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.

​Is science synonymous with 'truth'? Game theory says, 'not always.'

Good science is sometimes trumped by the craving for a "big splash."

Videos
  • Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
  • This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
  • On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.

People who constantly complain are harmful to your health

Moans, groans, and gripes release stress hormones in the brain.

Photo credit: Getty Images / Stringer
popular

Could you give up complaining for a whole month? That's the crux of this interesting piece by Jessica Hullinger over at Fast Company. Hullinger explores the reasons why humans are so predisposed to griping and why, despite these predispositions, we should all try to complain less. As for no complaining for a month, that was the goal for people enrolled in the Complaint Restraint project.

Participants sought to go the entirety of February without so much as a moan, groan, or bellyache.

Keep reading Show less

NASA and ESA team up for historic planetary defense test

Two space agencies plan missions to deflect an asteroid.

ESA's Hera mission above asteroid 65803 Didymos. Credit: ESA/ScienceOffice.org
Surprising Science
  • NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together on missions to a binary asteroid system.
  • The DART and Hera missions will attempt to deflect and study the asteroid Didymoon.
  • A planetary defense system is important in preventing large-scale catastrophes.
Keep reading Show less