Ruby Wax would tell you, neuroplasticity posits that you are the architect of your own brain. That means mindfulness is sort of like brick and mortar; it's the raw materials out of which you shape your consciousness and life experience. According to Dr. Mark Epstein, this week's Big Thinker on Mental Health, it's possible to develop the areas of the brain that control feelings such as kindness or altruism as well as the regulation of difficult emotions. That's where mindfulness comes in:

Epstein describes mindfulness as a way to temper our reactions to the many pleasant and unpleasant stigma of the external world. Just like lifting weights strengthens your biceps, mindful meditation bulks up your brain, in particular the parts dedicated to dealing with negative emotions. When you meditate, it's like taking a vitamin C for your mental health.

So how do you not be a slave to your brain? In short, you acknowledge that the brain is plastic (figuratively, not literally — unless you're a Barbie doll) and can be altered. Mindfulness works well in the treatment of myriad mental disorders, as well as a simple inoculation against the everyday strife endured by the brain. You have the power to build a better brain; all it takes is peace and dedication.

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