Feel Good On-Demand: 7 Brain Hacks to Ease Depression & Anxiety
The brain is an amazing organ. It does its job of learning, adapting, and keeping us alive and functioning in the physical world very well. Even so, it does make its share of mistakes.
All too often the brain's mistakes end up creating feelings of depression, anxiety, and negativity. But, by learning some simple techniques we can turn it around and use the brain's susceptibility to mistakes to our advantage.
This post will go over seven simple ways to tap into your brain and help ease depression, anxiety, or any negative feelings. So you can feel better on-demand.
What Are Brain Hacks?
Brain hacks, like hacking into computers, is a way to change how a system or program works. When hacking into computers, hackers are changing the way computer software operates. Using brain hacks changes how your brain is working.
When it comes to depression brain hacks we are hacking into our own brain and making some adjustments to help ease depression and anxiety. This allows us to make the brain operate the way we want, rather than letting it go on auto-pilot.
The brain is a system of prediction and anticipation. It uses past experiences, memories, and what it knows about the world to keep us a step ahead of everything that is going on.
Unfortunately, the brain is sometimes a little too efficient and as a result, we have certain emotions, behaviors, and patterns in life that are not useful and can even be harmful.
Such is the case with persistent depression and anxiety.
Here are a few tricks you can use to trick the brain into thinking it is happy even when going through a difficult time.
To learn more ways to stay positive and feel better on those not-so-good days try reading, How To Be Happy When You're Not.
Brain Hack #1: Put a Pen Between Your Teeth
One of the easiest and fastest ways to trick your brain into thinking you are happy is to put a pen between your teeth.
The middle section of the pen should be between your teeth (like in the picture) with the two ends sticking out of the sides of your mouth. Don’t let your lips touch the pen. Push the pen back as far as it will comfortably go.
Notice how your mouth is forced to make a smile? You are using the very same muscles to hold the pen in your teeth as you do to smile.
This depression brain hack works because your brain takes input from the muscles in your face. Based on your past experiences of being happy when you smile the brain assumes you must be happy since these same muscles are engaged.
In accordance, your brain will begin producing feel good, happy chemicals. Who knew a pen could be a natural anti-depressant?
Brain Hack #2: Visualize
Neuroscientists really like to hook people up to machines to measure and observe brain waves. While doing so they found the exact same area of the brain lights up when you think about or remember something as when you are physically looking at the object.
That means, your brain cannot tell the difference between what you see with your physical eyes and what you are seeing with your mind’s eye.
Try it now. Close your eyes and imagine a puppy sitting in front of you. Bam! You just made your brain react as though you are looking at a puppy right there in the room with you.
Silly brain. It just has no way to tell the difference. You saw it, it must be there. But this is great news because this little mistake that your brain makes allows you to very easily visualize yourself into happiness.
You know the song “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” from the movie The Sound of Music. There is a lot more to that song than just a catchy tune. So make a list of all your favorite things and then close your eyes and imagine experiencing them.
Be aware though, This little depression brain hack works both ways. If you are focused on, remembering, or imagining things that make you feel bad, your brain will respond accordingly. So you might want to keep that list of your favorite things handy. That way you can refer to it easily when your brain goes into negativity auto-pilot.
Brain Hack #3: Move Your Body
People are made to move. Probably due to evolutionary reasons (when we needed to be moving a lot in order to survive). As such, our brains will actually enter into a depressed state when the body is not in motion for long periods of time.
Even worse, when you experience a lot of stress, anxiety or depression you produce chemicals throughout your body that in large doses are harmful and toxic, both physically and mentally.
These chemicals create problems from tense muscles to even lethal illnesses, such as heart problems. They also contribute to sensations of anxiety and depression. So even when you're not anxious or depressed you feel like you are.
Exercise, even as simple as taking a leisurely walk, will prompt the brain to produce our feel-good chemicals. And those unwanted toxic chemicals will begin to move through and out of your body.
The harder the workout the more feel-good chemicals are produced, so working up a sweat and getting out of breath brings the most benefit.
But my favorite way to use this depression brain hack is to listen to some good, upbeat music and sing and dance along. It is also a great way to get my cat moving since he always runs out of the room when I try to dance with him.
Brain Hack #4: Say Affirmations
Affirmations are as easy as saying something positive. They are affirming of good things about you and your life. Any positive sentence or statement is an affirmation as long as it is stated as truth.
Create affirmations that reflect the best parts of you, what you want, and how you want the world around you to work. Make them simple and easy to remember. Such as, “I feel good today.”, “I am happy.”, or "I handle all problems with ease."
Then, when you need a boost, simply state an affirmation or two out loud.
It may seem simple, but when your brain hears something, it processes the auditory information and believes it.
The trick to this depression brain hack is to keep saying the affirmation(s) over and over so it is not overridden by any negative thoughts you may have.
The more often you say the affirmation - the stronger the neural connection becomes and the truer it will feel. It also attracts more things into your life that make you feel good.
Brain Hack #5: Do Something You Love
You may not realize it, but the brain is only able to focus on one thing at a time. Although we live in a world that encourages and idealizes multitasking, the brain is simply unable to do it.
When we are multi-tasking the brain is actually switching back and forth at a rapid pace. It switches back and forth so quickly it feels as though we are focused on more than one thing. Yet we are actually giving less than 100% to each thing we are trying to do or think about.
But you can use this to your advantage to uplift your mood in many ways.
As mentioned above, visualizations and affirmations are a great way to choose what your brain is focused on. But you can also change your focus by actively doing the things you love.
By partaking in activities that you enjoy and feel passionate about you are focused on what makes you feel good and the brain responds by producing feel-good chemicals that change your mood and make you feel better.
Try listening to music you love, spending time with friends or loved ones, doing your favorite hobby, going for a nature hike, or reading a book just for the fun of it. The more attention and focus the activity takes, the more it will make your brain respond positively.
Brain Hack # 6: Be Around Happy People
Right behind your forehead, located at the front of your brain, are what is called the Mirror Neurons. Just as the name implies, the mirror neurons are responsible for mirroring what we see others doing or feeling.
These neurons are why we feel empathy and are so good at reading facial expressions and body language. They are also why we feel the need to yawn when someone else does, and why we feel thirsty when watching someone take a drink of their beverage.
As the brain assesses a situation it takes in cues from various sensory inputs, including what other people are doing, thinking, and feeling.
That information, combined with what the brain is anticipating (based on past experiences), it decides how to react, how to think, and how to feel.
So use your mirror neurons to ease depression and anxiety by finding happy people to expose yourself to. Including hanging out with them, looking at pictures of them, or watching funny and uplifting tv and movies that are full of people enjoying life.
Being around happy people or even just looking at images of people who are happy will activate your mirror neurons. Your natural empathy will pick up on what they are feeling and begin to mimic it.
As you pick up on what they're feeling you are activating several areas of your brain. And since these people are happy, all those areas of your brain will begin to create the sensation of being happy yourself.
Not to mention being around people who are positive and happy will surround you with positive vibrations. Which, if you know about the law of attraction, is always a good thing.
Brain Hack #7: Keep It Up
These depression brain hacks are simple techniques that you can use anytime to change the way you feel. But they don't work if you don't use them. And, unfortunately, if you aren't using your brain to your advantage that means you are leaving it to run on auto-pilot. Which, as you know, is not always a good thing.
The more you use these depression brain hacks to ease depression and anxiety, the more you are changing the structure of your brain. And that is awesome. Because once you change the structure of your brain to be more positive and happy, the more your brain will start to do it on its own.
The trick is simply to remember to use them. However, depression brain hacks only work short-term if there is a persistent deeper issue that needs to be addressed. If that is the case for you, please seek the help you need and deserve.
I'd love to hear what you think! Let us know if you have any other feel-good Brain Hacks to help depression and anxiety in the comments below. <3
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