Can a Breakup Lead to Depression?

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptive to change - Charles Darwin.

A breakup can cause stress. Stress can lead to depression.

Here's how:

First, the role of stress in the development, expression, and exacerbation of depression is well established. (ref 1-4).

1.  (Stressful Life Events, Chronic Difficulties, and the Symptoms of Clinical Depression - )

2.  (Major Life Events and Major Chronic Difficulties Are Differentially Associated With History of Major Depressive Episodes )

3. (Stressful life events, genetic liability, and onset of an episode of major depression in womenStressful life events, genetic liability, and onset of an episode of major depression in women.)

4. (Stress and depressionStress and depression. )

Major depression is one of the most common and one of the most disabling psychological conditions. The impairment resulting from depression is severe, not only because of the pervasive impact of an episode of the disorder on the afflicted individual’s life, but also because of the high likelihood that depression will recur, often repeatedly, over the course of their lives. So when a breakup happens to a person, if they aren’t somewhat prepared and resilient, that breakup can be a substantial pivot point in their lives that might adversely affect them for years. And if that relationship dissolution put them into a tailspin, how are they going to respond when struck by the additional slings and arrows of life e.g. death of their parents.

Stress also has a long term negative effect on circuits in the brain responsible for regulating emotions. (ref 5-7)

5. In stressful situations such as military training, US cadets report decreased ratings of pleasure in response to positive provocations
(The effect of stress on hedonic capacity.)

6. Women under acute stress produced by threat of shock show blunted reward responsiveness.
(Acute stress reduces reward responsiveness: implications for depression. )

7. Individuals reporting higher levels of stress in the recent past show reduced reward learning ( )

People who have stress over time can end up having their emotion regulation circuitry compromised causing it to take longer to recover from stressful events and get back to a normal baseline. (Prolonged Marital Stress is Associated with Short-Lived Responses to Positive Stimuli   That study had also shown that subjects were quick to feel negative emotions after the conditioned stimulus was presented and would stay in that stress state for longer. It’s like they’ve trained themselves to prefer emotional pain. They spend more time there so perhaps it seems most comfortable. And it’s like they dislike pleasure because when looking at pleasant stimuli, it would take them longer to make sense of positive images and when they did, those positive feelings were brief. Richie Davidson, the principal neuroscientist for that paper wrote that the untrained people are slow to recover and that they perseverate. Too much time thinking about the ex and feeling the stress of it repeatedly is won't make things better.

So recovering successfully after a breakup takes some skills. Not just for being able to bounce back, but skills to prevent sinking into the abyss due to the stress linkage to depression and the compromised emotion regulation circuitry.

Another contribution to depression the stress of a breakup can deliver is weakened reward circuitry. Fun becomes … funless.
(Increased Perceived Stress is Associated with Blunted Hedonic Capacity: Potential Implications for Depression Research

This is why marital stress is associated with a higher incidence of psychiatric disorders, in particular major depression. A person can’t move forward after a breakup if the tools for moving forward are compromised.

Depending on a persons background and history with adversity, a breakup might be the worst thing they’ve experienced so far in life and they haven’t the history or support to get over it.

People that don’t move forward after a breakup are usually clinging to a model of the world that no longer exists. They believe the ex is ‘the one’ and that their future is over without the ex. Some would rather die than change their beliefs. They focus on the past so much it becomes a habitually practiced skill. They get really good at feeling bad. That just puts them into a nosedive that can make escaping quite difficult, especially if they keep replaying old memories with strong emotions. “I cant get them back. They were the one. I miss him/her so much. I can’t live without them. I have no future without them. I think about them everyday".  That kind of thinking is not going to cultivate resilience.

Feel bad long enough and the ability to bounce back gets harder and harder because this thinking becomes more stable and automatized. They start to believe their own lies and cognitive distortions. 'I’m worthless, I’m garbage, nobody will love me like that again, theres nothing to live for, nothing is enjoyable, I’ve lost everything, the light has gone out in my life.’

Then with all this sabotage going on under the hood, they feel worthless and stop doing anything solution based. e.g consistently focusing and working on rebuilding a new life and better brain via meditation, strategies.

Now, if there are no new experiences, the hippocampus begins to shrink because there are no new memory formations.  Hippocampus is attributed with the consolidation of information from short term memory to long-term memory.  What happens with a hippocampus that decreases in size due to a lack of new experiences?  For this answer, a quote from Robert Sapolsky... "This structure plays a critical role in learning and memory, and the magnitude of the hippocampal volume loss (nearly 20% in some reports; see bullets. 8, 9, 10) helps explain some well-documented cognitive deficits that accompany major depression.'

8. Hippocampal atrophy in recurrent major depression.

9.  Depression duration but not age predicts hippocampal volume loss in medically healthy women with recurrent major depression.

10. Hippocampal volume reduction in major depression

Linda Graham writes ’Unless new experiences cause a rewiring of the old circuits, the patterns of coping we learned (even if they aren’t working) become our default responses to life’s set backs. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.’ - Bouncing Back- Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well Being. by Linda Graham, MFT

With all the continual stress and strain and focus on the past, their brain is helping them go deeper down a rough, painful, slow, sad road. More intrusive rumination, guilt, anger, sadness, shame, disappointment. It’s a habit. The ex is like a drug to the brain, the brain wants a hit of excitement so it goes to memories linked to pleasure, they start thinking of the past, pleasure is linked to the ex, that memory is brought forth and sometimes re-traumatize themselves by reopening an old unhealed unresolved wound and on it goes.

In Carol Dwecks book, ‘Mindset: Psychology of Success’, she writes about the difference in thinking between winners and losers. Winners have flexible mindsets. Losers have rigid, inflexible thinking.
What would happen to the car manufacturers or Apple if they stopped innovating? What happened to Blockbuster when it knew Netflix was coming down the line? Blockbuster held on to their same business model hoping patrons would still come in on a Friday night and pick up a VHS movie like always. Times changed, Blockbuster didn’t. Now they’re an example of how mental rigidity is a VIP pass to extinction. Ok almost extinction, there’s a blockbuster or two still around. In a nutshell, evolve or die. But it’s difficult if the evolve tools are compromised.

And that’s some of what’ can lead to depression with people that don’t get over a breakup. Although some folks  might have been off center before the relationship started and then the breakup might have been the tipping point that called out their emotional style. A person might not know they’re bad at getting over stuff until it happens.

The brain rewires itself in response to experience, so if bad experiences and thoughts of the past is the main food for thought, that’s going to result in an impoverished brain and its going to want stimulation. Time to bring in the internet, alcohol, drugs or gambling, maybe become destructive & nihilistic to feel control over something in life.  People with a tough time moving on post-breakup are ones that haven’t got any big future plans, just a past that they keep replaying which eats their future. It’s not their fault. It’s their brain. Without supportive themes and right attention to get back on track, they can suffer a gradual burn that slowly turns hope into ashes.

Then there are some that get PTSD after a breakup due to ending a relationship with a violent narcissist. This is going to create nightmares and flashbacks, the typical symptoms of PTSD.

And this is why neuroplasticity is a double edged sword. Experience shapes the brain and can change the brains structure and functioning. However, a change doesn’t always mean it’s for the better. You can use your mind to change your brain…for the better or the worse.

Fortunately, there are mental training strategies for engaging self-directed neuroplasticity to increase resilience and bounce back after a breakup. Also, well being is a skill that can be cultivated so there is lots of hope and escape routes that enable people to bounce back after a breakup and in some instances, achieve their own form of post-traumatic growth.

Most important is recognizing the prodromal symptoms of depression and doing something about it like taking lithium or doing mental training strategies to rewire the brain back to a more functional state.

‘Any new experience rewires the brain in some way. When we want to direct that rewiring - for example, when we want to rewire specifically for resilience-it’s necessary to carefully choose the new experiences that will help create that new neural structure and rewire old pathways effectively, efficiently and safely. We can do so by using self-directed neuroplasticity by directing focused attention on specific new experiences or on old patterns that we want to rewire.’ - Bouncing Back- Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well Being. by Linda Graham, MFT

Dr Joe Dispenza ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself’ Review Chapter 3 Overcoming Your Body

The next chapter from the Dr Joe Dispenza book "Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself' is about overcoming your body

In this chapter Dr Joe Dispenza writes about how we get our body to be able to react and respond in ways that can be very difficult to overcome.  If I were to sum up this entire chapter in a few words it would be this:
think greater than how you feel.
This chapter starts with the words "You do not think in a vacuum'.  Every time you have a thought there is a biochemical reaction in the brain you make a chemical and then he goes on to describe how we're made of cells and that all cells have receptor sites on their exterior surface that receive information from outside their boundaries and then when there's a match in chemistry frequency and electrical charge between a receptor site and an incoming signal from the outside, then the cell gets turned on to perform certain tasks.
This is where these three ingredients( neurotransmitters, neuro peptides and hormones) blend together to create the cause and effect chemicals. These are known as the cause and effect chemicals for brain activity and bodily function and these things can connect to, interact with or influence the cell in a matter of milliseconds so think of neurotransmitters as chemical messengers primarily from the brain and neuropeptides as chemical signallers that serve as a bridge between the brain and the body to make us feel the way we think and hormones as the chemicals related to feelings primarily in the body.


Let's say you're trying to figure out how to get over someone or how to be able to get over the loss of a job or perhaps it's thinking about some kind of argument that you're about to have with somebody or maybe you get cut off in traffic.  Some kind of event causes you to feel stress.

If you start thinking about these stressful things your neurotransmitters would start the thought process in your brain to produce a specific level of mind.  Your neuropeptides would chemically signal your body in a specific way and you would begin to feel a bit riled up and then as the peptides find a way to your adrenal glands they would then be prompted to release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol and then you're definitely feeling riled up.

Chemically your body is ready for battle so as you think these thoughts your brain circuits fire in corresponding sequences and patterns and combinations which then produce levels of mind equal to those thoughts.

Once these specific networks of neurons are activated, the brain produces specific chemicals with the exact signature to match those thoughts so that you feel the way you were just thinking.

The brain constantly monitors the way the body is feeling and then based on the chemical feedback it receives it will generate more thoughts that produce chemicals corresponding to the way the body is feeling.  We begin to feel the way we think and then to think the way we feel.

This continuous cycle creates a feedback loop called a 'state of being' so this is how all three of these components mixed together to create this cyclic thinking and feeling as a state of being.

Dr Joe Dispenza writes a warning, 'when feelings become the means of thinking or if we cannot think greater than how we feel, we can never change.   To change is to think greater than how we feel.   To change is to act greater than the familiar feelings of the memorized self.'

Breaking the habit of being yourself consists of thinking greater than the way you're feeling.

This is using your thoughts to override the chemicals and the ingredients that you had been cooking in the past.  So you know the result of this cyclic communication between your brain and your body is that you tend to react addictively to these kinds of situations and you create patterns of the same familiar thoughts and feelings and you unconsciously behave in automatic ways and we become wired and mired in these routines.

This is how the chemical 'you' functions and this is why it can be difficult to break habits.

Then Joe Dispenza goes on to say ninety-five percent of who and what we are by mid life is a series of subconscious programs that have become automatic like driving a car, teeth brushing or overeating when we're stressed or worrying about the future or blaming our parents or not believing in ourselves or insisting on being chronically unhappy etc.

For example let's say that you had made a mistake in your life and you've been carrying that guilt about it or anger or sadness or shame and so every time you think that thought you're signalling your body to produce the specific chemicals that make up that feeling of guilt or anger or sadness or shame because you've done this so often our cells are swimming in this sea of guilt chemicals.  Then these receptor sites on the cells adapt so that they can better take in and process this particular chemical expression that of guilt or anger sadness or shame and then this enormous amount of guilt bathing the cells begins to feel normal to them and eventually what the body perceives as normal starts to be interpreted as pleasurable.  

What ends up happening is these cells become somewhat desensitized to the chemical feeling of guilt and they will require a stronger more powerful emotion from you, a higher threshold extreme to turn on the next time and then when that stronger hit of guilt chemicals gets the body's attention, your cells perk up at the stimulation and when each cell divides at the end of its life and makes a daughter cell, the receptor sites on the outside of that new cell will require a higher threshold of guilt or anger or sadness or shame or whatever that negative emotion is to turn that cell back on and so then the body demands a stronger emotional rush of feeling bad in order to feel alive so you become addicted to guilt by your own doing. This is why being able to overcome your body and the training that it's received can be a challenge.

Dr. Joe Dispenza then writes 'you have become unconsciously guilty most of the time.  Your body has become the mind of guilt so in a sense it's like training your body to live as a memorized chemical continuity.'

What we're seeking to be doing with breaking the habit of being yourself is interrupting and denying those cells or chemical needs by going contrary to those subconscious programs to be changing those emotional patterns.

This is sort of like going through a drug withdrawal or an addiction because once these cells are no longer getting the usual signals from the brain about feeling that guilt, they begin to express concern.

In the past your body and mind were working together feeling perfectly... bad,  but now since you're looking to be changing that, you'd no longer want to be thinking and feeling in the same way, your intention would be to produce more positive thoughts.   Even though the body is still revved up to produce guilt programs of the past,  because ultimately we're working with a system and so what you're looking to be doing is to make a slight change in the system.

This is where Joe Dispenza says to think of this as a highly specialized assembly line. Your brain programmed the body to expect a series of the usual parts that fit into this larger assembly and then all of a sudden you've sent it another part that doesn't fit in to the space with the old guilty program or part.  Once you've sent it another part that doesn't fit into this space where the old guilty part once did, then it's like an alarm goes off and the whole operation comes to a standstill and the cell starts behaving in these funny ways.

As a metaphor, its like the cells are saying:

'Hey what are you doing up there! We're supposed to be feeling guilty! We've been following your commands and demands for years! We've subconsciously memorized this program of guilt from those repetitive thoughts and feelings.  You want us to change but we can't have that!'

So he's voicing the idea about how the cells would be reacting and how they'd be responding when the cells would be sending an urgent message right up the spinal cord to the surface of the thinking brain.  In your brain there's a hypothalamus which is sending out a single saying 'hey we've got to make more of this chemical because we're feeling kind of depleted right now' so the hypothalamus signals the thinking brain to revert back to its old habitual ways.

The body wants you to return to your memorized chemical self so it influences you to think in familiar routine ways and so this is why when we're going through changes that you must put a stop to those old thinking patterns and when we do why we will say things like 'hmm this doesn't feel right.'
That's because in a sense we've taught ourselves to feel right about the wrongness of our habitual thinking.  So for true change to occur it is essential to have unmemorized your personality and then to recondition the body to a new mind. A challenge with trying to make that change is that by itself, conscious positive thinking cannot overcome subconscious negative feeling.

This is where Joe Dispenza talks about how ineffective positive thinking is. "I want to be clear that by itself positive thinking never works many so-called positive thinkers have felt negative most of their lives and now they're trying to think positively. They are in a polarized state in which they are trying to think one way in order to override how they feel inside of them.  They consciously think one way but they are being the opposite.  When the mind and body are in opposition, change will never happen." This is why these memorized feelings limit us to be continually recreating the past.

Most of us live in the past and resist living in a new future.  We become addicted to those familiar feelings and I'm certain you can think of examples of perhaps people that you know or conversations that you've had in the past where a person is continually talking about those glory days where there is nothing new happening in their life and so to stimulate feelings they'll reaffirm themselves from some glorious moments in the past.

Dr Joe Dispenza does an excellent job in illustrating and articulating the depth of the problem to overcome our bodies and how important that is by giving two interesting examples.   One is from this study that was published in the Journal of Neurophysiology which is about how strength increases with physical contractions and imagined muscle contractions.

One group would imagine lifting their finger up and down and another group would actually do that exercise.  After several weeks the results of the study showed that the people that had just imagined lifting up that finger got a twenty two percent increase in muscle strength even though they never moved a muscle.

The people that were lifting up the finger had a thirty percent increase in muscle strength.

The point is that by focusing your mind in ways that are much better for you and by thinking outside of your body can actually change your body.

Then he talks about how the quantum model asserts that we can signal the body emotionally and begin to alter a chain of genetic events without first having any actual physical experience that relates to that emotion so in other words we can imagine pretty cool stuff and as a result we can signal our genes to make new proteins to change our bodies to be ahead of the present environment.

For example let's look at a study that was done on people with diabetes.

One group of people have to watch this boring lecture and the other group of people get to watch a comedy and at the end of the day when they examine the gene sequences of the people that were laughing, they discover that these diabetics had altered 23 different gene expressions.

Just by laughing at that comedy show, their elevated state of mind apparently triggered their brains to send new signals to their cells which turned on those genetic variations that allowed their bodies to naturally begin to regulate the genes responsible for processing blood sugar.

So just by signalling the body with a new emotion, the laughing subjects altered their internal chemistry, that chemical of you to change the expression of their genes.

An additional example relates to bicep strength.  This was about people that were imagining doing bicep curls and people that were really doing it in real life and again the people that were able to just imagine doing that physical activity had shown an increase in strength.

So when the body has changed physically and biologically to look like an experience has happened, just by

thought or mental efforts alone.  This offers evidence that the event has already transpired in our reality and so the brain begins to upgrade its hardware to look like the experience has physically occurred.
Then the body has changed genetically or biologically and both are different without our doing anything in three dimensions so then this event has occurred both in the quantum world of consciousness and in the world of physical reality. This is how you can begin to be breaking the habit of being yourself by thinking greater than your body.

Click here for more about the Dr Joe Dispenza online course

How to Improve Memory: Strategies of World Memory Champions

How to Improve Memory: Strategies of World Memory Champions

A study was done on people with the worlds greatest memory.  These are the superstars that compete in the annual World Memory Championships.

Every year the worlds best compete to discover who can rapidly learn and retain large amounts of information.

To give you an example of their recollective prowess, top athletes can quickly memorize a list of over 100 words.

Also impressive is that they can recall the list 15 minutes later.

You might be wondering how to improve memory skills.   The way to do anything great is to find out what the champions are doing and copy them. Would that even work?

The answer is yes!

What these super memory athletes are doing is using a mental training strategy that involves mnemonics.

The term “mnemonic” describes a method that a person can use to remember something, for example, a rhyme like “i before e except after c” or the children’s ABC song.

In a paper recently published in the journal Neuron, Martin Dresler and colleagues report the results of a study.

To be measured was brain network connectivity patterns in a group of 23 of the “world’s most successful memory athletes.”

They compared these brain patterns to those seen in memory novices matched for age, sex, and IQ.

Even though these weren't memory experts, some of the control participants were gifted students from academic foundations or members of Mensa.

During research it was strikingly obvious that the memory athletes were far superior at memorizing a list of words. On average, they correctly recalled 71 of 72 words after a 20-minute delay compared to an average of 40 words recalled by the control group. The investigators used functional connectivity neuroimaging to compare brain network patterns in memory athletes to those of non-athletes.  What was found were specific neural network connections that were different in the athletes.

The investigators then recruited university students and taught them a specific type of mnemonic strategy known as “the method of loci.” (Students with past experience in mnemonic strategies were excluded from the study.)

The research team tracked whether the participants’ memory abilities increased with training and whether such increases were correlated with changes in the same brain networks found in the super memory athletes. They wanted to find out if the brain will respond in the same way as the athletes by using the athletes strategy.  The group receiving mnemonic training was also compared to an active control group who received training in a working memory task and a control group who received no training at all. (Working memory is used for temporarily storing and manipulating information, for example, remembering why we entered a room.)

The “method of loci” involves learning how to link images of the items to be remembered to visual maps of familiar locations, for example, rooms in a house or landmarks along a route between home and work.

This technique takes advantage of navigational and spatial systems that are highly developed in humans.

If you'd like to learn about memory strategies check out 'Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive' by Kevin Horsely.  He is one of only a few people in the world to have received the title of International Grandmaster of Memory. Horsely is also a World Memory Championship medalist, and a two-time World Record holder for The Everest of memory test.  In his book he shares his incredible strategy for remembering numbers (the same system he used to remember Pi to 10,000 digits and beat the world memory record by 14 minutes).  He also shares how to use a car as a method of loci strategy.

The method of loci training used in this study was rigorous and consisted of 40 half-hour sessions spread over six weeks.

The active control group received a similar amount of training in the working memory task.

Once the training was done, people who were taught the method of loci had more than doubled the number of words they could recall from a list of 72 words. This dramatic increase was significantly different from the two control groups and was still noticeable four months later.

When brain patterns were measured in the loci training group, the investigators found that the specific memory-related network differences between them and the memory athletes diminished.

Furthermore, the trainees’ brain networks grew to resemble the networks of the memory athletes, the better their memory performance became.

The bottom line of this study is that successful memory athletes utilize the same brain network connectivity that any of us may be able to develop with training. Thus, these athletes are very good at utilizing network systems that exist in all of us. They seem to have built up their memory “muscles” with consistent, long-term practice.

With practice, it may be possible to become more like these memory rockstars than we would have thought possible. Based on studies outlined by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool in their book “Peak,” it appears that many humans can become highly proficient in other cognitive(and athletic) tasks with the right coaching and high levels of dedicated, effortful practice.


Dresler, M., Shirer, W.R., Konrad, B.N., Muller, N.C.J., Wagner, I.C., et al. (2017).
Mnemonic training reshapes brain networks to support superior memory. Neuron. 93:1227-1235.

Your Brain Doesn’t Contain Memories, It Is Memories.

Your Brain Doesn’t Contain Memories, It Is Memories.

This article appeared July 19 in by Nick Stockton

RECALL YOUR FAVOURITE memory: the big game you won; the moment you first saw your child's face; the day you realized you had fallen in love. It's not a single memory, though, is it? Reconstructing it, you remember the smells, the colors, the funny thing some other person said, and the way it all made you feel.

Your brain's ability to collect, connect, and create mosaics from these milliseconds-long impressions is the basis of every memory. By extension, it is the basis of you. This isn't just metaphysical poetics. Every sensory experience triggers changes in the molecules of your neurons, reshaping the way they connect to one another. That means your brain is literally made of memories, and memories constantly remake your brain. This framework for memory dates back decades. And a sprawling new review published today in Neuron adds an even finer point: Memory exists because your brain’s molecules, cells, and synapses can tell time.

Defining memory is about as difficult as defining time. In general terms, memory is a change to a system that alters the way that system works in the future. "A typical memory is really just a reactivation of connections between different parts of your brain that were active at some previous time," says neuroscientist Nikolay Kukushkin, coauthor of this paper. And all animals—along with many single-celled organisms—possess some sort of ability to learn from the past.

Like the sea slug. From an evolutionary perspective, you'd have a hard time drawing a straight line from a sea slug to a human. Yet they both have neurons, and sea slugs form something similar to memories. If you pinch a sea slug on its gills, it will retract them faster the next time your cruel little fingers come close. Researchers found synapse connections that strengthen when the sea slug learns to suck in its gills, and molecules that cause this change. Remarkably, human neurons have similar molecules.

So what's that got to do with your favorite memory?

"What is unique about neurons is they can connect to thousands of other neurons, each very specifically," says Kukushkin. And what makes those connections a network is the fact that those specific connections, those synapses, can be adjusted with stronger or weaker signals. So every experience—every pinch to the gills—has the potential to reroute the relative strengths of all those neuronal connections.

But it would be a mistake to believe that those molecules, or even the synapses they control, are memories. "When you dig into molecules, and the states of ion channels, enzymes, transcription programs, cells, synapses, and whole networks of neurons, you come to realize that there is no one place in the brain where memories are stored," says Kukushkin. This is because of a property called plasticity, the feature of neurons that memorize. The memory is the system itself.

And there's evidence of memory-making throughout the tree of life, even in creatures with no nervous system—scientists have trained bacteria to anticipate a flash of a light. Kukushkin explains that primitive memories, like the sea slug's response, are advantageous on an evolutionary scale. "It allows an organism to integrate something from its past into its future and respond to new challenges," he says.

Human memories—even the most precious—begin at a very granular scale. Your mother's face began as a barrage of photons on your retina, which sent a signal to your visual cortex. You hear her voice, and your auditory cortex transforms the sound waves into electrical signals. Hormones layer the experience with with context—this person makes you feel good. These and a virtually infinite number of other inputs cascade across your brain. Kukushkin says your neurons, their attendant molecules, and resultant synapses encode all these related perturbations in terms of the relative time they occurred. More, they package the whole experience within a so-called time window.

Obviously, no memory exists all by itself. Brains break down experience into multiple timescales experienced simultaneously, like sound is broken down into different frequencies perceived simultaneously. This is a nested system, with individual memories existing within multiple time windows of varying lengths. And time windows include every part of the memory, including molecular exchanges of information that are invisible at the scale you actually perceive the event you are remembering.

Yes, this is very hard for neuroscientists to understand too. Which means it's going to be a long time before they understand the nuts and bolts of memory formation. "In an ideal world, we would be able to trace the behavior of each individual neuron in time," says Kukushkin.

At the moment, however, projects like the Human Connectome represent the cutting edge, and they are still working on a complete picture of the brain at a standstill. Like memory itself, putting that project into motion is all a matter of time.

How to Get Over a Breakup: Strategies for Moving On

Breakups are difficult and often we don't learn how to handle them until they've already occurred.  What can make them worse is having a breakup with a narcissist.  The reason being is because narcissists often leave their victims feeling lost, confused and psychologically gutted. Victims often can’t imagine life without them, because they were brainwashed into believing they can’t do anything on their own, perhaps they were made to feel dependent upon the narc for their own well being, perhaps the narcissists exaggerated their own self worth while degrading and lessening the contributions of the victim.

During this phase of narcissistic courting or narcissistic pursuit, the narcissist is full of vitality, of dreams and hopes and plans and vision. And his energy is not dissipated: he resembles a laser beam. He attempts (and in many cases, succeeds to achieve) the impossible. If he targeted a publishing house, or a magazine, as his future Source of Supply (by publishing his work) – he produces incredible amounts of material in a short period of time.

If it is a potential mate, he floods her with attention, gifts and inventive gestures. If it is a group of people that he wishes to impress, he identifies with their goals and beliefs to the point of ridicule and discomfort. The narcissist has the frightening capacity to turn himself into a weapon: focused, powerful, and lethal.

He lavishes all his energies, capabilities, talents, charms and emotions on the newly selected Source of Supply. This has a great effect on the intended source and on the narcissist. This also serves to maximize the narcissist’s returns in the short run.

Once the Source of Supply is captured, preyed upon and depleted, the reverse process (of devaluation) sets in. The narcissist instantaneously (and startlingly abruptly) loses all interest in his former (and now useless or judged to be so) Source of Narcissistic Supply. He dumps and discards it.

He becomes bored, lazy, slow, devoid of energy, absolutely uninterested. He conserves his energies in preparation for the attack on, and the siege of, the next selected Source of Supply. These tectonic shifts are hard to contemplate, still harder to believe.

The narcissist has no genuine interests, loves, or hobbies. He likes that which yields the most Narcissistic Supply. A narcissist can be a gifted artist for as long as his art rewards him with fame and adulation. Once public interest wanes, or once criticism mounts, the narcissist, in a typical act of cognitive dissonance, immediately ceases to create, loses interest in art, and does not miss his old vocation for a second. He is likely to turn around and criticize his erstwhile career even as he pursues another, totally unrelated one.

The narcissist has no genuine emotions. He can be madly in “love” with a woman (Secondary Narcissistic Supply Source) because she is famous, or wealthy, or a native and can help him obtain legal residence through marriage, or because she comes from the right family, or because she is unique in a manner positively reflecting on the narcissist’s perceived uniqueness, or because she had witnessed past successes of the narcissist, or merely because she admires him.Yet, this “love” dissipates immediately when her usefulness runs its course or when a better “qualified” Source of Supply presents herself.

However, people do recover from the nastiest of breakups and the following strategies will help you on the road to recovery.

1. Don’t Fight Your Feelings
A break-up is often accompanied by a wide variety of powerful and negative feelings including sadness, anger, confusion, resentment, jealousy, fear and regret, to mention a few. If you try to ignore or suppress these feelings, you will likely only prolong the normal grieving process, and sometimes get totally stuck in it. Healthy coping means both identifying these feelings and allowing ourselves to experience these feelings. As hard as it is, you cannot avoid the pain of loss, but realize that by experiencing these feelings, they will decrease over time and you will speed up the grieving process. The stages of grieving frequently include: shock/denial, bargaining, anger, depression and eventually acceptance. Extreme grief feels like it will last forever, but it doesn’t if we cope in some healthy ways.

There are several conditions that will likely intensify your negative feelings, including:

  • Not seeing the break-up coming.
  • Not being the one who decided to breakup.
  • This being your first serious relationship.
  • Your ex being your only real close friend.
  • Continuing to run into your ex.
  • The relationship having made you feel whole or complete.
  • Your ex starting to date someone right away.
  • Thinking about your ex being sexual with their new partner.
  • Believing that your ex is the only one in the world for you.

2. Openly Discuss Your Feelings
Talking about your feelings related to the break-up is an equally powerful tool to manage them. As we talk to supportive friends and family members, we can come to some new understandings and relieve some of our pain. Holding all of these negative feelings in just doesn’t work, although there may be times when this is necessary, such as in public settings, at work, or in class. As we talk to others, we usually discover that our feelings are normal and that others have survived these feelings. Above all else, don’t isolate yourself or withdraw from those people who can give you support.  Also, one of the commonalities in people who experience posttraumatic growth, is that they talk about their problems to someone.

3. Write Out Your Thoughts and Feelings
In addition to talking to others, it can be very helpful to journal your thoughts and feelings related to the break-up. People are not always available when you need to get out your feelings and some feelings or thoughts may be too private to feel comfortable sharing with others. The act of writing your feelings out can be very freeing and can often give you a different perspective about them.  Also, writing is a formalized way of thinking so when you can see your thoughts coming out of you, it is easier to recognize whatever kind of toxic notions you might still have about the past.  Also, a massive amount of work has been done that shows the benefit of writing and how it can help people to disentangle problem memories and help to create a better future and psychological well being. 

4. Understand That Break-ups Are Often An Inevitable Part Of Dating
Remember that many of our dating relationships will end up in a break-up. This is the very nature of dating. Until we find our best match, we are going to be moving in and out of relationships, so expect it. This way, we won’t feel so devastated when it does happen. Relationships usually end for some good reasons and they should end if we want to find our most suitable partner. Of course, no match will be perfect and we have to decide how long to keep looking and what we can live with. Finding a complementary partner is more than about love and therefore, it is going to likely take many dating relationships to find.

5.  Don’t Personalize The Loss
It is natural after a break-up to blame yourself, but try not to personalize the loss for too long. Much of the pain of a break-up comes from seeing the loss as your fault and regretting the choices you made while in the relationship. This process of self-blame can go on endlessly if you let it.

It is far more helpful to see the ending as a result of conflicting needs and incompatibilities that are no one’s fault. Each person in a relationship is trying to get their own needs met and some couples are able to help fulfill each other’s needs and others are not. One of the biggest issues is being able to communicate and negotiate those needs. It’s not easy to learn, so don’t blame yourself and try not to blame your ex. He or she is likely also doing the best they can, given their personalities and life history. No one goes into a relationship with the goal of making it fail, or hurting the other person.

Carol Dweck did a Stanford study on why some people get over breakups better than others.  Her research had shown that those who take it personally have a much more difficult time moving on after a breakup. So don't take it personally.

6.  Prioritize Basic Self-Care
Self-care refers to ensuring that your basic needs are being met, despite the fact that you may be feeling upset and depressed due to the break-up. You may not feel like eating but do it anyways, and try to make some healthy choices in what you eat. Give yourself ample time to sleep, particularly since this may be difficult for you. The short-term use of some herbal alternatives, GABA supplements or sleep medications may be necessary to ensure you get the sleep you need.

Sleep deprivation will only compound your suffering. Keeping up or starting an exercise routine can also make you feel better both physically and psychologically. Remember, exercise causes the release of endorphins, which can make you feel better.  Also, eat breakfast to prevent low blood sugar and low brain energy.

7. Get Back Into A Routine
Since going through a break-up can create a sense of chaos in many areas of your life, continuing on with your routines will give you a better sense of stability or normalcy. Although taking some expectations off yourself temporarily can help, returning to routines shortly after the initial blow can help calm you down and give you a returning sense of control. This might include routines around wake-up and bedtimes, meals, school or work related activities, exercise, and time with others to mention a few.

8. Indulge Yourself
If there was ever a time to pamper yourself, it is after a break-up. You need to do something that will actively make yourself feel better. Indulgence can take many forms, depending upon what you really enjoy, but could include: going to a special restaurant, going to a movie with a friend, having a hot bath, trying a massage, going on a short trip, buying something new, taking the weekend off, taking a yoga class or reading your favourite book.

9.  Give Yourself Some Slack
Expect that you are not going to be functioning at full capacity for a time due to the distress you are experiencing. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to lighten your load for awhile. This might mean allowing yourself a break from studying for awhile, or studying less than you usually would. It could also mean withdrawing from a class if you’re really struggling or working a lot less in a part-time job for awhile. Although some of these options may sound drastic, they will give you more time to adequately process your loss. Self-criticism can lead down the spiral of shame.  Don't go there. It causes brain circuits to become compromised and these reduces resilience and then things can get much worse from there so stop with the self-criticism otherwise it just perpetuates and you run yourself into the ground on this 'X program' of self-flagellation.

10.  Don’t Lose Faith In People Or Relationships
Since you may be feeling very hurt after a break-up, it is easy to assume that all men (or women) are bad or untrustworthy, but this just isn’t true. By holding on to this belief, you will be denying yourself all kinds of opportunities for a great relationship in the future. We can’t over-generalize from our limited relationship history and assume that it will never work out. Keep shopping! The more people you meet, the greater the chance you will find your best match.

11.  Let Go Of The Hope You Will Get Back Together
Unless there is some very strong evidence that you will reunite with your ex, let go of this possibility. Bringing closure to the relationship is impossible if you continue to hold onto the hope that the relationship will be resurrected. This means don’t wait by the phone for a call, or try to e-mail or text them to try to have a little more connection, or beg to get back together, or make threats to get them back (i.e., you will commit suicide). These options will only perpetuate your emotional distress in the long term and make you come across as desperate, which will further impact your already shaken self-esteem. Life is too short to wait for someone to come back to you after a break-up.

12.  Don’t Rely On Your Ex For Support Or Try To Maintain A Friendship
It’s not helpful to depend on your ex after a break-up, especially to help you overcome the pain of the break-up. It makes it a lot harder to get over someone if you’re continuing to see them or trying to maintain a friendship. After a significant period (i.e. months) of no contact, a friendship might be possible, but wait until you’re feeling very emotionally strong again.

13.  Avoid Unhealthy Coping Strategies
There are several ways of coping with a break-up that are considered quite unhelpful and will likely only compound your problems. These include such choices as drinking excessively, doing drugs, overeating, self-harm, gambling excessively, or becoming a workaholic. You may be tempted to do whatever you can to avoid feelings of loneliness and pain, but it is essential to find healthier ways to cope. Drugs, gambling, alcohol, addictions etc. are slippery slopes with horrid endings which only exacerbate problems. 

14. Make A List Of Your Ex’s Annoying Qualities
If you have been feeling bad because you keep thinking about how much you miss your ex or how well suited you were to them, it can be helpful to make a list of all of their less endearing qualities. Particularly if you didn’t initiate the break-up, it’s easy to focus on everything about your ex that you will miss, which can only magnify your suffering. If you spend some time reflecting, you may come to see incompatibilities in the relationship that make it easier to let go and come to see that there is likely a better match out there for you.  We move towards things we value and we move away from the things we don't value.  Move away from your ex even more by articulating all the reasons they are bad.

15.  Avoid The Temptation To Take Revenge
The idea of retaliating against someone who you feel may have hurt you significantly is very tempting, but making this choice may have unforeseen consequences.  Depending on how angry you are, these consequences could lead to criminal charges if you did something like keying their car, stalking them, or damaging other property.  As much as this might feel like a good idea in your height of passion, it only makes you feel more out of control. Closure is promoted when contact of any kind is minimized.  And besides, Frank Sinatra said that success is the best revenge so focus your energies on becoming the greatest you that you can become.  It works, just ask Tina Turner, Lady Gaga and J.K. Rowling.

16.  Examine What You Can Learn From The Relationship
We can learn a lot from all the relationships we have been in, particularly ones that are painful. It’s very helpful after a relationship ends to spend some time thinking about and writing down what you have learned so that you can have better relationships in the future. However, don’t use this as an opportunity to beat yourself up or blame yourself for the relationship not lasting. Learning promotes growth, while self-blame (i.e. feeling you’re a failure) only extends your suffering.

17.  Make a List Of All The Benefits Of Being Single
Although being single again may be an unwelcome event, if you were not the one who chose to break-up, it is worth reminding yourself there are some definite benefits to being single.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • You are now much more able to put your own needs first.
  • You'll soon be excited with dating again, even though this may feel scary.
  • You will have more control over your daily routines, not having to negotiate these with someone else.
  • You can spend more time with friends and family, who may have been feeling neglected.
  • You can travel to places you might not have been able to do with your partner.
  • You can choose jobs outside of the immediate area, because your partner isn’t affecting your choices.
  • You can eat what you want, when you want to.
  • You can go to bed and get up on your own schedule.
  • You will be able to meet lots of new people, since you have more time to do so.
  • You may now be free of criticism.
  • You will have much more individual freedom.
  • You have the whole bed to yourself.
  • You now have more time to study.
  • You can be as messy as you want.

18.  Perform A Closure Ritual
At some point in the process of letting go and grieving the loss, it can be very helpful to have a closure ritual. This symbolic gesture can be very meaningful if it is well thought out and considers the right timing. This could involve such things as: writing a letter to yourself or to your ex with your final words regarding the relationship, removing all of the photos you have of your ex, or burning some reminders of your ex in a ceremonial fashion.  This is also important to nullify the Zeigarnik effect (unfinished business lingers longer in our minds).

19.  Remember That You Can Survive On Your Own
It is important after a break-up to remind yourself that you were able to survive on your own before you entered the relationship and you will be able to survive on your own now that you’re no longer together. Relationships do not and should not make us whole, even though they are a part of our life and our happiness. We all need to be able to stand on our own and meet our own needs, regardless of the status of any one of our relationships. Remember, the healthiest relationships are with two people who are able to meet their own needs.  Others have become billionaires and rockstars after being destitute after a breakup which means that not only you can survive but there is also the possibility of thriving.  Harness this belief and let it flower across your future.

20.  Start Dating Again
Although it is often hard to decide when the best time to date again is, don’t jump right back in and don’t wait forever. You do need to grieve the loss and discover what you can learn from the past relationship, but you also have to move on, which means beginning to date again. Keeping the dating more casual at first might be wise, rather than jumping right into a deep, meaningful, long-term relationship. Dating can help you see that there are lots of other possible connections out there, if you open yourself up to this possibility. More dating will mean more risks, but there is no alternative unless you’re content living your life without a partner. Some people can be content in relationships with just friends and family, but most people need more than this to feel completely fulfilled.

21.  Remember Differently.
Every time you awaken a memory, that memory is subject to change.  People can hold themselves back for decades by replaying the same memories over and over.  Memories can be changed so make yours different in a way that serves you best.  If you keep remembering the past the same way, it's just going to keep you in the past.  You can take advantage of how your brain updates memories by engaging in a natural albeit non-intuitive process called memory reconsolidation to remove the sting from memories of your ex.

If you want a coach for the strategy to cure PTSD, nightmares and flashbacks about the ex, please fill out the application for a free coaching call.

Changing Your Mind for Good

Harvard Neuroscientist ‘Well Being is a Skill’

Harvard Neuroscientist ‘Well Being is a Skill’

“Well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello.” This is the conclusion that neuroscientist Richard Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues have declared.

Well-being is a skill. (more…)

Joe Dispenza -Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself -Chapter One, Quantum You Review

Joe Dispenza -Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself -Chapter One, Quantum You Review

Review of Dr Joe Dispenza's book, 'Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself - How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One' -
Chapter One

This book is chopped up into three parts and the first two parts of it really are the foundation of it because it frames the importance and the value of the meditations that follow in part three.

If I were to sum up this first chapter in a few words it would be:

Thoughts + Feelings =  test-tube results

Let's unpack this ...

Chapter 1 - Introduces you to a bit of quantum physics and it's important to embrace the concept that your mind has an effect on your world.  The observer effect in quantum physics states that where you direct your attention is where you place your energy.
One of the reasons why people have a challenge being able to break away from the way that they are perceiving themselves in the world is because they're trapped in a Newtonian viewpoint of the world, this old belief system.
Descartes and Newton established a mindset that if reality operated on mechanistic principles then humanity had little influence on outcomes, but of course all that was blown apart when Albert Einstein produced the famous equation E = mc 2  demonstrating that energy and matter are so fundamentally related that they are one and the same.

So this directly contradicted Newton and Descartes while ushering in a new understanding of how the universe functions.

'Now after all that, here are a couple quotes from Dr. Joe Dispenza's book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself'
"if an atom is 99.999% energy and . 00001 % physical substance then we are more nothing then something."  and then he says...
"isn't it ironic then that we keep all of our attention on that point .00001% of reality that is physical?
Are we missing something?'
When understanding that we're living in this quantum universe, then you realize that spending time and energy on what is is really only spending your time on such an insignificant portion that it really doesn't have that much bearing on reality.
Let's look at a study that was done from one of the references in his book.

So they had these three groups of people that had each one of them holding a test tube with DNA and the reason that they use DNA is because DNA is more stable.  It's more rigid than cells and bacteria.

Group one:
had to hold DNA and feel strong elevated feelings of love and appreciation for 2 minutes
Group two:
Had to hold this test tube of DNA and they also were to be feeling strong elevated feelings and having the intention in their minds to change that DNA.
Group three:
Had to hold that test tube of DNA but instead of feeling any emotions, all they would do is just hold in their mind the intention to change that DNA

Group 1 was zero difference
Group 3 also had zero difference.
Group 2 had up to a 25% change in DNA.

What's most striking about is that they were able to wind and unwind the structure of DNA just with thoughts and feelings and with their intentions.

Science folks might want to take a look at the study here:

Take a look at this one line which says:

'sustained positive emotions such as appreciation love or compassion associated with highly ordered or coherent patterns in the heart rhythms reflecting greater synchronization between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system'.

In other words the quantum field responds not to what we want, it responds to who we are being.

Think about how you are allowing yourself to be in the world and what kind of feelings and emotions that you're producing day-to-day, habitually and they'll give you an understanding as to how things keep staying the same.

Let's give this more support with another quote from Dr Joe Dispenza's book.

"some of the common habitual thought patterns that people have might be I'll never get a new job, or no one ever listens to me or he always makes me feel angry or everyone uses me, I want to call it quits or my life sucks or it's my genetics I'm just like my mother, so if thoughts and feelings are producing events in the quantum universe then obviously staying in this same type of stagnant emotional state of being is only going to be producing more and more of the same"

Making Your Mind Matter - Online Course

 Let's talk about these words like never, no one ever, always and everyone.   These are known as universal quantifiers and so when when I'm coaching somebody I have them pay attention to the use of those kinds of words because in a sense they are false.

When someone says:

'everyone uses me',

That's not entirely true.   I'm sure there's somebody's that's not using you.  It only takes one tiny contradiction to make that whole blanket statement of these Universal quantifiers untrue

If you ever find yourself saying stuff like never, always or everyone, say it right back to yourself to prevent programming yourself with false beliefs.

For myself, I might think "I'll never get this video finished."   Then I just say that 'never' word right back to myself.


And then I realize that's a false belief!  Thinking unclear like that can have me locked into own thinking by using that kind of language.

'I'll never move on!'
'I won't ever get over this!'
'Everything is totally ruined!'
'Why is it always my fault?'

Those are lies that, if said loud enough and with some feeling, it's going to become part of you and built into your neurology and then you'll really believe those toxic lies!

Next I want to talk about this last sentence here where the example is 'it's my genetics, I'm just like my mother.'

There's a study called epigenetics.  Epi, meaning above and what that means is you can go above your genetics with your thoughts.  Our genes respond to the perception of the environment.  If you change your perception, you can actually change gene expression.

For more details on that check out the work by Dr. Bruce Lipton and his work on the Biology of Belief.

Let's get right back on track now that we've looked out some of the ways to begin breaking the habit of being yourself.  Changing the words and changing perception.

Now let's use this in more beneficial ways.

In terms of quantum creating, can you give thanks for something that exists as a potential in the quantum field but has not yet happened in your reality?

I'll go first and share a silly example.  Let's say that I picked some kind of weird bizarre notion that hasn't happened yet.  Let's say my goal is to win the Academy Award for Best Actor when I'm a hundred years old.  I haven't had any acting lessons but let's just use this as an example.

Now its your turn to think about how to apply that to yourself.

And before you do that, here is another quote that I think is valuable to share...

'In terms of quantum creating, can you give thanks for “something that exists as a potential in the quantum field but has not yet happened in your reality? If so, you are moving from cause and effect (waiting for something outside of you to make a change inside of you) to causing an effect (changing something inside of you to produce an effect outside of you).
When you are in a state of gratitude, you transmit a signal into the field that an event has already occurred. Gratitude is more than an intellectual thought process. You have to feel as though whatever you want is in your reality at this very moment. Thus, your body (which only understands feelings) must be convinced that it has the emotional quotient of the future experience, happening to you now.”
-Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself

When you think back to that test tube experiment where thoughts plus feelings produce test-tube results, that people were able to actually make shifts in DNA.  So when you recognize that this is real, that makes it a lot easier to be breaking the habit of being yourself by understanding the true value of being able to control your states of being in ways that are far more empowering for you and are a greater representation of the 'you' that you'd rather be.

Below is a video review of the Dr Joe Dispenza book, "Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One".

Download Your Free MP3 meditation based on the script from Dr Joe Dispenza's book 'Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself'

Harvard: Meditation Lowers Stress and Changes Your Brain

Harvard: Meditation Lowers Stress and Changes Your Brain

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain. She explains:

Q: Why did you start looking at meditation and mindfulness and the brain?

Lazar: A friend and I were training for the Boston marathon. I had some running injuries, so I saw a physical therapist who told me to stop running and just stretch. So I started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy. I started realizing that it was very powerful, that it had some real benefits, so I just got interested in how it worked.

The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I’d think, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m here to stretch.’ But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others’ points of view.

I thought, maybe it was just the placebo response. But then I did a literature search of the science, and saw evidence that meditation had been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.

At that point, I was doing my PhD in molecular biology. So I just switched and started doing this research as a post-doc.

Q: How did you do the research?

Lazar: The first study looked at long term meditators vs a control group. We found long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Which makes sense. When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.

We also found they had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.

It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.

So the first question was, well, maybe the people with more gray matter in the study had more gray matter before they started meditating. So we did a second study.

We took people who’d never meditated before, and put one group through an eight-week  mindfulness- based stress reduction program.

In this excerpt from the documentary "The Connection," which tells the stories of people adding mind-body medicine to their healing practices, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar talks about the connection between the mind and body during meditation.

(The Connection)

Q: What did you find?

Lazar: We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:

1. The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.

2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.

3.  The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.

4. An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.

The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.

[Related: Science shows that stress has an upside. Here’s how to make it work for you]

Q: So how long does someone have to meditate before they begin to see changes in their brain?

Lazar: Our data shows changes in the brain after just eight weeks.

In a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, our subjects took a weekly class. They were given a recording and told to practice 40 minutes a day at home. And that’s it.

Q: So, 40 minutes a day?

Lazar: Well, it was highly variable in the study. Some people practiced 40 minutes pretty much every day. Some people practiced less. Some only a couple times a week.

In my study, the average was 27 minutes a day. Or about a half hour a day.

There isn’t good data yet about how much someone needs to practice in order to benefit.

Meditation teachers will tell you, though there’s absolutely no scientific basis to this, but anecdotal comments from students suggest that 10 minutes a day could have some subjective benefit. We need to test it out.

We’re just starting a study that will hopefully allow us to assess what the functional significance of these changes are. Studies by other scientists have shown that meditation can help enhance attention and emotion regulation skills. But most were not neuroimaging studies. So now we’re hoping to bring that behavioral and neuroimaging science together.

Q: Given what we know from the science, what would you encourage readers to do?

Lazar: Mindfulness is just like exercise. It’s a form of mental exercise, really. And just as exercise increases health, helps us handle stress better and promotes longevity, meditation purports to confer some of those same benefits.

But, just like exercise, it can’t cure everything. So the idea is, it’s useful as an adjunct therapy. It’s not a standalone. It’s been tried with many, many other disorders, and the results vary tremendously – it impacts some symptoms, but not all. The results are sometimes modest. And it doesn’t work for everybody.

It’s still early days for trying to figure out what it can or can’t do.

Q: So, knowing the limitations, what would you suggest?

Lazar: It does seem to be beneficial for most people. The most important thing, if you’re going to try it, is to find a good teacher. Because it’s simple, but it’s also complex. You have to understand what’s going on in your mind. A good teacher is priceless

Q: Do you meditate? And do you have a teacher?

Lazar: Yes and yes.

Q: What difference has it made in your life?

Lazar: I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, so it’s had a very profound influence on my life. It’s very grounding. It’s reduced stress. It helps me think more clearly. It’s great for interpersonal interactions. I have more empathy and compassion for people.

Q: What’s your own practice?

Lazar: Highly variable. Some days 40 minutes. Some days five minutes. Some days, not at all. It’s a lot like exercise. Exercising three times a week is great. But if all you can do is just a little bit every day, that’s a good thing, too. I’m sure if I practiced more, I’d benefit more. I have no idea if I’m getting brain changes or not. It’s just that this is what works for me right now.

Harvard Medical School, Meditation and the Brain

Harvard Medical School, Meditation and the Brain

Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist based out of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School gives an interview on his findings with meditation and its effects on the brain.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.   

Host Bob Macdonald: Dr. Davidson, what was the most striking thing you found when you studied the meditation experts the Tibetan Buddhist monks?

Richard Davidson: Probably the most striking thing was in terms of the scientific findings was the presence of these very high amplitude gamma oscillations that occurred in the meditation period when they were meditating, but also were very prominent in their so-called baseline state. And I should say that these are if you will professional meditators. These are people who have an average of about 34,000 hours of lifetime practice and listeners can go do the arithmetic at home. But that's a pretty big number.

BM:  What was going on in their brains that's different from what would be going on in say my brain?

RD:  One of the important characteristics of these long term meditators if you will is that the distinction between the state of meditation in their ordinary state if you will is blurred.

This is the what we think of as the transition from a state into a trait. That is, it becomes an enduring characteristic of their minds and brains, rather than something transient that occurs only when they practice meditation.


BM:  Dr. Lazar, you also studied long term meditators which your subjects were not monks. What did you find most interesting when you peered into their brains?

Dr. Sara Lazar:  Well we looked at brain structure and what we found is that there's several brain regions where there is more gray matter in the long term meditators compared to non-meditators. And as Dr. Davidson said that when you start meditating regularly that there is a shift that there's a blur between your meditation state and your everyday state.

And so we're interpreting these differences in gray matter to reflect that. That this is perhaps why and how you can get these shifts you're not meditation state looks more like your meditation state - the brain actually starts to rewire itself. And that's what we saw evidence for in these long term meditators.

Sara Lazar Ph.D. Asst. Professor Harvard Medical School

BM:  Where did you see that changes in the gray matter?

SL:  The most pronounced changes were in the insula. This is an area that's involved in integrating sensory experiences with cognitive thinking. And so you could think of that, sort of in a very loose hand-waving sort of way, as the mind body sort of area. We also found areas in the front of the brain which is an area involved in rational thinking and decision making.

BM:  Dr. Lazar, we hear a lot about enlightenment, if meditation really does work.  From a scientific point of view what is that possible do you see it?

SL:  I think it's important to make a distinction between people who meditate for 20, 30, 40 minutes a day for stress reduction and people who are really committed to obtaining enlightenment.  As Dr. Davidson pointed out, you could think of those monks as being professional meditators. And so I think that it really takes that sort of commitment -- full time commitment for many, many years -- in order to reach enlightenment.  For the average Joe who's just meditating for stress reduction that that's not really a realistic goal.

BM:  Dr. Davidson, you say that meditation could make people feel worse. What do you mean by that?

RD:  It can exacerbate depression, it can precipitate psychosis. It can do some harm. It's really important for an individual who may be predisposed and have a history of some psychiatric difficulty to engage in meditation practice under the guidance of a teacher who is both a mental health practitioner as well as a meditation teacher.

And often if a person I think is doing worse it could very well be because the nature of the instruction is not as attuned to where the person is as it might be.

BM:  Dr. Lazar, how do you feel about people going to a phone app for their guided meditations without a teacher present?

SL:  The apps are like a book or any other recording or any other things that have existed in the past. I think they're great as a supplement but I don't think anything compares to having a teacher that you can talk to about your experience.

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Meditation and Music May Help Reverse Early Memory Loss in Adults

Meditation and Music May Help Reverse Early Memory Loss in Adults

Summary: Researchers report practicing simple meditation and listening to music can have benefits for those with preclinical memory loss

Meditation and music improve memory and cognitive function in adults with subjective cognitive decline: A pilot randomized controlled trial.

Source: IOS PRESS.

In a recent study of adults with early memory loss, a West Virginia University research team lead by Dr. Kim Innes found that practice of a simple meditation or music listening program may have multiple benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.

In this randomized controlled trial, 60 older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, were assigned to either a beginner meditation (Kirtan Kriya) or music listening program and asked to practice 12 minutes/day for 12 weeks. As detailed in a paper recently published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at 3 months. These included domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia (e.g., attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function). The substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at 6 months (3 months post-intervention).

Both intervention groups also showed improvements in sleep, mood, stress, well-being and quality of life, with gains that were that were particularly pronounced in the meditation group; again, all benefits were sustained or further enhanced at 3 months post-intervention.. Image is for illustrative purposes only.

As explained in the research team’s previous paper, both intervention groups also showed improvements in sleep, mood, stress, well-being and quality of life, with gains that were that were particularly pronounced in the meditation group; again, all benefits were sustained or further enhanced at 3 months post-intervention.

The findings of this trial suggest that two simple mind-body practices, Kirtan Kriya meditation and music listening, may not only improve mood, sleep, and quality of life, but also boost cognition and help reverse perceived memory loss in older adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline.


Source: Olivia Pape – IOS PRESS
Original Research: Abstract for “Meditation and Music Improve Memory and Cognitive Function in Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial” by Innes, Kim E.; Selfe, Terry Kit; Khalsa, Dharma Singh; and Kandati, Sahiti in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Published online January 17 2017 doi:10.3233/JAD-160867



Meditation and Music Improve Memory and Cognitive Function in Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

Background: While effective therapies for preventing or slowing cognitive decline in at-risk populations remain elusive, evidence suggests mind-body interventions may hold promise. Objectives: In this study, we assessed the effects of Kirtan Kriya meditation (KK) and music listening (ML) on cognitive outcomes in adults experiencing subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s disease.

Methods: Sixty participants with SCD were randomized to a KK or ML program and asked to practice 12 minutes/day for 3 months, then at their discretion for the ensuing 3 months. At baseline, 3 months, and 6 months we measured memory and cognitive functioning [Memory Functioning Questionnaire (MFQ), Trail-making Test (TMT-A/B), and Digit-Symbol Substitution Test (DSST)].

Results: The 6-month study was completed by 53 participants (88%). Participants performed an average of 93% (91% KK, 94% ML) of sessions in the first 3 months, and 71% (68% KK, 74% ML) during the 3-month, practice-optional, follow-up period. Both groups showed marked and significant improvements at 3 months in memory and cognitive performance (MFQ, DSST, TMT-A/B; p’s ≤0.04). At 6 months, overall gains were maintained or improved (p’s ≤ 0.006), with effect sizes ranging from medium (DSST, ML group) to large (DSST, KK group; TMT-A/B, MFQ). Changes were unrelated to treatment expectancies and did not differ by age, gender, baseline cognition scores, or other factors.

Conclusions: Findings of this preliminary randomized controlled trial suggest practice of meditation or ML can significantly enhance both subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in adults with SCD, and may offer promise for improving outcomes in this population.

“Meditation and Music Improve Memory and Cognitive Function in Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial” by Innes, Kim E.; Selfe, Terry Kit; Khalsa, Dharma Singh; and Kandati, Sahiti in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Published online January 17 2017 doi:10.3233/JAD-160867

Talk Therapy Helps Strengthen Brain Connections

Talk Therapy Helps Strengthen Brain Connections

In post-traumatic growth, one of the steps is to talk about the problem.  People that can verbalize what the challenges are have an increased probability for restoring mental health.

New research in neuroscience now gives additional confirmation.

Summary: Study reveals cognitive behavioral therapy can strengthen specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and the stronger neural network connections are associated with long term reduction in symptoms.

A new study from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has shown for the first time that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and that these stronger connections are associated with long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery eight years later.

CBT – a specific type of talking therapy – involves people changing the way they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms, common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders, the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing.

The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, follow the same researchers’ previous work which showed that people with psychosis who received CBT displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately.

The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people’s long-term recovery.

In the original study, participants underwent fMRI imaging to assess the brain’s response to images of faces expressing different emotions, before and after six months of CBT. Participants were already taking medication when they took part in the study, and so were compared to a group receiving medication only. The group receiving medication only did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on brain connections could be attributed to the CBT.

For the new study, the health of 15 of the 22 participants who received CBT was tracked for eight years through their medical records. They were also sent a questionnaire at the end of this period to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing.

The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.

The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.

Lead author of the study Dr Liam Mason from King’s College London, who is a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital where the research took place, said: “This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies. This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”

The researchers now hope to confirm the results in a larger sample, and to identify the changes in the brain that differentiate people who experience improvements with CBT from those who do not. Ultimately, the results could lead to better, and more tailored, treatments for psychosis, by allowing researchers to understand what determines whether psychological therapies are effective.

The study took place at the Psychological Interventions Clinic for Outpatients with Psychosis (PICuP), a specialist service based in the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Funding: The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and the Wellcome Trust.

Original Research: Full open access research for “Brain connectivity changes occurring following cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis predict long-term recovery” by L Mason, E Peters, S C Williams & V Kumari in Translational Psychiatry. Published online January 17 2017 doi:10.1038/tp.2016.263

Erase Bad Memories and Enhance Good Ones with Manipulation of Specific Neurons

Erase Bad Memories and Enhance Good Ones with Manipulation of Specific Neurons

Stony Brook researchers discover a method to change emotionally charged memory patterns.

Imagine if memory could be tuned in such a way where good memories are enhanced for those suffering from dementia or bad memories are wiped away for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. A Stony Brook University research team has taken a step toward the possibility of tuning the strength of memory by manipulating one of the brain’s natural mechanisms for signaling involved in memory, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Their findings are published in the journal Neuron.

Brain mechanisms underlying memory are not well understood, but most scientists believe that the region of the brain most involved in emotional memory is the amygdala. Acetylcholine is delivered to the amygdala by cholinergic neurons that reside in the base of the brain. These same neurons appear to be affected early in cognitive decline. Previous research has suggested that cholinergic input to the amygdala appears to strengthen emotional memories.

“Memories of emotionally charged experiences are particularly strong, whether positive or negative experiences, and the goal of our research is to determine the mechanisms underlying the strengthening of memory,” said Lorna Role, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and Co-Director of the Neurosciences Institute at Stony Brook Medicine.

In the paper, titled “Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits,” Dr. Role and colleagues used a fear-based memory model in mice to test the underlying mechanism of memory because fear is a strong and emotionally charged experience.

Brain mechanisms underlying memory are not well understood, but most scientists believe that the region of the brain most involved in emotional memory is the amygdala. Image is for illustrative purposes only.

The team used optogenetics, a newer research method using light to control cells in living tissue, to stimulate specific populations of cholinergic neurons during the experiments.

Two of the team’s findings stand out. First, when they increased acetylcholine release in the amygdala during the formation of a traumatic memory, it greatly strengthened memory making the memory last more than twice as long as normal. Then, when they decreased acetylcholine signaling in the amygdala during a traumatic experience, one that normally produces a fear response, they could actually wipe out memory.

“This second finding was particularly surprising, as we essentially created fearless mice by manipulating acetylcholine circuits in the brain,” explained Dr. Role. “The findings provide the basis for research examining novel approaches to reverse post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The challenge of continued research is that cholinergic neurons remain difficult to study because they are intermingled with other types of neurons and are few in number compared to other types of neurons in the brain.

Because acetylcholine is a natural signaling mechanism and seemingly essential for memory, additional research will center on non-pharmacologic ways to manipulate or fine-tune memory.

“The long-term goal of our research is that we would like to find ways – potentially independent of drug administration – to enhance or diminish the strength of specific memories, the good ones, and diminish the bad ones,” summarized Dr. Role.


The research involves faculty and students from the Stony Brook University Departments of Neurobiology and Behavior, and Pharmacological Sciences, as well as the CNS Disorders Center, the Neurosciences Institute, and the Program in Neurosciences. Co-authors include Li Jiang, Srikanya Kunda, James D. Lederman, Gretchen Y. Lopez-Hernandez, Elizabeth C. Ballinger, Shaohua Wang, and David A. Talmage.

Source: Gregory Filiano – Stony Brook University
Image Source: The image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Abstract for “Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits” by Li Jiang, Srikanya Kundu, James D. Lederman, Gretchen Y. López-Hernández, Elizabeth C. Ballinger, Shaohua Wang, David A. Talmage, Lorna W. Role in Neuron. Published online May 5 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2016.04.028


Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits

•Photostimulation of ACh in BLA during cue-fear training makes memory more durable
•Stimulating ACh input to BLA in vivo and ex vivo increases neuronal excitability
•Stimulating ACh input to BLA can elicit LTP
•All of the above effects are dependent on acetylcholine receptors (AChRs)


We examined the contribution of endogenous cholinergic signaling to the acquisition and extinction of fear- related memory by optogenetic regulation of cholinergic input to the basal lateral amygdala (BLA). Stimulation of cholinergic terminal fields within the BLA in awake-behaving mice during training in a cued fear-conditioning paradigm slowed the extinction of learned fear as assayed by multi-day retention of extinction learning. Inhibition of cholinergic activity during training reduced the acquisition of learned fear behaviors. Circuit mechanisms underlying the behavioral effects of cholinergic signaling in the BLA were assessed by in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiological recording. Photostimulation of endogenous cholinergic input (1) enhances firing of putative BLA principal neurons through activation of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs), (2) enhances glutamatergic synaptic transmission in the BLA, and (3) induces LTP of cortical-amygdala circuits. These studies support an essential role of cholinergic modulation of BLA circuits in the inscription and retention of fear memories.

“Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits” by Li Jiang, Srikanya Kundu, James D. Lederman, Gretchen Y. López-Hernández, Elizabeth C. Ballinger, Shaohua Wang, David A. Talmage, Lorna W. Role in Neuron. Published online May 5 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2016.04.028