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Practising Calm

Practising calm

Introduction

There are a number of researchers across the world who are studying the effects a brain injury can have on our brain waves. These links have been made relatively recently in terms of neuroscience and show promising preliminary results which have initiated investigations into many new treatments for brain injury.

Bringing research to the clinical trials stage can take time, and one of the biggest hurdles to cross is gaining funding. One of the aims of GBIA is to support research.

Mindfulness

Many of us have seen media and magazine reports about the benefits practising calm or mindfulness can have on our health.

A lot of published information is based on historical and cultural understanding rather than science and is not related to managing a brain injury.

However, there is brain injury-related research, and while much of this has been focused on military personnel and veterans who have sustained a brain injury, usually from shock-blasts, it is accepted that the technique is useful to everyone, whether they have suffered a brain injury or not.

Mindfulness is about learning to consciously attend to the information coming in through the senses within the moment and pushing away distracting thoughts about the past and the future. This technique is known to have a powerful effect on our brain waves calming neural activity and allowing people to relax and alleviate stress and worry.

The technique is useful for people living with a brain injury because it eases erratic brain waves and overactivity.

MEG

Magnetoencephalography or MEG, has been used in clinical practice for around ten years to help surgeons place medical devices in the brains of people with epilepsy.

The possible uses of MEG appear to be far-reaching and show huge potential as a means of diagnosing mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers have been able to show distinct changes in brain regions other technologies are unable to image and have also been able to show distinct markers and changes in brain wave activity in mTBI.

What this technology and researchers have been able to confirm is that damage in the deep centres of the brain interferes with links between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The frontal lobes act as the ‘executive director’ of the brain and are home to our structured thinking skills. Crucially our executive skills allow us to act in a goal-oriented manner and enable us to make predictable and rapid spontaneous decisions. This functionality is typically disrupted following brain injury.

A brain injury impedes the flow of information through the brain, and when these deep structures are damaged people are left responding to their social environment by ‘auto-pilot.’ In general, the deeper the brain injury, the worse it is and sequelae more pronounced.

Depending on the severity of an injury, it can be impossible for people to over-ride unhelpful habitual responses. We see the results of this in behavioural differences in a person post-TBI. One of the outcomes people typically notice is when what they do or say doesn’t come out as they intended. The phenomena are described in greater detail in the article, ‘The Blind Driver.‘ Essentially, the “supervisory attentional system” (SAS), developed by Normal and Shallice, 1986, is ‘turned off.’  

Managing uncertainty and confusion

Many people struggle with uncertainty and confusion following a brain injury, causing them to worry or become depressed. This can lead to people isolating themselves and negative thoughts can become magnified. It can feel as though unhelpful brain chatter will not shut up which in turn can further affect their ability to manage daily living, their thinking skills such as maintaining attention, and also short-term or working memory.

Practising calm or mindfulness works in a similar way to using reflective techniques where we concentrate our thinking by calming the breath and choosing one thing to stay focused on. In mindfulness, you focus on what you can sense at the moment and allow the mind to relax so that you can ‘watch’ what you are thinking about in a passive and non-judgemental way. You take on the role of the observer of your experiences, allowing them to be what they are and accepting them for what they are rather than trying to control or fix anything. 

By becoming aware of any unhelpful thoughts, you can begin to choose how you want to direct your mind and make conscious choices about any associated feelings. Mindfulness can help you to learn how to prioritise, be aware of personal choices and make decisions based on what is most important to you. For example, if a past event is troubling you becoming aware that you cannot change it can help you to accept it. You might choose happiness above worry and focus on allowing your natural tendencies and character to come back through the uncertainty.

Further Resources:

PositivePsychology.com – Mindfulness and the Brain: What Does Research and Neuroscience Say?

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