This is the third part of a lengthy article by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., called Emotional Memory Management: Positive Control Over Your Memory. The link to the next segment is included at the close of this segment.
Rule: The brain operates on chemicals. These chemicals produce emotional responses in the brain and body. Just like a certain combination of flour, sugar, butter, and other foods can combine and produce a German chocolate cake, these chemicals combine in our brain to produce certain moods, reactions, and feelings.
Just like an automobile contains various fluids (brake, window washer, transmission, oil, anti-freeze, etc.), the brain operates on chemicals known as “neurotransmitters”. While the subject is too technical for this paper, it is known that these brain chemicals called “neurotransmitters” produce various emotional conditions. Like the oil in our automobile, neurotransmitters have a normal level in the brain and can be “low” or “high” depending upon certain situations. Some typical neurotransmitters:
Serotonin: Perhaps the most actively researched neurotransmitter at this time, serotonin is known to be related to depression, headaches, sleep problems, and many mental health concerns. When serotonin is low in the brain system – depression and other mental health problems are produced. Low Serotonin is also associated with bulimia, a severe eating disorder, where the body craves sweets and carbohydrates in a desperate effort to raise serotonin levels. Antidepressants, such as Prozac and Zoloft, work by increasing serotonin in the brain. As our Serotonin level returns to normal, our depression lifts.
Dopamine: Abnormally high levels of this neurotransmitter in the brain produce paranoia, excitement, hallucinations, and disordered thought (schizophrenia). Abnormally low levels produce motor or movement disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease.
Norepinephrine: Related to anxiety and depression, high levels in the brain produce strong physical-anxiety manifestations such as trembling, restlessness, smothering sensations, dry mouth, palpitations, dizziness, flushes, frequent urination, and problems with concentration. A “panic attack” is actually a sudden surge of norepinephrine in the brain.
Endorphins: Substances produced by the body that kill pain or produce a feeling of well-being. In marathon runners, these substances are responsible for the “runner’s high”. Also produced during pregnancy, a sudden increase near delivery-time creates that need to rearrange furniture, go dancing, or clean house.
The levels of these chemicals or neurotransmitters in the brain create our mood. A chronic low level of serotonin, as when experiencing long-term severe stress, produces strong depression. The low serotonin creates symptoms such as:
- Frequent crying spells
- Loss of concentration and attention
- Early morning awakening (about 4:00 am)
- Loss of physical energy
- Increase in thinking/mind speed, pulling bad memories
- “Garbage” thoughts about death, dying, guilt, etc.
- Loss of sexual interest
Emotional Memory files contain instructions for the brain to use these neurotransmitter ingredients to produce the mood in the file. We note that all antianxiety, antidepressant, and antipsychotic medications focus on changing the levels of these chemicals in the brain.
[The next segment continues with Rule: Thoughts Change Brain Chemistry.]