I’ve written before about the anxious brain and what a difficult way it can be to experience life, constantly scanning for danger and overinterpreting risk and threat.

Dr. Rick Hanson describes it as the red brain, the reactive mode that sucks up resources that could have been used for healing and self-expression. The red brain makes it difficult to self-soothe and for the body to repair and regenerate. He refers to the anxious brain as being in a state of “chronic inner homelessness.”

Ideally, we would spend a lot more time in our green brain, or responsive mode. This is the resting state the body is in when not disturbed by stress. Oxytocin and natural opioids help maintain this state where our heart beats more slowly, blood pressure is reduced and we easily digest the nutrients in the food we eat.

In “green brain” mode we feel safe, satisfied and connected. Kindness comes more naturally. By holding this space it makes it easier for those around us to settle into it as well.

So what helps?

Spending more time in your green brain helps you spend more time in your green brain. Yep, no typo. Start simple and small. I think it helps to start with your 5 senses.

It’s 41 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit) outside today. I have a noisy little air conditioner in my office, but today I am grateful for the cool breeze it sends across my arms and face, so that I can enjoy a warm cup of tea as I write. So, I’m stopping now, to take 10 seconds to just feel that, the sensation and the gratitude. That’s all. Smile, wow, the first 5 seconds were hard, but the last 20 seconds, I could have stayed there all day!

So set yourself a challenge, today, for one day only (to start with). Pay attention to the sights, smells, sounds, sensations and taste that bring a small moment of pleasure into your day. Slow it down, take it in and set your slider a little more toward your green brain and a little farther from the red brain.

Top tips for growing your green brain:

  • Bring your attention to something pleasant.
  • Breathe in the experience and allow it to intensify.
  • Spend time with it.
  • Savor it, as you would your favorite food.
  • Replay a memory of something that made you feel good. Keep photos, souvenirs, emails and other reminders around.
  • Choose to do something small that makes you feel good. Play a song you like, stretch your body, step outside and feel the sun. Whatever you choose, be fully present with it.
  • Reflect on a strength in your character that shone through today.
  • Do the same for someone you know.
  • Look at a photo of a friend and see what happens in your heart.