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letting in the good

Do you find yourself doomscrolling-- scanning through your Facebook feed or news sites these days, looking for the next bad news? Do you feel like you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop? Does it seem like it’s hard to find anything good at all, some days? It’s not your fault, friends– it’s our DNA.

Staying alive over the past 10,000 years hasn’t been easy. Conflicts with other humans, starvation, illness, injury, parasites, and the threat of predators were omnipresent. In order to survive and pass on their genes, our ancestors had to learn to recognize and avoid danger. As a result, our brain developed a unique solution– a “negativity bias.”

Our brain is always looking for potential hazards, from social (is this other human angry?) to global (is the pandemic going to change life as we know it on this earth?). This constant scan is present even when things are going pretty well. When we experience a stress response of any kind, our vigilance for threat is even more heightened. It can feel as though it’s taking over. It’s hard to think about anything else.

Negativity Bias: It’s a Real Thing

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson explains our brain places more value on negative experiences than it does on positive ones. We store our negative experiences in our memory more easily, and this can lead to what he calls a “vicious circle:”

“Over time, negative experiences make the amygdala even more sensitive to the negative. This snowballing effect occurs because the cortisol that the amygdala signals the hypothalamus to call for enters the bloodstream and flows into your brain, where it stimulates and strengthens the amygdala. Now the alarm bell of your brain rings more easily and more loud. Making matters worse, even after the danger has passed or turns out to be a false alarm, it takes many minutes to metabolize cortisol out of your body…

..In the meantime, in a one-two punch, the cortisol in your brain overstimulates, weakens, and eventually kills cells in your hippocampus, gradually shrinking it. This is a problem because the hippocampus helps you put things in perspective while also calming down your amygdala and telling your hypothalamus to quit calling for stress hormones. So now it’s harder to put the one thing going wrong in the context of the many things going right.” -Rick Hanson, “Hardwiring Happiness”.