Hey guys, I hope you’re all keeping well! 😀 It goes without saying that my blogging hasn’t been the most prolific lately, which I apologise for (things have been crazy busy), but there’s nothing like a new post popping up out of the blue either, eh? 😛
With this post, I’m reverting way back to my original plan for the blog which was to cover the topics of mental health, wellbeing, emotions and all along those lines, as well as healthy recipes. Although I’m studying human anatomy in university, it wasn’t until now that I had the confidence to – or really thought about – applying what I’m learning to a post that’s relevant to this site. It turns out I’ve been studying a part of the brain recently that’s very relevant to mental health indeed, and I really hope you guys can take something from it. 🙂
So… the limbic system. Ring any bells, or does it just sound like double dutch as it did to me not so long ago?
Essentially, it’s a little grouping of structures in our brain located deep to both cerebral hemispheres (the two big flaps that arch over either sides of our brains), responsible for our motivation, reward systems, affection, memories and emotions from the most basic forms of fear, hunger, anger and sexual insticts (which helped drive the survival of our primitive ancestors), to the more complex mental functions such as learning and memory (even though they’d seem like the most basic to any of the students sitting in my proximity in this library right now!). 😛
To sum up the limbic system in a way most relevant to you foodies, though, it’s the system in our brains, partly responsible for why eating feels so damn good!
However, the functions of the limbic system are unfortunately not set in a way that makes all the healthy foods taste good and the double-glazed dognuts and custard creams taste horrible, but instead, one of the few structures of the limbic system named the nucleus accumbens (our pleasure/reward centre) can also lay at the root of why fatty, processed foods become so addictive to us, not to mention coffee and drugs. 😦
The limbic system doesn’t just make us feel good, an example being the fuction of another part of the limbic system: a small, almond-shaped structure called the amygdala at the anterior or front of the brain. The amygdala is the emotional centre of fear and anxiety in the brain and its close proximity to the hippocamus (which forms and stores memories) leaves a high potential for bad circumstances or ones that stimulate anxiety to be remembered easily, and even be left with us to think about over and over again to the extent of rumination (basically meaning you continuously think about the various aspects of situations that are upsetting). Of course a little anxiety is what pushes us to work harder, to get through the day with some productivity and wanting to improve or always do a good job of something, but somethimes the amygdala can be over-stimulated, leading to heightened long-term anxiety. And so, if your stress or anxiety levels are affecting your day-to-day life, there are some ways to get your amygdala to stay calm, and these include:
Getting organised: this will mean having more control over your emotions, you will feel consistently happier, you will have a hold over your environment and there will be no unwanted surprises every other day when you’ve planned ahead. This could mean meal prepping on the weekends, laying everything you’ll need in the morning out on the kitchen counter before you go to bed, clearing out cluttered drawers in your room or organising your work papers or college notes.
Form a routine: Getting into a routine is a very helpful factor for a person sensitive to anxiety. It’s comforting to have some anchor points in a day of unknowns. The stability of routines can help to counteract the anxious feelings that unexpected events may provoke. Healthy routines include having the same sleep pattern every day of the week (including weekends if possible), getting through a pile of work at the same time each day without procrastination, having your meals at the same time every day, or meeting with friends every saturday evening.
Schedule free time: relax, exercise, hang out with friends . Take time to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling and how your emotions are holding up.
Eat well and exercise: a regular and healthy diet is necessary to replenish your body when anxiety has sapped its resources. It is a good way to keep your body feeling fit and healthy (when accompanied by appropriate physical exercise: namely, 30 minutes of sustained exercise 3 times a week), which can contribute to how capable you feel of coping with problems in life. It can also help to regulate your heart rate, keeping high heart rates caused by anxiety from endangering your health and even your life.
That small nut-shaped structure has functions a lot more extreme than its anatomy! If you find that sometimes the oul amygdala is working a little too much up there,make sure to revert back to some of the above advice to ensure you keep it in check. 🙂
Thanks to calmclinic.com for some of the above points!
There are so many other fascinating parts to the limbic system as well, such as the hypothalamus which regulates our ANS system (responsible for controlling the smooth muscle lining our digestive tract), and other parts, such as the cingulate gyrus, have links with mental issues such as depression or OCD. I’d rather not get too full on with my first sciencey article, however, so depending on the response to this one, I won’t rule out coming back here for my next revision session to discuss them more! 😀
Until the next time,
All the best,
As always, thanks for taking the time to check out this post today guys! If you fancy keeping up to date with my future posts, why not subscribe to my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat= @EndorphinStew. 😀