The surprising brain-boosting power of gratitude

We’ve all heard about the power of gratitude and positive thinking. So what is this concept all about and more importantly, how does it affect your mood, your brain and your thinking?

The philosophy of positively visualizing the things you want in life and downplaying experiences and expectations that are negative is a concept that has been written about for at least 3,000 years. Great authors of all times have written about how our thoughts and how we choose to look at things condition the reality that we experience.

Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher, in the first century said that “The thing that upsets people is not so much what happens, but what they think about what happens”.

Today’s researchers are finding out how the concept actually works.

An article about brain imaging research in Psychology Today reports that research subjects who expressed gratitude on a regular basis had high levels of activity in the hypothalamus region of their brains and had higher concentrations of dopamine.

Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback says, “Because the hypothalamus controls a vast number of vital bodily functions such as eating, drinking and sleeping, this area of your brain has a significant influence on your metabolism and stress levels. Feelings of gratitude also directly activate brain regions associated with the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter called dopamine.”

Dopamine floods the brain with positive emotions, which is why it is generally considered to be the brain’s reward neurotransmitter. Importantly, dopamine is also responsible for initiating action. In essence, increases in dopamine encourage your brain to repeat what you just did, in order to get that wonderful feeling again.

According to Psychology Today, “Gratitude has a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli. It is like a small child: easily distracted. Your brain looks for things that prove what it already believes to be true and dopamine reinforces that. So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.”

Leanne O’Neil has seen the power of gratitude in the brain time and time again in her work with INDY Neurofeedback clients. “Positive thinking brain activity can be tracked, showing that improvements in gratitude can have wide-ranging effects, from increases in exercise and improved sleep, to decreases in depression and aches and pains.”

Here are 3 simple ways you can use the power of gratitude to help transform your life, health and physical well-being:

  • Health and your happiness. Positive thinking has proven health benefits including minimizing stress, curbing depression, reducing both pain and the risk of heart disease.
  • A good attitude improves coping skills. Sometimes simply feeling gratitude about being alive in this vast world can help put problems into perspective and provide better coping skills – especially if you have physical pain. Use gratitude to provide perspective on what’s important and what you truly value.
  • Relationships thrive on gratitude. Gratitude reinforces bonds and provides proof of support for any difficult times in the future.

Positive focus can effect change to your health with a shift in perspective. INDY Neurofeedback can help you train your brain to actively respond to gratitude through proven non-medical biofeedback techniques. This not only works for you and your health but also helps those around you.

Gratitude is contagious!

How to help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is among the fastest-growing epidemics in the world?

Over five and a half million Americans are living with the neurodegenerative disease today. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), medical researchers predict that by 2050, 14 million people in the U.S. will require full-time care for Alzheimer’s disease. That number is equal to the populations of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

While no one has figured out for certain what causes Alzheimer’s disease, we do know that both genetic and lifestyle factors play a role. There is good news in that knowledge, because while we can’t yet change our genes, we can take proactive steps to alter lifestyle choices and minimize our risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center have been researching how to optimize a healthy aging brain to protect it from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is what they suggest you can do to protect your brain – the most active organ in your body — from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia:

  • Setting personal goals. Not only does setting personal goals and working steadily to achieve them strengthen neuron connections in the brain, it also decreases chronic worry that can pump the body full of cortisol and adrenaline. Purpose-driven stress can actually improve health by reducing inflammation.
  • Keep your brain active and learning. Solving puzzles and reading books are great ways to give your brain a workout, building and strengthening neuron connections.
  • Get more sleep. The brain consumes more than 25 percent of the body’s energy. A recent study found that the sleep-brain connection is so strong that people who suffer from sleep apnea have a 70 percent higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s than those who breathe normally. Even one night of poor sleep can significantly increase disease-promoting inflammation in the body.
  • Exercise (especially the legs)! Muscle mass in the legs is associated with a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes memories. The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program recommends strenuous leg exercise (such as power walking) for 20 to 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week.
  • Eat a balanced diet, especially one that reduces inflammation. Eat as few processed foods as possible. Instead choose natural, whole, fiber-rich foods such as greens, berries, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These are the keys to building new nerve cells and neurons in your brain.
  • And of course, as discussed HERE, avoid anticholinergic drugs.

Aging does not necessarily mean succumbing to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Challenge your old ideas about aging and the brain by taking charge of your brain health — right now!

Traumatic Brain Injuries – by the numbers

Because of the way the brain is housed in the cranium, explains Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, an impact from almost any direction can cause damage. Although the brain is incredibly resilient, is it also quite susceptible to injury.

Even relatively minor brain trauma can cause lasting damage, often manifesting in headaches, slurred speech, depression and/or anxiety, fatigue, dizziness, mood changes, or irritability. Sometimes after a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) symptoms may be harder to pinpoint and diagnose, and may include reduced concentration, difficulty with memory retrieval, and poor organization and planning.

Here are some fairly startling TBI statistics in the U.S., gathered and published by WebMD:

  • 47% of brain injuries are attributed to falls, the leading cause of TBI.
  • 8 million Traumatic Brain Injuries were recorded in 2013, according to the most recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) data.
  • 153 deaths per day occur from injuries that include a brain injury.
  • 53,000 deaths are attributed to TBIs annually (CDC).
  • $400,000 is the average lifetime cost (per case) for a severe brain injury.
  • An estimated 3.2 to 5.3 million Americans are living with a TBI-related disability.
  • 47% increase in ER visits from TBIs from 2007 to 2013.
  • 70% of all sports and recreation-related brain injuries are reported in people ages 19 and younger.
  • 5% of high school athletes have had a concussion.
  • 5% of all high school athletes have reported more than one concussion.
  • 26,212 non-fatal bicycling-related brain injuries are reported annually.
  • 99% of NFL players in an autopsy brain donation program were diagnosed with brain damage after death.

Unfortunately, Traumatic Brain Injuries are on the rise across the U.S. And frequently, these injuries can be difficult to detect.

That is why INDY Neurofeedback was established; to provide a non-medical way to help those suffering with brain injuries re-gain lost brain function. If you suspect your (or a family member’s) symptoms may be the result of a Traumatic Brain Injury, we are here to help.

 

From Facts and Stats on Trending Health Topics, Matt McMillen, WebMD.com, September 2018.  https://www.webmd.com/brain/ss/slideshow-concussions-brain-injuries

How becoming a mother re-wires the brain

New studies are shedding light on what goes on in the brains of women immediately after they become mothers of new babies. Giving birth is a major event for the brain with changes that are immediate, pronounced and foundational.

Both structural and functional brain changes were detected with the help of magnetic resonance imaging, relates INDY Neurofeedback owner Leanne O’Neil.

This brain research, begun over two decades ago, set out to document the makeover of the maternal brain. Jodi Pawluski, a researcher at University of Rennes France, calls these changes “Among the most significant biological events one can have in one’s life.”

Researchers scanned the brains of women who were not pregnant. They then followed up with more images shortly after these women had babies, and again two years later. They found that the volume of gray matter in the mothers’ brains changed dramatically, particularly in regions involved in social processes such as the ability to recognize emotions and mental states, key to raising a child.

The degree of change was significant enough that researchers could easily determine which women were mothers and which were not, purely by looking at their brain scans. The more brain change the mothers experienced, the higher they scored on measures of emotional attachment to their babies, a finding that echoed past studies. These changes in most brain regions were evident even two years later.

Why this physical change? Women experience a flood of hormones during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. These hormones prepare the brain for dramatic change in regions thought to make up the ‘maternal circuit.’ The maternal circuit of the brain includes areas that enable a mother to meet her baby’s basic needs, becoming hyper-vigilant to infant pain and emotions, and helping to regulate responses to positive stimuli as well as perceived threats.

Some effects of those brain changes may moderate over time. A new mom’s hyper-vigilance, for instance, generally peaks in the first month postpartum and then diminishes. But other effects of brain change linger, shaping mothers even well past their child-rearing years and influencing their relationships with future grandchildren.

This information helps explain why new moms can be fiercely protective, motivated caregivers, and completely focused on their baby’s wellbeing, says Leanne O’Neil. Our powerful, dynamic maternal brains are doing exactly what they have been designed to do.

ADHD just might be the most misdiagnosed issue of our time 

According to the National Institute of Health, childhood diagnoses of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have climbed sharply in the last two decades. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that ADHD diagnoses jumped over 40% between 2003 and 2011. In 2016 alone more than 9% of children between the ages of 2 and 17, a total of more than 6 million children, were diagnosed with ADHD.

What is going on here?

According to Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback. “Because an anecdotal ADHD diagnosis can include numerous behaviors, many of which just about every child exhibits at one time or another, it becomes very easy to over-diagnose or misdiagnose this in children without the assistance of a qEEG brain map.”

Some of the many symptoms attributed to ADHD include:

  • Anger management problems
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Inability to sit still
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of organizational skills
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble listening

Doesn’t this sound like many young elementary and middle school-aged children? Absolutely!

How do you know if your child actually has ADHD?

A non-invasive brainwave test. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first brainwave test to help diagnose attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children by measuring brainwaves.  Christy Foreman, a director at the FDA, said in a statement that the test will help healthcare providers more accurately determine whether ADHD is the cause of particular behavioral and learning problems.

Brainwave testing has been used by many healthcare providers all over the world for the past 30 years.  In addition to identifying ADHD, brainwave testing also provides the basis for neurofeedback training which is used to help alleviate many of the symptoms associated with ADHD.

Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback states that, “The brainwave test identifies unbalanced brainwave patterns that may be related to focus and attention issues and neurofeedback retrains the brain’s ability to self-regulate. Talk to us if your child’s teacher is discussing ADHD diagnosis,” says Leanne O’Neil. “We can help you better understand what is actually going on and work with your individual needs.

The conventional solution to ADHD is usually medication, and likely prescribed long-term. But all medications have side effects, which can be particularly problematic with your child’s developing brain.

“This doesn’t mean that medication is always a poor choice,” continues O’Neil. “It just means that it’s important to explore all of your options before jumping into a long-term regimen.”

Many parents have had success addressing their child’s hyperactivity by discovering and addressing food intolerances and nutrient deficiencies.

Food for thought:  Your child eats a breakfast that has no fat, little protein and a high glycemic index – let’s say a bagel with fat-free cream cheese.  Blood sugar goes up, but then soon crashes, which triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline. At around 10am, this child is jittery and fidgety and cannot pay attention. This can look like ADHD to a teacher.

If diet modifications fail, call us!  We can identify underlying problems that factor into your child’s behavior and help come up with a plan of care, often one that works without the aid of prescription drugs.

Neurofeedback, biofeedback and chronic pain management

Because September is National Pain Awareness month, INDY Neurofeedback is devoting this space to the important topic of pain management.

We wish we didn’t have to experience pain. Ever. Truth is, though, we would not survive without it.

Pain provides us with a valuable warning, letting us know that something is wrong, and where. The intensity of that pain also provides a sense of urgency, letting us know we need to stop and take care of the injury.

Sometimes, however, pain has no obvious connection to any injury and doesn’t serve a useful purpose. This is called chronic pain and presents an incredible challenge for those who live with it. Offering both biofeedback and neurofeedback, our trained staff at INDY Neurofeedback wants to help.

But first, a little background. Researchers have discovered that:

  • Pain can not be measured in any absolute
  • The perception of pain is registered in the brain, no matter where in the body the injury lies.
  • Perceptions of pain vary dramatically from individual to individual and from circumstance to circumstance.
  • Depending on the way the brain interprets it, pain may not be scaled to the actual injury and may continue long after the injury is healed.
  • The brain registers pain emotionally, so feelings of fear, trauma, or helplessness can often increase pain perception.
  • Pain can operate in cycles, so when emotions are triggered, that in turn increases pain perception, which re-triggers trauma – in an endless cycle.
  • When the sensitivity escalates to the highest levels, injury messages are no longer necessary to sustain the experience of pain.
  • Medications used for pain can also require ever increasing doses.

It begins with the brain.

Since the brain is ultimately in charge of how severely individual pain is perceived and where it is localized in the body, biofeedback and neurofeedback begin right at the source — the brain itself.

There have been numerous clinical studies showing that the techniques of both biofeedback and neurofeedback can be used to break the cycle of pain and lead to a major decrease — or even the total elimination of — chronic pain.

INDY Neurofeedback works with clients of all ages and all kinds of pain, from post-surgical to fibromyalgia, brain injuries to PSTD-related pain. Our goal is to help each client redefine the way his/her brain interprets nerve impulses (the experience of pain) and gradually return brain-pain sensitivities to normal levels.

We are happy to talk with you about what you are experiencing. The therapies we offer may well provide the relief you are seeking. We sincerely hope so.

What is neuroplasticity and how does it work?

Neuroplasticity is the term scientists use to talk about the brain’s innate ability to form new neural connections in response to learning or experience or following injury. Specifically, neuroplasticity allows the nerve cells in the brain (neurons) to compensate for injury and/or disease and to adjust their response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

So, just as the muscles and bones in your body can heal after trauma, your brain can too, no matter your age.

How?

Research has shown that there is an accepted normal pattern of brainwave activity for just about any circumstance we experience, from sleeping to driving, learning something new, to repeating a motion we have performed a hundred times.

When this normal brain wave pattern becomes dysregulated (through physical or emotional trauma), our brainwaves re-track how they connect. Frequently, this re-tracking or dysregulation takes the form of memory loss or sensory or behavioral change. We may develop symptoms that compromise our daily lives, sometimes requiring medical support.

All too often, that medical support comes in the form of medication. For instance, we may be given an anti-anxiety medication to calm sudden irrational fears or inappropriate abrupt behavioral change such as intense anger.

Neurofeedback is a way to utilize the brain’s plasticity – or ability to change and heal – by engaging with those brainwaves. In other words, neurofeedback helps you harness the power of your own brain to help transform brainwave imbalances without (or alongside) medication.

It’s a non-invasive way to help children and adults get back to normal, healthy, organized brain function, operating optimally and efficiently.

Any adult or child can benefit from the brain’s inherent ability to “re-wire” or heal itself, through retraining using the brain’s natural neuroplastic abilities. Neurofeedback can help those suffering with:

  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Chronic pain
  • Autism or Asperger’s syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Migraines
  • Learning disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Post-concussion syndrome
  • PTSD

 

What if you or your child has a smaller, albeit troublesome issue such as stuttering, or an irrational fear getting in the way of life? Neurofeedback can help with that as well, helping your amazingly resilient brain re-train itself, whether that involves improving concentration, memory, enhancing problem-solving, reducing performance anxiety, or simply increasing self-confidence.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we know that everyone is unique. The amount of training your brain may need depends upon the severity of your symptoms and your overall health. We’re here for the big challenges and for the smaller ones, too.

We’re also good listeners. If you’ve got a question about something bothering you or your child, give us a call and let’s schedule an appointment to talk about it.

– the INDY Neurofeedback team

 

 

Sports and brain injuries

Bryan is a healthy, active eleven year old that loves sports of every kind. His mother, worried about all the recent news about football-related concussions, was relieved when Bryan chose to attend basketball camp rather than football camp this summer. Despite the seemingly safer choice, Bryan showed the classic signs of a closed head injury (brain trauma) after colliding head-to-head with another basketball player.

Would you know what to look for if your child sustained a closed head injury? It’s a fair question, according to INDY Neurofeedback owner Leanne O’Neil, “Especially since mild to moderate closed head injuries (in children and adults) often get misdiagnosed as something else.”

Contrary to popular opinion, you do not have to lose consciousness to have a serious brain injury. And even mild brain injuries (life’s head bumps) can have a lasting impact on brain function — and people’s lives. In fact, current research suggests that many cases of ADHD, epilepsy, hyperactivity, and/or aggressive behaviors are the result of undiagnosed head trauma.

Here are signs of a closed head injury:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Poor organization and/or planning
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Poor hearing
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression and/or anxiety

A quick look at the list makes it obvious why these types of injuries get misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. After all, what typical eleven year old doesn’t have occasional poor organization skills, irritability, mood swings or anxiety?

“Head injuries look different depending on the person and the type of trauma sustained,” says O’Neil. “Although the brain is incredibly resilient, it is also quite delicate, so almost any kind of blow can cause the brain to dysregulate. Through a qEEG brain map, INDY Neurofeedback can confirm the existence of dysregulated brainwave patterns and begin to provide training on how to correct the patterns.”

Restoring the brain’s normal rhythms can restore normal functioning health and behaviors. It is a completely non-invasive and drug-free approach to optimal brain functioning.

– the INDY Neurofeedback team

What your brain does while you sleep

Scientists and our INDY Neurofeedback team know that our brains do an amazing amount of important work while we sleep. We also know that sleeping is an integral part of our life.

However, a thorough understanding of sleep as it pertains to our overall health is still not entirely known, largely because its functions are incredibly complex.

Here’s what we do know about the function of sleep, according to Scientific American magazine:

  • Sleep reenergizes the body’s cells
  • Clears waste from the brain
  • Supports learning and memory
  • Regulates mood, appetite and even the libido

As we fall asleep, our brains don’t shut down. Instead, they prepare to generate sleep in two distinct stages. The first phase, SWS, is slow-wave sleep.

“Most of our sleep is SWS,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “SWS shows up on our brain scans as large, slow brain waves. This makes sense, as a sleeping body is relaxed. Breathing is slow and rhythmic. This probably helps our brain and body to recover after all we process during our busy days.”

After the SWS stage, the brain activates REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The purpose of REM sleep remains a puzzle, despite our growing understanding of its biochemistry and neurobiology.

“Through brain scans,” continues O’Neil, “we know that a dreamer’s brain is highly active, while in contrast, our body’s muscles are paralyzed. (This is why we feel we cannot move away from perceived danger when we have a nightmare.) Our body’s breathing and heart rate are often erratic, too.”

Scientists and neurofeedback specialists now know that a small group of cells in the brain stem controls REM sleep. Interestingly, when these cells become injured or diseased, dreamers often don’t experience REM muscle paralysis, which can lead to a serious REM sleep behavior disorder where individuals sleepwalk or act out their dreams, often violently.

Understanding the complex relationship between sleep and the brain is fascinating, especially to us at INDY Neurofeedback. That’s precisely why we do the work we do – helping our clients optimize their brain function to improve their overall health.

 

– the INDY Neurofeedback team

Why a blog about INDY Neurofeedback?

INDY Neurofeedback has created this new blog as a way to share information and news that’s pertinent to you and your family’s mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Look for news, tips, information, ideas, and support on a host of topics including how neurofeedback works for children, teens and adults — addressing everything from improving memory and concentration to reducing performance anxiety and increasing self-confidence.

We’ll address new research and new concerns. We’ll talk about sports brain injuries in children and how to help brains of all ages overcome physical and emotional trauma.

We’ll explore ways to reduce dependency on prescription drugs for cognitive dysfunction, and retrain or “rewire” the brain to work in a way that is more resilient and fully functional.

We’ll delve into the link between nutrition and brain health, and find out how to work alongside your child’s school system when a diagnosis of ADHD, OCD, or being on the ‘autism spectrum’ is suspected.

Lots of ideas. A trove of science-backed information. All in four blogs each month.

We welcome you and hope you will return often to learn about making your brain health and wellbeing a little simpler — and less drug-dependent to attain.  Stay tuned!

– the INDY Neurofeedback team