How to Calm Your Amygdala and Live A More Positive Life

Would you like to be a more positive person?  You can.  It turns out that you just need to learn a few simple ways to trick you brain into letting you be happy.

Our brain is naturally wired to be attentive to negative stimuli. Negative thoughts, experiences, or images trigger a structure called the amygdala which is the fear/threat system in our brain. This part of our brain is often hyperactive in an attempt to keep us safe from potential danger, however psychologists at the University of Miami have found that it might have a negative impact on our long-term psychological health and happiness.


If you are struggling with anxiety and would like more resources for calming your mind and living a more positive life,

Check out:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety


Psychologists have found that even small amounts of negative stimuli can have a large impact on our overall happiness, stating, “Suppose you drop your morning coffee and it splatters everywhere. Later a colleague drops by to say hello. Do you grumble a testy acknowledgment, or cheerfully greet her?” This example demonstrates that “how a person’s brain evaluates fleeting negative stimuli — such as that dropped cup — may influence their long-term psychological well-being.” Lead researcher of this study, Nikki Puccetti, stated, “One way to think about it is the longer your brain holds on to a negative event, or stimuli, the unhappier you report being,”

To conduct this study, psychologists evaluated 52 participants through a process of psychological questionnaires, nightly phone calls evaluating overall daily experience, as well as functional MRI scans measuring the effects of positive, negative, and neutral images on brain activity.

The results of this study revealed that people whose amygdala held on to negative stimuli for fewer seconds were more likely to report more positive and fewer negative emotions in their daily lives — which spilled over to a more enduring well-being over time.

So how do we teach our amygdala to hold onto negative stimuli for less time in order to increase our overall happiness?

Focus on gratitude—When we intentionally focus on what we are grateful for, we create greater activity in our hypothalamus, hippocampus, and balance our amygdala. The hypothalamus and the hippocampus are primary brain structures that regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functioning. Focusing on gratitude is a helpful way to increase our psychological well-being as well as our physical health. Practice gratitude by writing a gratitude list and adding to it as you move through your day.

Recognize the Gift—Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that you shouldn’t say “thank you” to someone who is “just doing their job” or “just doing what they are supposed to do.”  There are lots of people who don’t do their jobs and fail to do what they should.  The fact is, it takes effort to try to do what’s right and fulfill our responsibilities to one another, and it’s an effort that deserves to be recognized.  In a world that sees people as objects and takes everyone for granted, we Christians have a special duty to remind each other, and the world, how important each and every person is in the eyes of God and how precious a gift it is when someone does something–anything–to make our lives a little easier or more pleasant. Be that person who recognizes the gifts others give you today.  Acknowledge everything someone does for you today with a simple “thank you” and a smile. 

Celebrate the People In Your Life–Is there someone you especially appreciate? Someone who makes a difference in your life just by being who they are?  When was the last time you told them how important they are to you?  Today, take a minute to actually hand write a short note to tell them how much they mean to you.  You might thank them for something specific they did, or for how they make you feel, or just thank them for being in your life. Let them know what a gift they are to you and how you wouldn’t be the same without them.  Then drop it in the mail or leave it someplace where they can be surprised to find it later on.  It doesn’t take much effort, but you’d be surprised by how much of a difference  this little effort can make.

For more resources on increasing your mental health and well-being, visit us online at!

“It’s Like We’re On The Same Wavelength!” – Metaphor or Neuroscience?


We all love those moments of meeting someone, or spending time with them, and everything just “clicks.” We say the same thing at the same time, feel the same emotions, or have the same opinions. Often, we refer to this type of encounter as “being on the same wavelength” with someone. But is this statement more than just a metaphor?

Psychologist, Suzanne Dikker, at New York University conducted a study which demonstrated that “engaged groups are literally in sync on a brain-to-brain basis.”

Dr. Dikker studied twelve student’s brainwaves during eleven different classes throughout a semester. She utilized portable electroencephalogram (EEG) systems to monitor the brainwaves of each student.

The results of the study indicated that, “Brainwave synchronicity seems to be generated from a number of small, individual interactions…For example, eye contact was linked to shared intentions, which ‘sets up a scaffold’ for social cognition and more engagement. These individual interactions seemed to lead to a shared sense of purpose across the group—which manifested in specific brainwave patterns, likewise shared across the group.”

This study reveals that personal interaction and engagement actually stimulates individuals’ brainwaves to react the same way, thus causing them to literally be on the same wavelength. Thanks to Dr. Dikker, this common statement has been scientifically proven.

For more information on how to build stronger relationships, check out For Better…. FOREVER!, and tune in to More2Life weekdays Monday-Friday 10am E/9am C on EWTN Global Catholic Radio, SiriusXM 139.

New Study Shows Talk Therapy Can Change Brain Function of Schizophrenics



Talk therapy can be best understood as physical therapy for the brain.  Many previous studies have been shown to have a positive impact on the brain functioning of depressed and anxious patients, changing the way clients’ brains process, feel, and respond to stress.  Exciting new research shows that even patients who suffer from psychosis (e.g., intrusive auditory and visual hallucinations) and schizophrenia can experience significant improvements in brain function as the result of talk therapy.   But how?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a school of psychology that focuses on “reframing,” or changing the way an individual thinks about and responds to their thoughts and experiences as well as developing strategies to reduce stress and improve mental health and well-being.

A study conducted by King’s College London shows that CBT strengthens the “connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately.” Furthermore, this study revealed that the techniques of CBT show increased “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.”

In other words, individuals who experience psychotic symptoms such as those common in schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorder, can benefit from CBT by “learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them.”

“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 researchers of this and other studies explained that individual’s struggling with psychosis often turn immediately to medication for relief from their symptoms. However, the results of this study demonstrate that while CBT is effective during the time the individual is receiving counseling, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy also gives the individual the tools necessary to positively impact long-term recovery.

To discover how Cognitive-Behavior Therapy can help your brain deal with stress, depression, anxiety and other emotional problems more effectively, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-Counseling practice to make an appointment to speak with a counselor.

This is Your Brain on Terrorism…Any Questions?



Dr. Eric Haseltine is a recognized expert in both neuroscience and counter-terrorism.  He has a great article in Psychology Today about how understanding the way our brains work can lead us to a healthy response to terrorism.  Although he is not writing from a religious perspective, regular readers of Faith on the Couch will recognize how consistent Dr. Haseltine’s approach is with the Theology of the Body, the assertion by Pope St. John Paul the Great that by understanding the way God made our bodies and brains to function, we can discover His plan for healthy relationships and creating a Civilization of Love.

From Psychology Today…

It’s very rare that my backgrounds in Neuroscience and Counter Terrorism  collide, but the Paris terrorist attacks have just  made this happen.

And the atrocities have lead me to a strong opinion about what we should do about ISIS

The bottom line is that both Neuroscience and lessons from Counter Terrorism experience argue that military force, by itself is, not going to solve the problem. Neither will efforts to “de-radicalize” Islamic teenagers. Ditto for diplomacy, support to foreign governments  that  motivate them to fight ISIS harder, or efforts to win over “hearts and minds” of Sunni populations  that support ISIS.

We’ve  tried these approaches for decades, and the best you can say is that they’ve only partly succeeded.

The reason for the mixed success is that these approaches focus primarily on “them” (terrorists) and very little on  “us” (victims or potential victims of terrorists).

Here’s what I mean.

One of ISIS’s objectives in the Paris attacks was to polarize non-Muslims  against Muslims.  This increased anger could produce two things ISIS covets:  Western military responses  in Muslim countries that  deepen Islam’s resentment of the West, and increased  bias against Muslims, which, in turn, increases alienation of Islamic youth in Western countries.

Resentful populations in Muslim countries are more likely to support ISIS and so are disaffected Islamic youths in the West.

So… how we react to the events in Paris will play a big role in how often such incidents are repeated.

And , unfortunately, the latest Neuroscience suggests that our response will be dangerously imbalanced.

Bear with me while I explain.

Dr. Gregory Berns at Emory University has shown that the part of our brains that respond to “utility” (cost vs. benefit) are entirely different from the parts involved in “sacred values” (absolute right vs. wrong). And it’s because these two parts are unconnected that I’m worried.

For instance, when faced with decisions like “how much money would it take to get you stop drinking Coke,”  fMRI scans showed that  test subject’s  right Inferior Parietal neocortex activated. But when asked whether money could make them kill an innocent person, other areas, such as the Tempororparietal Junction and amygdala lit up.

In other words, no amount of cost/benefit analysis will change the strong responses in our brain to fundamental beliefs, like” terrorists are evil and should be killed.”

So, in responding to terrorism, our “sacred value” brains will tend to ignore cost vs benefit–  such as how much American military action will raise our taxes. Or how many more American soldiers  and  civilians will die with escalated military operations. Or– most important–will added military action really work?

Worse, the attacks are likely to make our sacred beliefs about Muslim  terrorists—and by association all Muslims—even more sacred. This is bound to affect some of our conscious and unconscious attitudes towards Muslims.

And Muslims in the West are bound to feel it.

And some of them will become more radicalized. If that happen, ISIS wins.

Not just once, with military attacks on Muslim countries that increase ISIS support

Not just twice with increased alienation of Muslims in the West.

But  three times with attitudes we pass on to our children.  READ THE REST.


6 Ways Parenthood Boosts Your Brain

There have been a number of stories in the news lately about how the “latest research” shows that only stupid women want children (or something to that effect).  In the Culture Wars, this gets translated into the idea that the Church wants women to have as many babies as possible to keep them humble and subservient.

The assertion is as nonsensical as the “research” it is supposedly based on.   Studies in “evolutionary psychology” have about the same intellectual rigor as “womyn’s studies.”  Good-natured jokes about “mommy brain” aside, as this excellent article points out, other research argues that parenthood actually improves brain function in 6 distinct ways…

1. Constantly being exposed to new information. While learning everything about your child’s health and welfare, you’re also exposing yourself to new knowledge sources…. Throw on top of that the information you learn by helping older children with their homework and other assignments, and it’s clear that your brain benefits from this constant infusion of new stimulation.

2. Developing your softer side.  Your kids need very different forms of attention and understanding than even the most challenging adult. 

3. Staying on top of what’s new. Through your kids, you learn- for better or worse- about what’s going on the world that might otherwise have passed you by. How many midlife and older adults today are iPhone savvy because their children (or grandchildren) have taught them about the new technologies?

4. Developing your own abilities.  Perhaps you weren’t the most athletic kid in the world, but as the parent of a young soccer wannabee, you’ve got no choice but to become a little more coordinated with your feet. Or it could be the opposite, and you’re absolutely incapable of doing anything involving fine motor movement (painting, sewing, carpentry). Through practicing with your child, you can encourage the parts of your brain that handle these tasks to grow just a tiny bit.

5. Acquiring self-knowledge. A considerable amount of research on parenthood suggests that parents relive their own earlier stages through the experiences of their children. However, you relive these experiences with the brain of an adult, not a child or teenager. Therefore, by having the opportunity to look anew at the classic issues that children must face (establishing autonomy, dealing with bullies, to name just two), adults can gain new insights into their own development.

6. Staying healthier. Becoming responsible for the young can lead you to pay more attention to your health if for no other reason than that you would like to be around when they grow up. In addition, though, all that running around after the kids, having to provide them with decent nutrition, and learning about the factors affecting their health can help you improve your own.   READ MORE

If you want more tips on smart parenting and parenting smart, check out Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids (2nd ed. revised and expanded)