Scientists have found the mystery and the magic of our brain's secretsSecrets
on 13 August 2019
The magic of the brain

I often get asked, "how can I get rid of negative thoughts?" My answer is pretty much the same, it depends! It depends on what the thoughts are, over how they developed, how long you've had them (to a lesser degree) and how emotively strong they are etc. But the real cruncher; is, what is your language like . . .

Secrets shrouded in mystery!

While things that often lead to anxiety or stress disorders are a consequence of chemical overkill in the brain, it is the fact that they are actually most often stored as very powerful and lifelike memories within specific emotional centres within our brain. They are often referred to as emotional memories and, as such, are stored in part within the emotional centres of the brain. Chiefly the amygdala is involved but also the hippocampus, the extended amygdala and areas like the striatum, subthalamus, substantia nigra (pars compacta), thalamus and the prefrontal cortex; quite an ensemble. While this research singles out norepinephrine and cortisol, epinephrine  (adrenaline) also plays a significant role too. Norepinephrine is produced mainly in the brain stem (locus coereleus) and is the precursor to the stress response, responsible for the hypothalamus producing CRH (corticotrophin-releasing hormone) to the pituitary gland, which secretes ACTH (adreno-corticotrophin-hormone), known as the HPA Axis to the adrenal glands and thus starts the fight or flight response. This all happens very quickly, 30 to 40 milliseconds, I believe?

So much so that the negative memories stored in the brain all too often release their powerful effect on an oft unsuspecting mind. To that end, the stress response often occurs outside of conscious awareness and it is once we become consciously aware, that the circus begins. You see we have an innate ability, if not need, to make sense of the world we live in and if we can't make sense of it, we'll make something up, that does!  The means we use to achieve this is through our language. And this is where the negativity can intensify because the language we use is often loaded with vagueness, ambiguity or conflict! Essentially we talk in riddles and our language is way too cryptic for our simple brain. When I say simple, I don't mean that in the way it may sound. At the cellular level, while immensely complicated processes are going on, they are very simple in the way they work, there is no vagueness or ambiguity. As each cell receives its sensory input, via extracellular first messengers, it passes that along via intracellular second messengers (signalling cascades) which lead to a behavioural response, e.g. fear, anxiety or some other unwelcome outcome.

In my hypnotherapy practice, that is why I focus on the vagueness and ambiguity in our everyday self talk  The positive in the Mind is always there, the challenge is in how to eradicate the language influences that keep it at arm's length. Hypnotherapy, plays a pivotal role in helping us to have more clarity, both in terms of our outlook and our language, when you focus on the positive you have a clear mind? When you have a clear mind, it becomes easier to influence our language towards the positive and, since language is the major interface between the outside and the world inside, where we live! Once we change those processes, it then goes on to influence our behaviour!

With the help of the researchers below, we are one step closer to completing the puzzle of the brain! Science has found an explanation as to why stress hormones promote the brain's building of negative memories

The Research:

When a person experiences a devastating loss or tragic event, why does every detail seem burned into memory; whereas, a host of positive experiences simply fade away?

It's a bit more complicated than scientists originally thought, according to a study recently published in the journal Neuroscience by Arizona State University researcher Sabrina Segal. When people experience a traumatic event, the body releases two major stress hormones: norepinephrine and cortisol. Norepinephrine boosts heart rate and controls the fight-or-flight response, commonly rising when individuals feel threatened or experience highly emotional reactions. It is chemically similar to the hormone epinephrine -- better known as adrenaline.

In the brain, norepinephrine, in turn, functions as a powerful neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that can enhance memory. Research on cortisol has demonstrated that this hormone can also have a powerful effect on strengthening memories. However, studies in humans up until now have been inconclusive -- with cortisol sometimes enhancing memory while at other times having no effect. A key factor in whether cortisol has an effect on strengthening certain memories may rely on activation of norepinephrine during learning, a finding previously reported in studies with rats.

In her study, Segal, an assistant research professor at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Salivary Bioscience Research (IISBR) at ASU, and her colleagues at the University of California- Irvine showed that human memory enhancement functions in a similar. Conducted in the laboratory of Larry Cahill at U.C. Irvine, Segal's study included 39 women who viewed 144 images from the International Affective Picture Set. This set is a standardized picture set used by researchers to elicit a range of responses, from neutral to strong emotional reactions, upon view.

Segal and her colleagues gave each of the study's subjects either a dose of hydrocortisone -- to simulate stress -- or a placebo just prior to viewing the picture set. Each woman then rated her feelings at the time she was viewing the image, in addition to giving saliva samples before and after. One week later, a surprise recall test was administered.

What Segal's team found was that "negative experiences are more readily remembered when an event is traumatic enough to release cortisol after the event, and only if norepinephrine is released during or shortly after the event."

"This study provides a key component to better understanding how traumatic memories may be strengthened in women," Segal added. "because it suggests that if we can lower norepinephrine levels immediately following a traumatic event, we may be able to prevent this memory-enhancing mechanism from occurring, regardless of how much cortisol is released following a traumatic event."

Further studies are needed to explore to what extent the relationship between these two stress hormones differ depending on whether you are male or female, particularly because women are twice as likely to develop disorders from stress and trauma that affect memory, such as in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In the meantime, the team's findings are the first step toward a better understanding of neurobiological mechanisms that underlie traumatic disorders, such as PTSD.