Limbic System: Caring for Your Brain’s Limbic System
A highly influential, walnut-sized area – deep in the center of your brain – is live wired with functions all critical to your survival. The limbic system in your brain, in fact, influences problem solving, organization, and rational thought, among other things.
From an evolutionary standpoint, the limbic brain is an “older” part of the brain of mammals, enabling humans to experience and express emotions, freeing them from primitive behaviors and helping to develop the surrounding cerebral cortex.
In order for these functions to have an effect in the world, though, your LS must fuel the passions and desires to enable them.
What Makes Up Your Brain’s Limbic System (LS)?
- Thalamus is a large structure deep in the center of the brain that relays info to and from the outside world and your cerebral cortex
- Amygdala is an almond-shaped structure in the temporal lobes involved in emotions and fear responses
- Hippocampus is a seahorse-shaped structure that helps memories move into long-term storage
- Hypothalamus is the size of a pearl and controls brain chemicals that make you hungry, sexual, sleepy, exhilarated, angry, or unhappy
- Olfactory cortex is our sense of smell, which connects to emotional and memory centers
When the LS is overactive you are likely to interpret neutral events through a negative filter. For example, if you have a neutral conversation with someone whose LS is overactive or “negatively set,” he or she is likely to interpret the conversation in a negative way. On the other hand, when this part of the brain is balanced, a positive interpretation of events is more likely to occur.
Appetite, Energy and Sleep Are Influenced by the LS
Your sleep and appetite cycles are controlled by the LS, especially the hypothalamus. Healthy appetite and sleep are essential for optimal health. However, disruptions in the LS can negatively affect sleep and appetite, which may mean an inclination toward too much or too little of either.
LS structures are also intimately involved with bonding and social connectedness. We are social animals; when we are bonded to people in a positive way, we feel better about ourselves and our lives.
Another important function of the LS is to process sense of smell, says Dr. Amen. “Brain messages from all the other senses [sight, hearing, touch, and taste] are sent to a ‘relay station’ before zooming to their final destination in different parts of the brain,” he says. Because your sense of smell (via the nose) goes directly to the LS, it’s easy to understand why aroma has such a profound impact on emotions.
3 Ways to Balance and Optimize Your LS
Physical Exercise: One study comparing exercise with antidepressants found that after 12 weeks, both therapies were equally effective. At 10 months, exercise was actually more effective – and it has no side effects.
Vitamins and Supplements: Supplements containing Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oils – especially those containing a higher EPA content, and S-adenosylmethionine – have both been shown to support a healthier, happier mood.
Find Passionate Purpose: What is important to you? What and who do you care deeply about? Answering these questions can help your mood; and they can also help you live a longer, fuller life.
To learn more about balancing your limbic system or how Amen Clinics can help you with depression or negative feelings in your life, contact the Amen Clinics Care Center online or call 888-288-9834 today.