How Integrating Your Brain Creates A More Resilient Life
Have you ever looked at someone and thought “Wow, he’s really got it together” or “She’s so with it”. But then looked at others and thought “My goodness, he just falls apart so easily” or “She can’t seem to handle any stress”?
What you’re observing is someone’s RESILIENCE.
Resilience is the ability to adapt successfully in the face of stress and adversity.
We all want that right? Sign me up!
The challenge is that ongoing stress, trauma, and adverse life events impact our ability to stay resilient and over time we may find ourselves developing anxiety, depression, health challenges and addictive behaviors to deal with the chronic stress we are experiencing internally.
What really allows us to develop greater resiliency in life and sustain it?
One of the major factors that impacts one’s ability to be more resilient is to have a more integrated brain.
What Is An Integrated Brain?
The number one brain factor that measures well-being is how interconnected your Connectome is. The Connectome is the complex network of interconnected neurons (nerve cells) in your brain. The patterns and interactions shaped by this Connectome determine how well the different parts of your brain communicate with each other. The better the different parts of your brain communicate with each other, the more integrated is your brain.
We know from many brain studies of Psychiatric conditions that the Connectome lacks integration. We also know from studies that top performing world athletes and long-term meditators have more brain integration.
An integrated brain is one that has a more interconnected Connectome and therefore can be seen as more “whole” (vs. disconnected). When our brain is whole then the left and right brain are balanced and the different parts of our brain can communicate effectively with each other. We have a robust network of interconnected neurons firing seamlessly and in a synchronistic way sending information across the neural networks in a way that informs all parts of our brain of what’s going on so we can respond from a “whole view” perspective (vs. react from just the emotional parts of our brain).
From the research and perspective of Dr. Dan Siegel, an integrated brain results in what he calls FACES—flexible, adaptive, curious, energetic, and stable traits.
How Does Your Brain Become Dis-Integrated?
The reality is that early life stressors and trauma can set us up to have a less integrated brain. The lack of early life strong connections, and also ongoing stress in your current life breaks down the connections in our Connectome and instead strengthens the areas of the brain that are more prone to fight/flight/freeze and emotional reactions.
This breaks down the overall communication of the Connectome, hence creating a more dis-integrated and fragmented brain. As a result, we have a more disconnected response to life, thus decreasing our resiliency and well-being.
How Does An Integrated Brain Affect Your Health And Your Life?
As we know with the top athletes and long-time meditators, an integrated brain allows for more resiliency and greater performance and experience of life. The more integrated we are, the more we can operate from a “whole-istic” perspective using all parts of our brain in a balanced way. Our response to life, and our experience of life shifts to one of greater well-being and more ability to withstand life’s stressors.
In addition, a more integrated brain is connected to:
- Decreased cortisol levels (stress hormone)
- Increased immune function
- Decreased cardiovascular risk factors (lower blood pressure)
- Decreased inflammation (by changing histones and methyl groups sitting on top of genes that reduce inflammation)
- Optimization of the enzyme telomerase (which slows the aging process)
How Do I Make My Brain More Integrated?
According to Dr. Daniel Siegel’s research, we see massive degrees of integration of the brain with moments of Awareness. And what helps us to develop more Awareness? You guessed it – Meditation!
Dr. Siegel says that training the mind to become more integrated (and thus more aware) involves three things:
- Attention to be focused
- Awareness to be open
- Intention to be kind
All of this can be practiced in your meditation process by focusing your attention on your breath or the experience of your outer senses and inner sensations, then allowing yourself to become open to your mental activity (thoughts, emotions, images), which builds an open awareness, and then ending your meditation with a loving-kindness practice by intentionally sending love and kindness to others and the Universe. You can do this all together or practice different meditations every day that incorporate just one of these elements.
In Dr. Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness meditation practice, he has you go through each of these practices in sequence, thus building neural networks both within the parts of the brain and between them, creating a more integrated Connectome.
Other ways of integrating the brain are having a daily practice of gratitude and kind intention. As Dr. Siegel says, “When you activate with words, statements of kind intention, you integrate the brain.” We know from the research on gratitude practice that it creates lasting effects on the brain and helps people to have a better experience of life. This is likely because as we express gratitude we are also feeling intentionally kind towards others, thus activating the connections in our brain and creating more integration.
As we can see, brain integration is the basis of good health in mind and body. Since integration is becoming more “whole”, we can start to experience life from the wholeness that we are (vs. the brokenness we may see ourselves from). When we approach life from this perspective, we can withstand the stressors of life. We can be with the stress, yet bounce back from it and truly be ok, and from this place, we can have a whole new experience of ourselves and our lives!