States of Mind from a Neurological Perspective

What do you think of when you think of a “state of mind?” Things that come to mind immediately is moods or emotions. While this is true, a state of mind is much more complicated than that (Siegel, 2020). Understanding how states of mind of are shaped and maintained, from a neurological perspective (the biological function of the brain) can give you hope that moods or states of mind can be changed with interventions and time. You can have power in changing what has previously been thought to be unchangeable or hopeless to change.    

Our brains are always changing and adapting to the people, places, and objects around us. Our environment shapes us, and, in turn, we shape our environments. Our brains change every second of every day, making and changing the connections inside itself.

When we have an interaction with a person, place, or thing, our brains make connections between that specific thing and emotions, thoughts, opinions, and behaviors with the goal to increase understanding of and surviving in our environment. When these connections are reinforced regularly, used over and over again, the connections become stronger and more automatic. For example, a husband and wife have been arguing and fighting for months. Now, whenever they see one another, they instantly become distressed, anticipating frustration, irritation, anxiety, and a fight. This is because over the last several months, their brains have associated the sight of their spouse with these negative feelings and behaviors; this does not mean they have fallen out of love and with some work, the couple can change these interactions and return to previous loving feelings they had before the fighting started. This applies to many different things, parent-child relationships, the relationship we have with ourselves, siblings, even the relationship we may have developed with the mental health diagnoses that seem to plague us.  

Changing the connections in the brain takes time and intentionality but it can be done. This can be done on your own or with a therapist. The focus is on doing things differently that result in positive feelings and exchanges with others. The focus is changing engrained patterns that have helped us survive in the past but are hurting us now. Being intentional with our thoughts, behaviors, and exchanges with others over time help to make new connections that result in more positive feelings, emotions, or states of mind. Changing engrained states of mind is not easy and patience for ourselves and our loved ones needs to be exercised; it will take time. But, understanding that the brain can change and adapt can increase hope that we can change; you can change. You have the power to choose different. Don’t wait, the sooner you get started, the sooner you will see the results of your hard work.     

Siegel, D.J. (2020). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are (4th Ed.). New York: Guildford

I am currently a Master’s Intern from St. Cloud State University’s Marriage and Family Therapy program. I completed my Bachelor of Science in Community Psychology from St. Cloud State University. Prior to working with Lighthouse Counseling, I interned at a day treatment center where I worked with adolescents, helping to teach coping skills related to cognitive behavior, emotional regulation and anxiety management. 

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