Have you ever been lying in bed at night, taking a shower or even driving in your car, when suddenly the worst possible memory just decides to pop into your head out of nowhere?
Does it leave you wondering why, why does your mind like to remind you of a drunken mistake you made 10 years ago?
It seems that it might be because your brain lacks a specific chemical that allows you to suppress unwanted thoughts.
This information comes from a recent study that explored the prefrontal cortex (the region at the front of the brain), the area that plays a key role in controlling our actions and thoughts.
Participants in the study were asked to either recall or suppress information based on several cues, whilst researchers observed their brain activity. They did this by using a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
Professor Michael Anderson from Cambridge University said he and his colleagues were able to discover that a neurotransmitter known as GABA has the ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts. GABA is a chemical in the brain that allows messages to pass between nerve cells.
“Before, we could only say ‘this part of the brain acts on that part’, but now we can say which neurotransmitters are likely important — and as a result, infer the role of inhibitory neurons — in enabling us to stop unwanted thoughts,” he wrote in a statement.
“Where previous research has focused on the prefrontal cortex — the command centre — we’ve shown that this is an incomplete picture. Inhibiting unwanted thoughts is as much about the cells within the hippocampus — the ‘boots on the ground’ that receive commands from the prefrontal cortex.”
Prof. Anderson said missing the key chemical within the “memory” region of the brain might not be worrying for people with positive thoughts, but suggested that it may be problematic for people who are constantly forced to remember unpleasant or traumatic events.
“Our ability to control our thoughts is fundamental to our well-being. When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases: intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations and pathological and persistent worries.
“These are all key symptoms of mental illnesses such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.”
Though the study doesn’t examine any immediate treatments, Prof. Anderson believes it could offer a new approach to tackling intrusive thoughts in these disorders.
“Our study suggests that if you could improve GABA activity within the hippocampus, this may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts,” he said.
Others claim that GABA tea is the key to help calm people down and help with sleep.
— Health And Tea (@HealthAndTea) March 10, 2016
— Gabaron (@Gaba_tea) July 5, 2017
— KINGMASON (@ANOTHERLEVEL1) March 23, 2017
For best results on how to help this, we’d recommend waiting for what the experts come up with.