by Julie Genser
Over 145 members of the online health community PlanetThrive.com are participating in a support group for people actively doing the Gupta Amygdala Retraining™ Program, a neural reconditioning therapy being explored by people with conditions such as chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia, all believed by some to be limbic system impairments caused by neurotoxic injury. Members of the Planet Thrive Gupta Support Group have compiled a fantastic list of Things to Focus On While Retraining the Brain that I’d like to share with others interested in the program. This is one of those lists you’ll want to pin on your refrigerator as a daily reminder to stay in the positive, whether or not you are currently doing a brain retraining program.
25 THINGS TO FOCUS ON WHILE RETRAINING YOUR BRAIN:
Start a gratitude journal where you start or end each day with a list of at least five things you are grateful for in your life and in the world. Or, try radical gratitude: Give thanks for EVERYTHING, both the good and bad in your life, without judgement, remembering that we do not know what the greater plan for things is. One member shared this wonderful prayer that she sings nightly: “My grateful heart just sings and sings. Thank you God, for everything!”
2. Smiles and Laughter.
A forced smile on a bad day can have a positive affect on our mood – studies have shown that using the muscles in the face that are involved in smiling activates endorphins and immune boosting killer T-cells. Smiling regularly can lower the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline, and in turn, help stabilize blood pressure and mood, improve respiration and reduce pain. Laughter can have similar physiological effects, whether forced (faked) or natural. To help initiate your laughter bug, try watching comedies, listening to stand-up comedians, playing with rambunctious puppies and silly children, or practicing Laughter Yoga.
I don’t have scientific proof, but everything I’ve read leads me to believe that humans (and animals) are hard wired in with the sounds and energy of nature and that spending lots of time in undisturbed nature (e.g., no/low electromagnetic fields, healthy levels of biodiversity, going barefoot and grounding with the Earth, etc.) will help modulate all systems in the body. (But of course, be careful in tick infested areas about going barefoot.)
4. Physical exercise.
Go for daily walks, use a rebounder, do light stretching – anything to keep your muscles active. Dance while listening to your favorite tunes – move your body at your own pace and get the lymph flowing.
5. Passions, Hobbies. Learning new skills, talents.
Learn how to cook Indian food or to speak Yiddish, cultivate your interest in knitting. Anything that lights your fire and keeps you interested and motivated – and shifts your focus away from any body symptoms.
6. Music (listening).
Listening to music increases serotonin and other positive hormones in the body. Since music is connected to memory, it is a great way to connect back into wonderful memories of the past that can instantly flood your brain with mood-lifting endorphins. Try listening to the music that you listened to as a teenager – for me that would be Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and other hard rock bands! If you had a miserable high school experience, try a later period in your life. Listening to 80’s music always cheers me up instantly. If the past is not something you want to connect into, check out some new genres. For me, I absolutely love Middle Eastern music. It perks me up without fail. Find out what floats your boat. Listening to 10 minutes a day of symphonic classical music is said to be healing to the brain. Choose to listen to music (or nature) instead of your own thoughts.
7. Music (making).
Learn how to play a new instrument. Planet Thrive members have shared how taking up the ukelele, dumbek, and other interesting instruments has helped to bring joy into their world and distract them from their dance with illness.
People who sing are more likely to be happy, according to Daniel Levitin, author of “This is Your Brain on Music.” He cites studies that show how singing increases levels of oxytocin, a feel-good neurotransmitter also referred to as the “cuddle hormone.” Other studies have shown that Immunoglobulin A (a protein used by the immune system to fight disease) and anti-stress hormones increased significantly while singing, indicating enhanced immunity.
Children are often less judgemental, more straightforward, more FUN than many adults. Spending time with children can help you tap into your own inner child, which can be healing in itself. Also, a great opportunity to give and receive love and affection.
Same as above for children, but even less judgemental! Pets can provide a constant flow of love and affection. Who couldn’t benefit from that?!
11. What you want (not what you don’t want).
When one is in a survival mindset there is little room for contemplating seeming luxuries like happiness! Asking the questions: “What do I want? What would feel good? What would make me happy?” can get us started down that path.
12. Visual, auditory, and other sensory cues.
Journal, make collages and vision boards, draw sketches, collect photos, to visualize what you WANT. Decorate your personal area with something you love. Even if it’s really simple. Polka dots? Maybe a tin canister with some polka dots. The French Riviera? Your favorite image mounted in a metal/glass frame on your desk. (One PT member has a small metal bucket collection herself… and it really makes her happy.)
13. The sights, sounds, tastes, feelings and experiences that make you feel good.
Fill your conscious space up with what you love to see with your eyes. What you love to hear with your ears. What you love to taste/smell with those senses. What you love to feel with your body.
14. Three senses.
Focus on three senses when visualizing what you want to happen. Taste/smell/vision. Hearing/smell/touch. Any combination that works for you. I first came across this idea in a research paper on healing swallowing disorders. The paper said that patients should 1) look at a picture of an orange 2) smell an orange 3) taste an orange when attempting to eat an orange, and that it could help initiate muscle memory of the throat. I have also seen something written about Olympic athletes utilizing three different senses in their visualizations of winning. Multi-sensory therapy is also used for autism spectrum disorders.
15. New experiences.
“Novelty” – a sense of newness – is helpful in forming new neural networks. Visit new places, try new foods, make new friends. Even if you can’t yet incorporate new experiences, you can always change up the way you do things currently. Move your schedule around. Use your left hand instead of your right. Try to balance on one foot with your eyes closed. Do something you enjoy in slow motion. Do radically different and unusual things. Push your brain to perform in new ways.
One PT member writes: “How repetitive does the life of a person living with a major illness become?? How small our worlds??? NEW EXPERIENCES? Like a cool mountain breeze. With MCS in particular, new experiences are d-d-d-dangerous….right? We’ve forgotten how to enjoy a surprise.” Another member remembers hearing a Hay House author say to start your day with this thought: “Universe…Surprise me!” Look for happy surprises throughout your day, and then list them at the end of the day.
16. Your inner child.
Be silly. Dance. Skip. Make nonsense noises. Have a tea party. Talk to stuffed animals. Frolic through a creek. Make mud pies. Build sand castles. Focus on what it was you loved to do when you were a little kid.
17. Love, affection, sex.
Not necessarily in that order. Physical touch, both platonic and romantic, can stimulate some positive neurotransmitters (including oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone”) to release their good stuff into your brain.
18. Your personal strengths and gifts.
What are you good at? Do you play well with children? Do you absolutely love animals? Are you well organized? Do you love Suduko? Find the things that you do well, no matter how seemingly insignificant, and incorporate them into your life.
19. Spiritual purpose.
Connect to a higher power and collective consciousness every day. Whether that means sitting on a rock and feeling the wind on your face, studying patterns in nature, reading poetry written by Sufi mystics such as Hafiz, Kabir and Rumi, or reciting prayers from the Bible every evening. We each have our own definition of spirituality and our own way of feeling connected to Spirit. Find yours.
20. Your future, healthy self.
One PT member suggests that we reflect on every situation: “How would my future well, healthy self handle this?” This is a simple way to flip your point of view and quickly transform thoughts and emotion.
21. A personal mantra.
Find words that hold special meaning to you and use them as a mantra or focal point in what you strive for. Words like balance, peace, harmony, alignment, centeredness, happiness, wholeness, oneness, presence. Your word can be in your own language or a foreign language – like Sanskrit – or a made up word. When using a word from an unfamiliar language, the sound of the word might even take on more importance than the meaning of the word. Use your mantra to provide an anchor feeling of peace, serenity and wholeness, so that if you are upset about something or find yourself in an anxious situation, repeating your mantra can help bring you right back to your center.
22. Nonsense words and sounds.
One member shared that making up nonsense words and sounds for his difficult emotions can really do the trick of snapping him out of the mental state that comes with an emotion and getting back in touch with his power. He explains:
Make up your own words in a playful/ light-hearted way. Using different expressive sounds that really encapsulate the feeling. Engage a different part of the brain to disengage from the emotional/mental entanglement, and to take back your power and ownership of the emotion…This definitely gives you a different stance to observe what the emotion is. I do it a lot with all the myriad dysfunctional states that lyme and neurotoxins create, but also with emotions (although trickier). It’s kind of like taking this toxic feeling, encapsulating it with your own material and putting it into a glass box like in a laboratory where you can then look at it in a detached way. Separating from it.”
23. Other languages or ways of speaking.
I have found that using other languages to process more stressful situations can be helpful. Many of us learned a second language in high school. If you happen to be involved with someone who speaks another language, or you both speak French, for example, try discussing difficult topics in that language. Or speaking in a different tone, like if you and your partner have a special voice you speak to each other in when you’re being affectionate and lovey-dovey. It can soften confrontative conversations that might normally cause you undue stress and help enhance communication with a partner.
Smile and say “Hi!” to yourself every time you pass by a mirror. If you enjoy it, you can begin a practice of having loving, nurturing conversations with yourself in the mirror. One member shares, “I have come to love greeting myself in the mirror, looking into my own eyes with love and knowing that, no matter what, I will always be here for me. That I’m never alone.”