Thursday, September 8, 2016

Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson a Great Read for the Anxious


As a mental health patient, I think it's nice when my therapist does something that shows me she is thinking of my treatment even when I'm not around. My latest therapist, whom I have been seeing for a few months, came in with a treat for me last week, proving she's "on the case." She told me that she started reading a book that made her think of me, so she brought it in for me to read myself. That book was Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. with Richard Mendius, M.D.

Buddha's Brain delves into the neuroscience behind stress, anxiety and depression while focusing on the effect meditative practice has on the brain. The book is peppered with Buddhist quotes and some background on Buddhism itself, but don't be fooled. This is not a religious book. It does touch on spirituality, but the topic appears to come up mainly because spiritual matters can have a profound effect on your mental health. Buddha and Buddhism come up because Buddhist meditation is a proven method of relieving stress and anxiety while increasing your overall sense of well-being.

Instead of giving you a review of Buddha's Brain, I'm going to tell you what it has to offer for us anxious and/or depressed folks. I found a lot of classic DBT and CBT methods mentioned in the book that veteran patients will hopefully recognize, such as mindfulness and the benefits of gratitude. I also found some valuable insights into dealing with painful memories, making meditation more approachable, nurturing positive relationships and so on. In short, both people who have sought help for years and people first reaching out for help will find this book useful in their treatment and life in general. 

What made my therapist think of me when she was reading Buddha's Brain was the neuroscience component. She knows I prefer science to spirituality (not that you can't have both). Hanson provides pages of references for the assertions he makes regarding brain chemistry, memory storage, etc. You know he's not just spouting the latest feel-good self-help tropes, which I know a lot of you will appreciate. 

Buddha's Brain provides everything you need to start or supplement a meditation practice. If you don't want to meditate, it can help you learn how to guide your thoughts so you can cultivate the wisdom that you want in your life, strengthening those thoughts and hopefully weakening the hold negative thoughts have on you. It's not a magic cure for what ails you spiritually and mentally, but rather a tool in the mental health toolbox you should always be expanding. 

If you have any book suggestions you think I should check out, please let me know in the comments section.