Don’t trust your thoughts and sleep well tonight

Don’t trust your thoughts and sleep well tonight

Your brain is a liar. It lies all the time. So take a deep breath, say, “Hey brain be quiet!” and read on.

The truth is sometimes:

The brain is an amazingly complex organ where all thoughts and reactions are manufactured. But our brain didn’t always look like the way it does now, It has evolved. Some of the more primitive behaviors such as paranoia and fight or flight instincts still dwell within us, on a very active level. These instincts are no longer as useful as they used to be during primitive times, when humans had to look out for wild animals and other dangers.

Let’s learn about the triune brain

The neurologist Paul MacLean has discovered that our skull holds not one brain, but three.

Think of it as 3 layers that got added on overtime as life evolved.

The first brain, the reptilian brain (or the old brain) first appeared in fish, nearly 500 million years ago.

It is the survival brain, rigid, paranoid and ritualistic. For example always putting your wallet in the same place is your reptilian brain at work. The reptilian brain does not learn from its past mistakes.

As fish evolved, the reptilian brain grew bigger, and a new layer formed. The limbic system, the middle part of the brain.

This part appeared in small mammals, about 150 million years ago. This is the emotional part of our brain “the gut feeling”. It appears to be the primary seat of emotion, attention, and affective (emotion-charged) memories. This is where you learn to have a response to rewards and punishments. You can see this when you train a dog for example. This part of the brain doesn’t have a concept of time.

Eventually, The brain grew bigger and the final layer appeared which distinguished humans from animals: The cerebrum. Yes, the X-men know what they are doing.

The cerebrum or neo-cortex corresponds to the brain of the primate mammals and, consequently, the human species.

This is the logical part of the brain.

So what does this have to do with your brain making up thoughts that don’t let you sleep? Let’s take a look at each point.

You may feel a threat when there isn’t one

The limbic brain, (the middle brain) is the part of the brain that will alert you to danger. At the same time, this part of the brain does not register logic or the concept of time.

When there is a detected danger, this part of the brain will trigger the fight-flight or freeze response which allows your body in turn to react to the situation. The problem is that even after the danger has passed, the middle brain will remain on high alert and will activate the same responses when something that reminds you of the scary event happens, such as a color, or a sound. This is called being triggered.

When you have anxiety, your brain is in a state related to prediction and preparedness. It’s on overdrive.

From a survival perspective, this is what kept our ancestors alive and able to survive rough lands. This is also what makes traumatized people stuck in the past.

Logically, if you feel fear or anxiety but look around you and nothing is happening, then don’t trust those thoughts. You don’t need to predict anything and you don’t need to dwell on anything either. Focus on activities for your cerebrum, such as a card game instead. The point is to bring your thoughts out of the limbic emotional brain and into the neo-cortex Look around you and describe what you see, hold an ice cube in your hand, count how many tiles on the floor. Anything to trigger the logical side.

Your memories might not be as accurate as you think

Your memories are memories of memories. There is not one place in the brain where memories are stored. Different memories are stored in different areas of the brain.

Memories are not stored in our brains like files in a PC, but must be actively reconstructed from various elements scattered throughout the brain.

You do not actually remember the event. What you remember is a memory of the event.

And because each individual has his own set of feelings, emotions and experiences, the memory might be recalled differently from person to person.

Your beliefs and feelings are not everyone else’s reality

What you believe is your perception. Our attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions distort the incoming information and make it our own. Everyone experiences reality differently.

For example, let’s picture two people in a line up to get into the bus. It’s wintertime, the temperature is crisp, and there is a lot of people. The place is crowded. One person is warmly dressed and is listening to a podcast while people watching. The other is not so warmly dressed and has nothing to do while waiting. That person gets annoyed at every person that bumps into them, and keeps looking out for the bus to finally get there. If we ask both these people to give us a description of that morning, both stories will come out very different. One might say that he didn’t wait too long for the bus, it was a nice morning and it wasn’t so cold. The other might say that the bus took forever to arrive, it was freezing and everyone was rude.

None of these are true. And yet, they all happened as everyone’s reality. No one is lying.

You might naturally fear something unknown, even though there is no danger

The human brain fears the unknown It seeks to avoid rather than pursue.

Many studies have found that certain fears, such as fear of rats or heights, are much more common than others such as fear of grass or rain. This phenomenon is known as preparedness. The early humans that were quick to fear dangerous situations had higher chances of survival and reproduction. This preparedness has been theorized to be genetic and therefore the direct result of natural selection. This preparedness might also be detrimental if not balanced. Fear might instinctively get triggered on your first day of school or job.

The reality is that you won’t get eaten by a lion on your first day on the job. You might make some mistakes, and that’s totally OK. Don’t let the limbic system tell you otherwise.

If your brain is emotionally unbalanced, if the thoughts are overreacting or if you feel like you are having a panic attack then activating your cerebrum is a good way to get out of this cycle. Looking around and naming all the objects in the room, describing textures, counting, are all activities that will activate the cerebrum.

Saying your feelings out loud, also validates them, and will help quiet down the middle brain. The whole point is to bring you back to the cerebrum, the logical side, where you can recollect and know that you are not in danger, and you can sleep tonight.

Why do bad things always happen to me?

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