January 26, 2014

Take Care of Our Neurons, Take Care of Ourselves. ~ Wendy Haley

I have always felt people’s emotions from a very young age.

I have been able to ‘feel’ their energy, aura, spirit, whatever you might call it, and it can sometimes be deafening. I was acutely aware of people that felt ‘good’ to be around and people that didn’t feel so great. Sometimes the negative energy was so strong I couldn’t even stand to be in the same room as the person whom I was ‘sensing’. I didn’t know what to make of all this sensory input until this summer it all came together.

I am blessed to work as a teacher for a very progressive Distributive Learning program for homeschooling students. Every summer we gather together in the foothills of the majestic Howe Sound mountains in British Columbia for our annual gathering. It is amazing to spend three days with inspiring, like-minded people.

One of the trainings we had during that gathering was on the topic of happiness. I jumped at the opportunity to attend the session. After all, who doesn’t want to learn how to be more happy? My wonderful colleague, Shyloe Fayad, who led the session talked about a lot of important factors that can affect our happiness, but when she brought up the topic of mirroring neurons, I almost leapt out of my chair.

She explained that we all have neurons in our brain that ‘mirror’ what the person we are with is doing or feeling. Our brain literally mimics what the other person is thinking.

Wikipedia defines this phenomenon in this way: “A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.”

This was a huge ‘A-ha’ moment for me. It all made sense.

All those times I could feel someone’s negative or positive energy, it wasn’t just me being oversensitive, it was my mirroring neurons doing exactly what they are suppose to do. I decided to dig a little further and found a study done at the University of Montreal that found it is these mirroring neurons in our brain that allow us to empathize with others.

Now here is where I am going to take science into my own hands and draw my own conclusions, purely based on my own experience and observations.

I have had depression and anxiety try to creep up on me many times it my life. I am going to hypothesize that people, like me, who have dealt with depression and anxiety may have more mirroring neurons than their happy go lucky counterparts. We feel everything around us. We are mirroring every single feeling, from every single person we come in contact with. It makes sense that we would get depressed and anxious because it is overwhelming to feel so many emotions at once.

So this is what I have learned to do as someone who is prone to depression and anxiety: take care of your neurons, honor your neurons, be aware of your mirroring neurons.

Pay careful attention to who you spend time with, because, whether you like it or not, you are mirroring their emotions and feelings.

We want to be able to be a positive force to others, so they can mirror our happy neurons. But if we don’t take care of our neurons we will be too bogged down by all the incoming input, that we will mirror the negative energy we feel around us.

Thanks to the discovery of mirroring neurons, science may prove that emotions are replicated over and over, so hang out with good friends that are moving in a positive direction. If there is someone in your life who can’t seem to ‘get out of that rut’ then maybe you need to distance yourself from them or you might find yourself ‘mirroring’ that rut.

Laughter mirrors laughter, so spend time with people that laugh.

Mirroring neurons are an involuntary motion, just like our heart beating. We can’t control our neurons but we can control who they’re around.

Take care of yourself by taking care of your neurons: Let them mirror the things that you want more of in your life.

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Assistant Editor: Krisitna Peterson/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Flickr/ Katie Tegtmeyer

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