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The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time Paperback – March 1, 2015
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From the Publisher
From the Book: The 'Feeling' Brain
In contrast to the highly evolved prefrontal cortex, the limbic system is an ancient collection of structures located much deeper in the brain (even early mammals one hundred million years ago had limbic systems). The limbic system is the emotional part of the brain and is responsible for things like excitement, fear, anxiety, memory, and desire. It is primarily composed of four regions: the hypothalamus, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the cingulate cortex. The hypothalamus controls stress. The amygdala is the key to reducing anxiety, fear, and other negative emotions. The hippocampus is responsible for creating long-term memories, and because its neurons are very sensitive to stress, it often acts as the canary in the coal mine of depression. Lastly, the cingulate cortex controls focus and attention, which is of huge importance in depression, because what you focus on, whether by automatic habit or willful choice, makes a huge difference to your mood.
―Elyn Saks, Orrin B. Evans Professor of law, psychology, psychiatry, and the behavioral sciences at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, and author of The Center Cannot Hold
―Anson Dorrance, head coach of the UNC-Chapel Hill Women's Soccer team and coauthor of The Vision of a Champion
―Helen S. Mayberg, professor of psychiatry in neurology and radiology, and Dorothy C. Fuqua Chair in psychiatric neuroimaging and therapeutics at Emory University School of Medicine
About the Author
Foreword writer Daniel J. Siegel, MD, is executive director of the Mindsight Institute and associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. He is author of The Developing Mind, The Mindful Brain, and other books, and founding editor of the Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology.
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The Upward Spiral stands out from the pack for three significant reasons:
1. It's based in evidence.
This book isn't made up of snake oil panaceas, or Hallmark platitudes, or overblown pep-talk rhetoric. It's built on a foundation of clinical trials and observations of the brain, as up-to-date with contemporary neuroscience as possible.
2. It reads well.
The problem with writing based on scientific evidence often ends up being that the prose is dry and boring, or patronizingly dumbed-down, or frustratingly abstract. Korb is no Adam Phillips, but he writes about the structure and function of the brain more clearly than anyone else I've read in the past, frequently deploying effective analogies to familiar objects and ideas.
3. It includes advice.
Another problem with some science-based texts is that knowing what synapses fire at what time doesn't really help you figure out what to do outside your skull. Korb gives a suggestion on practically every page.
This book isn't going to cure you. It addresses a specific aspect of depression: the way symptoms reinforce themselves and inspire new ones, resulting in the downward spiral that drags you down to your deepest depths. The optimistic implication of the title is that just like a small trigger can drag you down, an effective intervention can start enough momentum to carry you up.
I'm of the belief that if you're depressed, you probably have to figure out how and why it started, and determine what specific patterns of thought originated as a result. That means seeing a therapist or analyst, possibly for a long time. But in the meantime, you have to get yourself out of bed every day, and this book gives you some idea how. To my knowledge, it's the best of its kind.
Using these techniques (and I am reading slowly to integrate rather than finish the boom, so I am only half way through) I can already tell my brain is changing, challenges become normal activities, and bad habits are slowly fading out of my life the more I focus on what to do right rather than what I am always doing wrong
So overall, I actually really thought this was a well done book. It is solidly written in an engaging, conversational manner, which is what makes it feel more accessible I think. The author does frequently refer to different structures in the brain, but he also provides a couple of diagrams to show you the location of what he is talking about. All of the self-help techniques mentioned are backed by research. It is true that probably you as a reader may have heard many of these things before, but you may be like some people I know and not so interested in trying them unless you understand that they have been studied and proven effective for improving symptoms of sadness or depression, and this book does a good job of backing up the methods. The author also steers entirely clear of spiritual or religious matters, which I also tend to think could be a benefit. I am a deeply spiritual person myself, but not everybody is and I think the neutrality in that matter makes it accessible to a wider range of people.
This book does not really go much into thought or behavioral modification therapies (though arguably the sections on focusing on more positive memories and gratitude certainly overlap), but I tend to think often without some of the other lifestyle supports that encourage optimal hormone levels included in this book, those methods alone aren't going to present as much of an improvement, and they are involved enough that it is appropriate to mention them only and direct someone to seek further for more detailed information elsewhere.
The only think that had me quirking an eyebrow on this book was the brief dip into chaos theory in the introduction, where the author likened the methods in this book to the beating of a butterfly's wings in LA breaking up a storm in New York. I'm going to be up front and say chaos theory isn't something I am very well versed in, while I am capable of going all sciency on someone, my happy place actually tends to be the arts. However, I have read enough to know that there are thinkers of the opinion that there are so many different systems acting upon one another when it comes to butterflies and the weather that it would actually be difficult to demonstrate a relationship in real world conditions between any one butterfly and any one meteorological event.
However, I think relationships between the methods described in this book and positive outcomes can be more strongly demonstrated, as the author has done throughout the book. My only reason for mentioning this is that the reference occurs in the beginning of the book, and I offer it as a word of encouragement to anyone who might read the butterfly sentence and either think it didn't make sense or that it was nonsensical and that therefore the rest of the book would be as well. There is actually a mathematical theory the statement is based on, so I can kind of see the point he was trying to make with it about how small changes in your routines can lead to big effects, but...I personally think an oft used analogy about a very small turning of the helm in a ship leading to a totally different destination might have been something easier related to by many, and I think that's pretty much what he was trying to say with that whole butterfly thing.
Overall though, I think this is a well done book, one I believe in enough to provide to my daughter for reading, and on a personal note, I totally endorse and use many of the techniques the author mentions and have for years and have found that they can help get me through some of the of the more difficult things life can offer.
Top international reviews
If it has a downside, it's just the fact that it's a bit difficult to remember the regions of the brain and what they are responsible for. But writing them down makes it easier to remember!
Would recommend it to anyone! Full of wisdom and practical advice!