You've probably heard of downward spirals and it conjures up images of people living a life that is out of balance but what about upward spirals? This is the question that Alex Korb, PHD discusses in his book The Upward Spiral, Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a time. He says, downward spirals occur because of events that happen and the decisions made, change the brain's activity which can put us on a downward spiral or in a worried, anxious, and depressed state. On the other hand, positive life changes cause positive neural changes altering the brain's circuitry to lead in further positive changes. For example, exercise can lead to better sleep -> reducing anxiety -> improving mood -> and gaining more energy to exercise -> creating an upward spiral.
Alex Korb says "the brain circuits that help us to plan, solve problems and make decisions are the same ones that lead to worrying and the circuits that keep us out of danger are the same circuits that cause anxiety." So it is not possible to eliminate or suppress those circuits because they are a necessary part of life. Worry and anxiety are distinct but related you can have one without the other. In essence worrying is thinking about a problem whereas anxiety is feeling it.
Awareness of worry and anxiety can help to suppress it. Just being aware of the following feelings can help reduce its impact:
shortness of breath
feelings of dread
How to create an Upward Spiral
Alex Korb goes over eight ways to create upward spirals. I will focus on four: exercise, making goals, sleep, and cultivating a gratitude practice.
Is the most powerful and easiest way to create an upward spiral as it shares many of the same effects on the brain as antidepressants and recreational drugs. So you get all the good feelings without all the nasty side effects of drugs. I know this is easier said than done so get yourself an accountability partner, or commit to a practice for 40 days. Alternatively, don't do exercise! Instead take the stairs, ride a bike or walk to work instead of taking the subway. Take up dancing. Get creative and have fun with it.
Setting intentions leads to setting goals and people are at their best when working toward achievable goals like purchasing a home or earning a promotion at work. Start by brainstorming what is important to you and create a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound goals aka Smart Goals.
Making time for and creating the right environment for a good night's sleep will lead to elevated mood, lowered stress, better memory, clear thinking, and better decision making. Consider how many hours of sleep you are getting per night and shoot f