The Upward Spiral Book Summary - The Upward Spiral Book explained in key points
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The Upward Spiral summary

Alex Korb

Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

4.3 (122 ratings)
14 mins

Brief summary

'The Upward Spiral' by Alex Korb is a practical guide to improving mood and overall well-being. It explains how small, positive changes can create an upward spiral that leads to increased happiness and resilience.

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    The Upward Spiral
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    The structure of the human brain explains how people fall into deep depressions.

    If you tell a friend that you’re feeling depressed, he’ll probably assume there must be an external cause for your mood and ask “why?” But if you want to understand the dark spiral of depression, you need to start somewhere else entirely.

    To begin with, you can divide the brain into the feeling brain and the thinking brain.

    The feeling brain is the limbic system. Also known as the reptile brain, it’s composed of several older brain sections. These areas are responsible for making people feel emotions – particularly stress and anxiety.

    Then there’s the thinking part of the brain or the prefrontal cortex. It’s located behind the forehead and is the newest development in the evolution of the human brain. In addition to playing a key role in determining human intelligence, it regulates the limbic system.

    In normal conditions, the prefrontal cortex lets us think in an abstract way about negative emotions like guilt, shame or worry, and this creates some distance that helps us process them. When a person becomes depressed, the prefrontal cortex can no longer do its job properly, and emotions start getting out of control, triggering greater stress and anxiety.

    So, a malfunctioning prefrontal cortex leads to depression and a downward spiral.

    Just consider the author, who has a tendency toward loneliness, especially when he spends all day writing. He could make plans to meet a friend after work, but planning causes him stress. The worse he feels because of his loneliness, the harder it is for him to make plans, which only locks him deeper into the downward spiral.

    In the worst case, such downward spirals can cause chronic depression, but the factors triggering them vary from person to person. So, while the author requires social contact to stave off a vicious circle of low moods, a friend of his falls into a downward spiral when she doesn’t get enough exercise.

    That being said, for many people, anxiety and worry are the main factors that cause a downward spiral. In the next blink, you’ll learn more about these primary culprits.

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    Key ideas in The Upward Spiral

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    What is The Upward Spiral about?

    The Upward Spiral (2015) details the ways your brain can fall into a progressively worsening depression and what you can do to reverse the process. These blinks explain the material conditions that cause your mood to slump and offer concrete steps for overcoming depression, anxiety and worry.

    The Upward Spiral Review

    The Upward Spiral (2015) by Alex Korb is a fascinating exploration of neuroscience and how to improve our mental well-being. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a wealth of scientific knowledge about how our brain works, helping us better understand ourselves and our emotions.
    • Shares practical strategies for boosting mood and overcoming negative thoughts, providing actionable steps for positive change.
    • Integrates personal anecdotes with scientific research, making the book relatable, engaging, and far from boring.

    Best quote from The Upward Spiral

    The striatum is perfectly happy carrying out bad habit after bad habit with no regard to the long-term consequences.

    —Alex Korb
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    Who should read The Upward Spiral?

    • Those who struggle with depression or anxiety
    • Laypeople who are interested in neuroscience
    • Students who are overwhelmed with their course load

    About the Author

    Alex Korb PhD is a neuroscientist who studied at Brown University and UCLA. He’s now conducting his post-doctoral research at UCLA and working as a scientific consultant for pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

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    The Upward Spiral FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Upward Spiral?

    The main message of The Upward Spiral is that we can improve our mental health and well-being by understanding the brain's neurochemical system.

    How long does it take to read The Upward Spiral?

    The reading time for The Upward Spiral varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Upward Spiral a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Upward Spiral is worth reading because it provides valuable insights into improving mental health and offers practical tips for finding happiness and well-being.

    Who is the author of The Upward Spiral?

    The author of The Upward Spiral is Alex Korb.

    What to read after The Upward Spiral?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Upward Spiral, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Rise from Darkness by Kristian Hall
    • The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore
    • A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman
    • The Biological Mind by Alan Jasanoff
    • The Better Brain by Bonnie J. Kaplan and Julia J. Rucklidge
    • Deviate by Beau Lotto
    • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    • Rewire Your Anxious Brain by Catherine M. Pittman & Elizabeth M. Karle
    • The Six Disciplines of Strategic Thinking by Michael D. Watkins
    • Good Reasons for Bad Feelings by Randolph M. Nesse