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Why the Stressed Brain Falls Back on Old Habits

https://elemental.medium.com/why-the-stressed-brain-falls-back-on-old-habits-a84e3dd049c9

elemental.medium.com

Why the Stressed Brain Falls Back on Old Habits
In an effort to save energy and cognitive resources, the stressed brain prioritizes old habits and routines over purposeful, deliberative action.

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Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs)

Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs)

Humans have anxiety-related behaviours like chewing on nails, or stressing any part of their body, which are repetitive and habitual.

A new study shows that an increase in stress provides a surge in habitual behaviours, as they demand the least cognitive effort.

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Habit Memory: Strict Discipline May Not Be Good

Our habit memories are mostly rigid and inflexible, so it can be a challenge when the changing environment and circumstances require a corresponding alteration in behaviour.

If a person is strictly adhering to their personal routines and habits, change can come as a shock, and also lead to many mental health issues like eating disorders, depression and anxiety disorders.

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The Antidote To Stress-Related Habits

Improving mental flexibility and reducing the causes of stress and anxiety is the antidote to our unhealthy and repetitive habits and behaviours.

Mindfulness meditation can help us increase our cognitive flexibility, as can physical activity, social interaction and new experiences.

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Start small with something you already desire or like to do, to ease out the entire process for you right at the start.

For example, if you plan to write more, why not buy a journal and a pen that you want to use, and keep them handy, facilitating the writing habit naturally.

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Choose a 'trigger' action you already do to initiate the new habit you want to form.

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The Brain’s Unique Signal-filtering Process

The Brain’s Unique Signal-filtering Process

Even with massive amounts of information drowning our senses, we can focus on what is important and take action.

The brain’s ability to focus on a particular signal while filtering out the...

Attentional Searchlight

  • While the prefrontal cortex region of the brain had long been studied by neuroscientists, a separate region of the brain, called thalamus came in the picture in 1984, by a new theory that suggested that the region acts as a gatekeeper of the senses, apart from being a relay centre.
  • The region has a thin layer of inhibitory neurons wrapped around it, called the thalamic reticular nucleus(TRN), which acted as ‘gates’ and hid or removed some of the data that is not required at a given time, to establish a level of focus for the individual.
  • The study found that the brain was lowering the unwanted signals to help us focus on the stimuli of interest.

Removal Of Signals: The Blinking Brain

The brain’s ability to focus on one thing while obscuring, curbing or reducing the signal strength of other (presumably unwanted) stimuli can be dangerous if those turn out to be unexpectedly important.

The brain, evolved as it is, has a unique way to handle this issue, by reducing the signal strength of the focused object about four times per second, suppressing what’s important to focus on the other signals, some of which may also be important. The brain is already wired to blink.

Willpower is Limited

Willpower is Limited

Though companies like Nike try to ignite our willpower with their slogans, ultimately willpower cannot squash our subconscious and unconscious behavior.

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Knowledge is not Enough When It Comes To Bad Habits

Just merely knowing something is good or bad for you is not going to give you any benefit, unless the implementation is done. Conscious knowledge cannot change your behavior, one has to make necessary changes to successfully act in self-control.

If you know that you will eat junk food because your refrigerator is filled with it, remove all the junk food.

Adding Friction To Bad Habits

Just as removing friction aids in doing the activity more often, adding friction can aid to remove the bad habit, by making it difficult or cumbersome to do so.

Example: Cigarette smoking declined due to adding taxes, banning in public places and removing from vending machines.