Changing Beliefs: What to expect from the brain

I can say with a great deal of certainty that I know the cause and cure of all psychological stress. But it’s extremely important to remember that the process of growing out of psychological stress is just that: a process. Just because I understand precisely what it is which triggers and fixes it does not mean I have suddenly gained some superhuman ability to flick a switch in my brain and have all worries, anxiety and frustrations snap out of existence. In all honesty, I probably currently experience a higher level of stress than some people who don’t understand stress at all. How could this be the case?

Well, the human brain works via networks of cells called neurons, and it is these cells which  correlate with our thoughts and beliefs. So, when we have certain thought patterns, in our brain electrical impulses travel along certain neural pathways.  When we learn new ways of thinking, we create new pathways and essentially begin to rewire the circuits within the brain.

But this is a gradual process, and the old thought patterns and their neural pathways don’t completely disappear from brain – if they did we wouldn’t be able to remember how we used to think. These old networks of neurons will still get triggered by situations in life. It is a process of slowly decreasing the activity of the old pathways, and increasing the activity on the new ones.

For example, take a person with a phobia of elevators. This person’s brain is obviously wired to believe going inside an elevator represents a threat, and must be avoided at all costs. Now, let’s say this person goes to a counsellor and receives information which completely convinces him or her to believe that it was a mistake to view elevators as a threat, and that they are actually quite harmless. What would happen if this person tries to go inside an elevator now? Well, most likely they would have a panic attack as soon as they attempted to get in the lift, because their subconscious brain would remember how scared they were last time they were in an elevator. The new beliefs about elevators would not yet be strong enough to override the old ones, because the brain has been using those old and well-worn neural pathways for some time. But the difference is, now the person might have learnt some reasonings from the therapist to apply to the old thoughts and start taking the first steps towards new thought patterns. This is how change in the brain takes place.

In my life, having experienced an anxiety disorder for many years, I still encounter situations where I get quite anxious. But now, whenever I am anxious, or having a panic attack, I have understandings I can apply to start to neutralize that stress. The key word here is APPLY. Applying does not mean “stopping negative thoughts”. Applying means having negative thoughts and then beginning a process of addressing them. I can often see in my mind quite clearly the beliefs and thoughts behind the stress, and these old thoughts pop in all the time. It is these beliefs which I will examine and disprove on this blog.



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