Brain lock

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Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz uses the term brain lock to refer to the cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour that characterizes OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Three parts of the brain are involved in obsessions.

1. The orbital frontal cortex, in the lower area the frontal lobe, triggers the "mistake feeling" and sends a signal to the cingulate gyrus.

2. The cingulate gyrus, which lies immediately above the corpus callosum, the large bundle of nerves that connects the right and left hemispheres, triggers the anxiety that something dreadful is going to happen, and sends signals to the gut and heart that cause panic.

3. the caudate nucleus, another structure deep in the brain, normally allows our thoughts to transition from one to the next, but in OCD, the caudate malfunctions.

Because the caudate is stuck, the orbital frontal cortex and the cingulate gyrus keep firing off signals, creating a "worry circuit" and increasing anxiety to disabling levels in the person with OCD. Schwartz calls this phenomenon brainlock.

He developed a therapy that helps the person with OCD to understand the brain process that causes brainlock, and to heighten self-awareness. It includes relabeling the problem they're experiencing - e.g., "My problem isn't germs, it's my OCD"; and refocusing their attention to "manually" transition to the next thought to "unlock" their brain - e.g., get started on a positive, enjoyable activity.

Recommended Resources

Sharon Begley in Time Magazine - "How the Brain Rewires Itself"

CBC Documentary - Changing Your Mind

Norman Doidge - The Brain That Changes Itself

Jeffrey Schwartz - You are not your brain

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