Understanding Three States of Mind: Stress, Flow, and the Default Mode Network

Understanding Three States of Mind: Stress, Flow, and the Default Mode Network – Spencer Coffman

If you’re trying to cut back and simplify your life, then you really need to understand the impact that your activities have on your brain and how this alters the chemical balance of your grey matter. Everything that you do produces some form of stress on your body. This stress generates a feeling or emotion. These feelings cause the release of different chemicals, or neurotransmitters within your body. Depending on they type of activity and the feelings caused these chemicals can either do good things for your brain or bad things.

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Generally, the feeling and the chemical produces are positively correlated with the effect on your body. In other words, if you feel good, a good chemical is produced and that has a positive effect on your body. When you feel bad, a bad chemical is produced and that has a negative effect on your body. Examples of exceptions would be when guilt and sadness are healthy such as when you did something wrong. That is a bad feeling but it is good for your body in small doses. Another example would be drug users. They are producing a good feeling and a good chemical. However, because of the dosage, it is bad for the body.

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Once you recognize this, you can then start to be more aware of what you’re doing to your mind and how it is really affecting your body. You can begin to recognize how your feelings effect, not only your mood and general well being, but also, the chemical makeup of your mind and body. With this in mind, you can be more cognizant of what is really going on inside your body. You can also take extra care to make sure that what you are doing will have a positive effect on your body instead of a negative one.

 


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Stress

 

Whenever you’re working, whenever you’re being productive, and even when you’re playing games or watching TV, your brain is in a state of focus and alert. This means that your brain is wired and completely fixed on what’s going on. Your brain thinks that the activity is important and therefore requires your full attention. In these circumstances, your brain acts as though you’re facing off against a lion or otherwise doing something that is a matter of life and death. Your brain is producing the chemicals to maintain your awareness and keep you in a state of fight or flight. It is working extra hard to make sure that the second you decide to do something else, your body will be able to instantly follow the command. All of this is accomplished via the production of chemicals.

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Some of the chemicals that your brain produces to maintain this constant state of awareness are cortisol, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Not only do these chemicals increase focus and awareness, but they can also alter your mood. These chemicals also cause your heart rate to increase which means blood is directed away from the important-yet-less-pressing functions in the body such as your immune system and digestion. In the short term, this makes you more focused and productive, in the long run, it takes its toll and makes you ill. If you are constantly in a stressed state of fight or flight then your body is directing all of its energy into keeping you vigilant, alert, and focused. That means that your immune system isn’t getting the energy that it needs to keep your body healthy. In addition, your digestive system isn’t getting the nutrients it needs to feed your body.


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You may have different eating habits when you are stressed. This is because your body isn’t dedicated resources to your digestive system, so you may not know if you are hungry or not. This also weakens the immune system because you are not getting nutrients. In addition, you may not be efficiently expelling the waste products or toxins from your body. These are huge issues because without proper nutrients your immune system can’t fight off bad bacteria. And if you aren’t expelling waste or toxins, then you are effectively increasing bad bacteria while at the same time you are weakening your immune system. Therefore, you are doubling the toll on your body by deprivation of nutrients and increased production of bad bacteria.

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Although this happens when you are overly engaged in tasks that cause you to be stressed. There is a scenario when you can be overly engaged in a task and it is very healthy for you. This is when you are so dedicated to a task and enjoy doing it so much that you lose the concept of time. In other words, you may feel like you have only been engaged in the activity for a little while when, in reality, several hours have passed. This is a psychological term known as Flow.

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Flow

A flow state is something that happens when you’re incredibly engaged in an activity because you enjoy it so much. You are intently focused on what you are doing and are actively engaged to the point of enjoyment. In this state, your body produces the regular stress chemicals mentioned above. However, they are produced in different quantities. More serotonin and dopamine are produced. In addition, endorphins and anandamide are also produced. These are some chemicals that produce feelings of euphoria and positivity. They are very good for you, however, in excessive doses, they can be a problem as many of these chemicals are found in many narcotic drugs.

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In this state of flow, you become so focused on what’s happening in front of you that you stop thinking about anything else and lose your inner monolog entirely. Basically, you are fully absorbed in whatever you are doing. In some cases, people become so focused that there can be anything happening near them and they won’t even notice. I mean anything: car accident, sirens, gunshots, you name it these people are are so focused that they lose all external awareness. It is sort of like an enhanced state of daydreaming. Of course, not everyone is this engaged and many people still have the ability to maintain their awareness of the things around them.


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Overall, flow is a pretty good thing. Of course, you don’t want to always be in such a state because then you would never get anything else done. You need to have some stress in your life, there has to be a balance. You need both good and bad chemicals. After all, vaccines are an inoculation of a small dose of the virus. This is so that you can develop antibodies and beat the virus. In the same way, you need stress so that your body will learn how to handle and cope with it. You also need flow because the feeling of pure enjoyment is something that is very good for the mind and body. Another state of mind that is very important is known as the Default Mode Network.

Default Mode Network

The Default Mode Network is exactly like it sounds. This is the default state of mind that you constantly experience. This is a very important state of mind because it helps you to cope with stress and flow. It is essentially the middle ground between the draining chemicals of stress and the exhilarating chemicals of flow. This is the state of mind when your brain is allowed to wander. You may find yourself daydreaming, fantasizing, or making plans. The Default Mode Network often occurs when walking or engaging in menial everyday tasks. It is your brain’s coping mechanism. It allows you to decompress and overcome the highs and lows produced by stress and flow.

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In addition, the Default Mode Network is associated with heightened creativity. Your mind is unwinding from the excitement of something. It is chilling out and mellowing to become even-keeled again. Therefore, it is thinking. Your brain is producing all kinds of thoughts and ideas to try to get your mind away from the heightened state it was once in. This is a state of mind that you know all too well as it most likely occurs when you are trying to go to sleep. This is because all day you have been in a state of stress or flow. You have not decompressed.


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Therefore, when you lay down to go to sleep, your brain is relieved. However, before it can shut off, it needs to unwind. It must think. That is why you may not be able to turn off the thoughts for a while and you may lie in bed with your mind racing with everything that you need to do or have done. You may wonder why it is that your brain is thinking now, especially when you want to go to sleep. Well, it is because this is the only chance you have given it all day. To avoid this, you must dedicate time throughout the day to “meditate”, or think. You need to give your mind the chance to decompress. So, before you go to sleep, spend some time in relaxation and allow your mind to wander. This way, when you decide to go to sleep, your mind and body will be unwound and ready to rest.

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In Conclusion

In order to maintain a healthy mind and body, you need to allow your body to experience all three of these states. Of course, stress isn’t something that you need to make time for. It is something that will naturally happen. It is almost unavoidable. Flow is something that will take a little more effort. You must find something that you enjoy doing so much, that you will forget about everything else for the time being. You need to make sure that you have a healthy balance of stress and flow. Therefore, if you have triple the stress than flow you may want to cut out some of the stress. Stress is something that will happen no matter what; so don’t get worked up about it. That’s all you need, is to become stressed out over being stressed. Instead, try to find more things that put you in a state of flow. That way you will learn to enjoy yourself more often.


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Finally, you need to make sure that you allow your mind the ability to decompress. You must transition into the Default Mode Network. This is very important, as it allows your mind and body the time it needs to reset. It also will spark your creativity and give you great inspiration and new ideas, if you let it, of course. The bottom line is that you need to allow yourself to experience all three of these states: Stress, Flow, and Default Mode Network. If you do this, you will be much better able to relax and unwind when you need to. In addition, you may also improve your creativity, your sleep, and lots more!

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Thank you,
Spencer Coffman
SpencerCoffman.com

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