The One Psychological Trait That Will Ruin Your Life

Cognitive Flexibility in the Brain

Everyone’s struggling these days, but do you know who’s got it the worst? It’s people who are rigid thinkers—the creatures of habit who get bent out of shape when things don’t go their way or when routines are upended.  Among neuroscientists, this trait is referred to as cognitive inflexibility, and it can ruin your life. It’s the inability to roll with the ups and downs of everyday life, let alone with a pandemic. If you’re one of these types, you may be finding it nearly impossible to cope with the uncertainty and constant changes we’ve had to endure, resulting in increased feelings of anxiety, moodiness, frustration, and irritability. Here’s news for you: When you argue with reality, welcome to hell.

When you argue with reality, welcome to hell. Click To Tweet

Why do some people have so much trouble going with the flow? The answer lies in the brain.

COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY IN THE BRAIN

Deep in the middle of the frontal lobes is a fascinating area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus. Yes, that’s a mouthful, so let’s just call it the ACG. This region is involved in shifting attention—going from thought to thought or from one behavior to another.

Cognitive flexibility defines a person’s ability to go with the flow, adapt to change, and deal successfully with new problems. In the pandemic, we’ve all had to make changes in our everyday routines at work, school, and home. For example, you may have had to pivot in several areas at work—finding a new customer base, devising innovative ways of providing your services or using different technologies to collaborate. The same goes for distance learning, shopping, and socializing.

When the ACG is working properly, you’re more able to roll with the punches and adapt to new systems. When the ACG works too hard, however, cognitive flexibility is diminished and it’s harder to adjust. Brain SPECT imaging shows that when there is too much activity in the ACG, it is associated with finding too many errors (being overly critical), inflexibility, rigid thinking, and focusing too much on the things that bother you.

When the brain’s ACG is overactive, it means you can get stuck on negative thoughts, such as “I can’t work this way,” “Everything sucks,” or “Things shouldn’t be like this.” An overactive ACG is often seen in people with anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Too much activity in this brain region has also been associated with low levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, contributing to low moods.

In times when your daily routines and way of life are upended, the way they have been in the pandemic, you can experience extreme stress, disappointment, and discomfort. Cognitive inflexibility can insidiously destroy happiness, joy, and intimacy.

HOW TO FLEX YOUR COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY

If you’re having trouble adapting to the many changes in everyday life due to the pandemic, know that you aren’t stuck. Here are 5 natural solutions that can help calm an overactive ACG, boost serotonin, and help you go with the flow.

  • Supplements: 5-HTP, saffron, and omega-3 fatty acids (especially ones that are higher in DHA than EPA) are the most helpful supplements to boost serotonin and calm the ACG.
  • Diet: Many people unknowingly trigger cognitive inflexibility or mood problems by eating diets that are low in l-tryptophan, an amino acid. For example, eating a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, which is popular these days, typically makes ACG problems worse. L-tryptophan is a relatively small amino acid. When you eat a high-protein diet, the larger amino acids compete more successfully to get into the brain, causing lower levels of brain serotonin and more negative emotional reactiveness.

Eating complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans, are a healthy way to boost serotonin. Brain serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in l-tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, nut butter, eggs, and green peas.

  • Get moving: Exercise can also be very helpful in calming worries and increasing cognitive flexibility. Exercise works by increasing brain levels of l-tryptophan.
  • Write out options and solutions when you feel stuck: When you’re stuck on a thought, it is often helpful to write it down. Writing it down helps to get it out of your head. Seeing a thought on paper makes it easier to deal with it in a rational way.
  • Seek the counsel of others when you feel stuck: When all of your efforts to get rid of repetitive thoughts are unsuccessful, it is often helpful to seek the counsel of others. Finding someone to discuss the worries, fears, or repetitive behaviors with can be very helpful. Often just talking about feeling stuck will open new options.

Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

13 Comments »

  1. Great reports , all public should be aware off.
    Keep up the obsolete truth.

    Comment by J.Steadman — December 16, 2020 @ 4:36 AM

  2. This is very helpful information! Thank you! The pandemic is certainly a challenge for all of us in many ways and this can help many!

    Comment by catherine berlinghoff — December 16, 2020 @ 4:39 AM

  3. Cognitive Flexibility

    How can one best develop “flexible cognitive abilities?” Can you further define the “Get Moving” portion within those five emboldened suggestions? Seems there must be a much deeper and wider philosophical explanation to this portion, as one’s understanding of this heading titled, “Get Moving” just might encompass a little more than physical exercise.

    Comment by Alabama.Brian — December 16, 2020 @ 5:07 AM

  4. i am looking forward to getting all my family scanned but i live in poverty but i will find a way to evaluate us because every single one if us suffer from these symptoms

    Comment by rachel — December 16, 2020 @ 7:12 AM

  5. Good morning, I’m thinking a brain scan and correct supplements might help. I feel anger often. I ruminate about how others don’t behave the way I think they should, and how to get back at them. What does it cost for a brain scan and treatment suggestions, and where are the clinics.

    Comment by Susan Mellingrr — December 16, 2020 @ 7:54 AM

  6. THANKS!

    Comment by LINNEA COVINGTON — December 16, 2020 @ 8:32 AM

  7. The cognitive inflexibility you have described fits with autism. I have several students exactly like this.

    Comment by Joyce — December 16, 2020 @ 9:14 AM

  8. A Rush University Medical Center Psychologist and Professor with whom I met last year told me eating carbs (foods that usually have serotonin inducing effect) would worsen depression, but are you saying that is not the case?

    Comment by Angie — December 16, 2020 @ 10:42 AM

  9. My OCD is being agrivated be my ACG – Yikes

    Comment by Steven — December 16, 2020 @ 7:41 PM

  10. I am looking forward to one day getting my son a brain scan, he sounds just as you described, he also has high anxiety and afraid to leave the house. He has been diagnosed with ASD and ADHD as well as depression. I just don’t know how to get him feeling better.

    Comment by Rae — December 17, 2020 @ 5:21 AM

  11. Thank you for posting this , it helps me understand my son, and I will forward your articles to him as needed. I really helps understand the mental health stigmas that are circulating today, and it helps us to cope and help other people. So, THANK YOU again!

    Comment by MICHELLE HARTVIGSEN — December 19, 2020 @ 9:11 AM

  12. @Angie: It depends on what medication someone’s taking for depression. If the medicine is boosting serotonin uptake in the brain, then adding more serotonin via foods and supplements can cause an overload called Serotonin Syndrome and can be very dangerous.

    Comment by MJ — December 19, 2020 @ 9:27 AM

  13. Hello Susan, thank you for reaching out. We currently have 9 locations (https://www.amenclinics.com/locations/). For information about consultations and evaluations as well as pricing, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — December 21, 2020 @ 7:28 PM

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