Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Over-Focused Lover: "Help I'm Stuck on a Thought & I Can't Let Go!"

Continuing in the Six Part Valentine's Series based on excerpts from our book, This is Your Brain in Love, we're taking a look at the second type of out-of-brain-balanced lover today, the Over-Focused Lover.

There's an area at the front of the brain called the cingulate gyrus, that --when over-firing, literally looks like a red hot flame going down the middle of your head on a Spect Scan. We nicknamed this area "the circular gerbil wheel" because when it is firing too high, people get stuck on a thought and simply can't let go. It goes round and round in their heads like a gerbil on a wheel. And goodness knows, it is not wise to put a gerbil in charge of your brain!

Generally, the brain chemicals in an Overfocused Lover type get triggered by something in their environment that makes them feel oddly anxious. They quickly form a perception about that experience, and even if it is dead wrong, it is the cingulate's story and it is sticking to it. Under stress a person with an overactive cingulate latches on to the first anxious thought and cannot release it: they're on one-way thought train that cannot be derailed.

If you’ve ever offended or disappointed an Over-Focused Lover, even if it was just a perceived offense, you’ve discovered that they can hold on to their grudges like a dog with a bone. Forgiving and letting go of real or perceived slights are among the most difficult things for a cingulate-minded person to do.

Yet, it is amazing to watch what happens as people get this area of the brain calmed down. They retain all their formerly wonderful qualities but are simply calmer, more peaceful, and laid-back; they roll with the punches and go with the flow.

Until that oh-so-happy day, though, they will lean toward controlling behaviors as their only tool to self-medicate and calm inner anxiety. This could show itself in a number of ways. They could start micromanaging everyone around them, shouting orders or making random demands.
They also may revert to super-organizing behaviors under stress: cleaning, doing laundry or organizing the garage compulsively. There is a huge sense of satisfaction and relief when a controlling lover can find something—anything—to order, organize, or control. To the extreme this can lead to obsessive compulsive-like disorders—hand-washing, counting things, or over-checking locks on doors. Dr. Amen has found that one of the most common brain scans involved with people who have addictions of any kind is ADD and a hot cingulate. Why? The cingulate gets triggered easily and if the person has ADD, the thinking/logical/impulse control center of the brain is off-line... giving the gerbil free reign. This is a painful and vulnerable condition and so, this person seeks anything to calm their anxious anger and often makes impuslive choices to self-medicate the stressful mood state. A perfect formula for addiction.

Here's a small sampling of ways to help calm your Inner Gerbil.

1. Increase Seratonin.

Most people know that seratonin helps elevate low moods. But many don't realize it is also has "antiobsessive" qualities, meaning it helps "unstick" negative thoughts and allow you to transition to better ones. Simple eating a wholesome high carb snack or meal can raise seratonin. (Like cereal with milk and bananas or popcorn, for example.)

St. John’s Wort, L-tryptophan, and 5-HTP are helpful for cingulate gyrus. (Only try one a time, not all 3!) Inositol, from the B vitamin family, in doses of 12–20 milligrams a day it has been shown to decrease moodiness, depression, and overfocus issues. Finally, many people with stuck thoughts find that using GABA or a combination of GABA with other relaxing ingredients may help them relax, especially when thoughts are going around and around in the evening before bed. Be sure to check with your physician or naturopath about supplements and do NOT use them if you are taking anti-depressants of any kind without medical advice. If supplements alone don't do the trick, medications like Prozac and Zoloft can work miracles in many people -- as long as the person doesn't have "temporal lobe issues" which can actually worsen with these medications. This is why it is vital to get your advice from a professional trained in brain science.

2. Try soothing self-talk.
When you catch yourself starting to tense up and get overfocused, use a couple of phrases to remind yourself to relax and let go. Take a few seconds to breathe slowly and say calming phrases to yourself, such as . . .
“Chill, Buddy.”
“It’s not worth the upset. Let it go.”
“He may be having a bad day. Cut him some slack here. You aren’t perfect, either.”
“No big deal. No worries”
“Re-la-ax. Breathe. Let it go.”
"Practice gratitude instead of holding grudges."

3.Walk before you talk, preferably with music.

Physical exercise of any kind will also help you disengage from a compulsive thought or agitated frame of mind. Before you start the blame game or unload your frustration on your mate, say, “Honey, I need to walk for a few minutes before we talk. It’s for the good of our marriage!” Then take off. Better yet, combine walking with an iPod loaded with music to calm the stuck gerbil within. What kind of music? Whatever soothes your soul and puts you in a happy, relaxed frame of mind. For you it may be Bach, for me it may be rock n’ roll oldies, for someone else it could be praise music or jazz. There are multiple reasons why each of our brains relax with certain sounds. Purchasing or creating a “Serenity” CD or downloads for your iPod can transport you from Stuckville to Chillville.

Tips for Spouses of "Over-Focused Lovers"

1. Open the cage door.
When overfocused lovers gets stuck on a “my way or the highway” train of thought, step aside and say something like, “Whatever you think. You’ve got a good mind, and I know you’ll do the right thing and figure out the best plan.” Don’t get caught in a never-ending debate. It’s an alligator roll you most often can’t win. Just open the cage door, and let them fly in any direction they choose. Often they’ll fly right back into your court and be willing to listen to your reasoning.

2. Use reverse psychology.
Often cingulate people automatically say no without really thinking. One way to shake them off of their prescribed answer is to ask questions differently. Rather than say, “I want to go the movies tonight,” you may have better luck saying, “I was thinking about going to see that action thriller tonight. You don’t want to go, do you?” Or, “I am sure you don’t want to go on a walk with me, right?” Often a controlling person will answer, “Why wouldn’t I want to go on a walk with you? Of course I’d love to go on a walk with you.” They do it for the sheer joy of contradicting you.

3. Be aware of hormonal issues.

Women with severe PMS will often show overactive cingulates just before and during their menstrual cycle. But a few days later in their cycle, their scan may look perfectly normal. Hormones create the neurotransmitters that affect our moods. If you notice a cyclical pattern to controlling or agitated behaviors, consider suggesting she have her hormones checked. Some women need a little medication or supplementation for just part of the month.

These are just a small sample of helps for lovers and their mates dealing with a "stuck cingulate." For more in depth discussion and specific helps, you may want to order This is Your Brain in Love by clicking on the cover to the right.

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