Rewriting Brain Outcomes
Last updated: May 2022
Stress is something we all can relate to. Perhaps you experienced it as a child walking into school on that very first day. Perhaps the “jitters” happened as you wondered if that great job offering would ever arrive. Or just perhaps you felt stress as you waited to learn the outcome of one or more medical tests.
Challenges first bring fear
Why do so many of us envision a negative outcome when facing a challenge vs. first envisioning a positive outcome? Deep down the answer might be that you have been programming your brain to seek out negative outcomes for longer than you realize. The unconscious choice of negative patterns may be the result of months or years of not seeing new challenges as built-in opportunities for new learning or growth.
Short-term fear and related stress can be beneficial, especially when faced with immediate danger. Weeks or months of never-ending fear on the other hand can lead to a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream which is never good for one’s personal health. Any blood cancer diagnosis can easily create fear and stress on many levels be it the result of a recent diagnosis, or the daily travels of being on a long cancer journey.
While I am currently in remission from NHL, the thoughts of a returning lymphoma occasionally resurface at the most inopportune times.
The reason why negative thoughts creep into our lives may have something to do with something called the amygdala. The amygdala is a small complex of cells in the middle of the brain, with are often associated with triggering our flight, fight or freeze responses when facing danger. This complex of cells is positioned next to the hippocampus which is associated with memory formation.1
Whenever we are exposed to something frightening it has been speculated that the amygdala sends signals to other parts of the body the telling us to either flee or fight and at the same time tells us to breathe more deeply as our heart races in anticipation of danger.
Think of the amygdala as a system that warns of dangers even before we are aware of them. This type of reflective response that can be very useful because it causes us to react instantly without thinking. How often have you as a front seat passenger in a car stepped on a non-existent brake when you sensed danger ahead? If so, you can most likely blame the amygdala for that reaction.
Blood-cancer causes stress at the time of diagnosis and thru treatment. It also reminds us of its presence every time we go in for follow-up testing. What most of us do not realize is the amygdala may also be able to help us reset our view of the future if we choose to replace our negative thoughts with positive ones.
As science learns more about the amygdala there is a growing suspicion that this structure located deep within our brains is far more complex than previously realized. The complexity of this bundle of cells is apparently significant enough that even neuroanatomists are having a difficult time agreeing on how the various reactions the amygdala causes should be categorized.1
In the simplest terms there is a growing body of evidence that suggests thinking positively can change the way our body and brain will automatically react to control stress.
How do you feel about your support system?