The last few months have been a euphoric high. I have not felt this good for a long time. Yes, I am healing and one activity has pushed my brain out of its lethargic, foggy state. Inadvertently, rather serendipitously I drifted into food foraging and what a difference it has made to my mood, my brain and my general state of mind.
Like most survivors of C-PTSD, I had the past replaying again and again in my head. Sound healing music did help but again after a period of time, again the negative thoughts would rise. It was depressing, to say the least.
Trauma, Adrenaline Rush & Memory Freeze
During a traumatic event, adrenaline rushes through the body and the memory is imprinted into the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. The amygdala holds the emotional significance of the event (the intensity and impulse of emotion).
This imprinting is vital for our survival. We need to remember who the demon is and what they are capable of. This memory gets encoded in our brain and we get stuck in that state of hyper-alert self-protection.
However, when your mind is frozen in the past you are stuck emotionally in that reality. And it is bloody hell to feel 13 years old when you are 50 years old. Your reactions and emotions are so incongruous to your current life. It not only detrimentally affects you but it impacts your close relationships. No one can see your mind, to know that its a child throwing a tantrum not that woman.
Psychologist Bessel van der Kolk explains that traumatic experiences can “freeze” a person’s personality.
How can one get out of the frozen, stuck state of mind? How to override the negative memory loop and change the program’ in our brain?
Overwriting The Old Program With Adrenaline
If stress has caused our brain to be stuck in a memory loop it makes sense to subject our brain to jolt of adrenaline order to overwrite the old memories.
How do we do this? Adrenaline rushes are triggered not only when we are threatened or afraid but also by exciting, thrilling, novel experiences.
In their book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, the Heath Brothers state that our life can be transformed through joyful and exciting, novel and thrilling experiences.
And we can create these experiences by choosing activities and moments that re-wire our brain by bringing a positive rush of adrenaline pumping in our system.
Food Foraging – Benefits
Until now no other activity has brought me such happiness and changed my state of mind as food foraging. I guess it is something deeply primal, searching for food is what our ancestors did for survival. Furthermore, when we do it for fun, it can be profoundly mind-altering.
Here are the possible reasons how and why food foraging has had such an impact on my brain.
Mindfulness in Motion
I don’t believe in sitting immobile and trying to get your mind to focus is a solution to intrusive thoughts. I find mindful action easier and more effective. You can become mindful when you focus on doing something.
I can feel my mind chatter quieten as I slowly walk through groves of coconut trees, on the lookout for that fallen coconut. During the entire walk to and from the beach, I am thinking ‘coconuts’.
Finding coconuts have taken precedence. The longer my brain thinks of coconuts, the more my neurons fire forming ‘coconut’ connections, like coconut cookies, coconut chutney and other myriad things one can do with this nut.
Seriously, it is a case of how a nut rewired my nutty brain.
Sun & Physical Activity
Food foraging requires one to be out in the sun, walking around, maybe climbing and jumping. It may not be high impact aerobic activity but nevertheless, it entails walking for a good 2-3 hours.
Studies show that walking without a destination has been shown to actually shut down the anxious part of the brain.
Sunlight helps stimulate the body’s production of vitamin D. It also triggers special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin which plays a vital role in regulating our mental states.
Additionally, studies have found sunlight helps nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for forming, organizing and storing of memories.
Food Foraging Boosts Your Happy Chemicals
There are four major chemicals in the brain that influence our happiness – dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.
Any trip is exciting but knowing that this trip will yield some reward triggers the dopamine reward pathway in our brain. Anticipation is exciting, it brings on the adrenaline, this time it is a positive surge.
Adrenaline and dopamine are closely related. An adrenaline rush translates into a dopamine surge. I find not one but ten juicy mangoes and bam, my brain is zapped with it a shot of dopamine bringing on a euphoric feeling, I feel naturally high and the emotion is felt every time I think about my successful haul of mangoes.
Gradually, these small successes made me feel more and more confident.
Initially, I wasn’t too confident to pick fruits and coconuts fallen around. I was afraid, what if someone objected. The old patterns of my childhood played out in my head. Being constantly reprimanded undermined, I suffered from low self-esteem, one of the reasons for my pervasive depression.
However, it was literally the hand of God that guided me on to food foraging. Once while walking on a pathway, a coconut nearly fell onto my head, Newton discovered gravity when an apple fell on his head, I discovered food foraging.
Gradually, I’ve become less and less self-conscious and more confident. This boosted my serotonin levels, Serotonin is released when a mammal feels confident. You feel safe to assert and meet your needs. During the rare times, I face objections from any person or animal I feel confident to stand my ground without cowering in fear.
Food foraging is a social activity, mainly because it is not safe to go off in the wilderness alone. However, the intense time spent together forges strong bonds and boosts oxytocin our love hormone. I know my bond with my son has deepened ever since we started our food foraging activities.
And the semi-strenuous exercise of foraging releases endorphins which reduce both my physical and emotional pain.
Food Foraging – Rewiring Your Brain
To shift your focus on the past, your brain needs to be distracted. Change cannot be forced. Thoughts must be guided gently by enticing the mind, show it the carrot. Furthermore, the brain is naturally propelled toward pleasure and fun. Fill your life with novel and interesting activities that naturally shift your thoughts to things that are pleasurable.
Remember, the key to positive mental states is activity, anticipation, and accomplishment
Food foraging is one pursuit that encompasses all three.
I know it has slowly replaced the stories of my past abuse with positivity and fun. Neurons that fire together, wire together. More and more I look forward to each day with hope and joy.
P.S.: Don’t eat things that you don’t know or can’t identify, when in doubt be safe rather than sorry. Keep in mind a few salient points about food foraging.
The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact – Chip Heath
The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind – John Coates
Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels – Loretta Breuning
The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time – Alex Korb
Mind Over Mood, Second Edition: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think – Dennis Greenberger