Do you sometimes feel stuck in the mud, ruminating on set-backs or unpleasant encounters you’ve had? Or do you have days where you feel like your mind is constantly bombarded by negative thoughts? If so, you are not alone!
Like many humans, you are experiencing something known as negativity bias. Our brains are more drawn to negative experiences, behaviors, decisions, relationships, and ways of thinking.
Negativity bias was originally designed to help keep us safe from things that could harm us as part of the “hunter and gatherer” lifestyle, but today negativity bias doesn’t serve humans quite so well.
Negativity bias may take your mind hostage if you aren’t aware of ways to reverse this kind of thinking. Although we are hard-wired to focus more on the negative, we can rewire our brain to become more of a positivity powerhouse.
With our brains being naturally drawn to negativity, we must continuously work to change our mindset. The good news is that our brains can have a bit more of a positivity boost with the help of a very specific protein known as BDNF.
This study suggests that brain-derived neurotrophic factor, known as BDNF supports brain plasticity, which helps to boost the brain’s ability to modify its connections or re-wire itself. Why is this important? Our brains adapt and change as a result of experience. The physical structure of the adult brain is not permanent, as previously believed. Throughout life, some connections are strengthened through experience, while others are weakened. The remarkable capacity to reorganize pathways, and create new connections, means that we can change negative thinking patterns. With a bit of time and patience, we can rewire the brain for positivity and move out of a place of negativity without as much intentional brainpower.
Let’s look more closely at four simple ways to raise your BDNF levels using some simple lifestyle modifications:
- When consuming caffeinated or sweet things, opt for coffee, green tea, and dark chocolate. Plants, beverages, and food sources that are high in substances known as polyphenols and antioxidants are wonderful ways to boost your BDNF expression. Coffee beans specifically are rich in chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and caffeine, all known to increase BDNF expression. Although increasing caffeine consumption should be done mindfully and without abuse, if you are going to incorporate caffeine regardless, best to do so through coffee, green tea, and dark chocolate.
- Regularly engage in exercise, and in the sunlight whenever possible. Studies suggest that intense aerobic exercise, or HIIT training, is one of the most effective ways to increase BDNF. Don’t worry if you aren’t an experienced exerciser, though. Simply focus on moving more throughout your day, and try to incorporate movement while exploring the great outdoors. This 2012 study shows that seasonal variations in sunlight will impact levels of BDNF, so the more sunlight you can get, the better. If you are choosing to workout indoors, try to do so by a window that allows for a nice amount of natural sunlight.
- Work to increase your protein intake, and be more mindful of carbohydrates. The building blocks of protein, known as amino acids, are necessary for the production of BDNF. You may have read some of our other blogs on ways to help keep your SHMEC in check (sleep, hunger, mood, energy, and cravings). If so, you know that we often suggest having protein with all of your meals and snacks whenever possible. Likewise, strategically timing your intake and dosing of carbohydrates may help to keep BDNF levels higher as well. If you prefer to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, still aim to keep your protein levels higher, and if necessary, consider adding in a protein supplement to help.
- Prioritize social connection. Many individuals are aware that social isolation increases levels of depression, substance abuse, and many other mental health challenges. Along with this, BDNF levels also decrease with social isolation. For optimal brain health and BDNF production, do what you can to increase your social connections, even if that means connecting to others via Zoom, FaceTime, or other means of technology. Or find an online support group, Facebook forum, or social media outlet as a way to engage with others – even if it’s through your screen rather than in person. While an in-person human connection is preferable and amazing, sometimes it just isn’t possible to make this happen.
There are other ways to increase your BDNF levels, but no matter what option you choose, take some time each day to savor the positive experiences. “Drink in” happy thoughts, good vibes, and positive emotions that bubble up throughout the day. The intention here is not to eliminate negative thoughts or emotions, but rather to help you see where you may benefit from a perspective shift.
Once you’ve worked on increasing your levels of BDNF, check-in with yourself. What do you notice? With consistency and a bit of time, you may start to feel a shift. As this “miracle-gro” protein for your brain circulates in larger amounts, you may notice that you are able to navigate some of the more challenging times with a bit more positivity and resilience.
If you need some help with increasing your levels of movement, physical activity, or social connections, Metabolic Living has some amazing programs to help. We have several exercise programs, each of which has a free Facebook forum for you to join. You can exercise and build your social network at the same time. Alternatively, if you thrive with 1-on-1 support, we have an amazing metabolic optimization coaching program available to you as well.
Just hit us up and let us know how we can best support you! Until then, cheers to raising your BDNF, increasing your positive thoughts, and spreading good vibes.