Heather doesn’t want to be constantly thinking about a relationship break-up she had, but she can’t seem to get those unwanted thoughts out of her head. She finds herself ruminating….”I should have done this, why did he do that, how could I have…,”the thoughts are distressing and she wants to stop them.
Jerry struggles with memories related to PTSD from his time in Iraq. Images of children, bombs and terror continue to flood his thoughts. At times, he feels like he can’t stop those intrusive thoughts from coming.
Both of these individual need to be able to disengage from ruminating thoughts to improve their mental health. Scientists have been working on a better understanding of how those intrusive thoughts can be stopped.
A new discovery about the brain may help Heather and Jerry eventually suppress those unwanted thoughts. A chemical in the brain’s memory system may be responsible for the inability to shift their thoughts away from intrusive and ruminating memories.
The brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA, may be involved. Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked at how GABA in the hippocampus (memory center of the brain) blocked unwanted or intrusive thoughts. They observed that people with high concentrations of hippocampal GABA were able to block those thoughts better than others.
The hippocampus (memory) gets its commands from the thinking part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. But if there is a low concentration of GABA in the memory part of the brain, it may not be able to deal well with the thinking part, and those unwanted thoughts keep coming.
These findings may indicate that improving GABA activity in the hippocampus of the brain might be helpful to the problem of rumination. In the study, hippocampal GABA predicted thought suppression. In others words, the more GABA you had in that area of the brain (hippocampus), the better you were at stopping ruminating thoughts.
So while we don’t have a specific treatment yet based on this finding, the finding helps us unlock more understanding about why some people stay frozen and have a difficult time to truly let it go.