Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lessons from Mother #2

Here are more “tongue-in-cheek lessons.” Did you hear any of these growing up?


• My mother taught me about anticipation: “Just wait until I get you home!”

• My mother taught me about runway modeling: “Get back in your room and don’t come out again until you put on some decent clothes!”

• My mother taught me about genetics: “You are just like your father!”

• My mother taught me about humor: “When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don’t come running to me!”

• My mother taught me about envy: “There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don’t have wonderful parents like you do!”


Monday, April 29, 2013

Mirthful Laughter and Cortisol Levels

What have studies shown about the effect of mirthful laughter on cortisol (a steroid hormone also known as hydrocortisone)? This substance is produced by the adrenal cortex and is released to help the brain and body respond to stressors. While cortisol is critically important to your ability to manage stressors appropriately, too much cortisol can be detrimental. For example, cortisol temporarily suppresses immune system function to allow resources to be directed toward dealing with the stressors. Cortisol also increases your level of blood sugar and assists with fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism (to give you more energy). Problems can arise, however, when your adrenals are pushed to release high levels of cortisol due to chronic or unmanaged stressors. That can result in increased risk of illness (due to suppressed immune system functions), decreased formation of bone tissue, and even muscle wasting. If you are dealing with chronic stress, create and implement solid stress-management techniques. Mirthful laughter is one of these. Experimental subjects who viewed a 60 minute humor video (and who chose to have a mirthful laughter experience) were found to have a reduction in serum levels of cortisol. This means you can have some control over your neurobiochemistry.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mirror-Touch Synesthetes

Scientists estimate that about 4% of the population experience some form of synesthesia (e.g., different senses blend in a variety of ways). These individuals are known as synesthetes. The phenomenon of synesthesia probably stems from normal cognitive development during gestation and early childhood. Large numbers of neural connections are formed as the brain grows. Many of these connections are later pruned away. Synesthesia may arise from an incomplete shedding of some of these connections. There are different types of synesthesia. When mirror-touch synesthesia was identified (e.g., people feel a sensation on their own body when they observe someone else being touched) some synesthetes were surprised to realize that experiencing this type of disembodied contact is considered unusual. A study at University College London found that mirror-touch synesthetes showed higher capacities for emotional empathy than others did.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mind and Consciousness

Researchers may never actually discover just how the brain creates the mind and which one (or both) impacts conscious versus unconscious thought. There are some interesting pieces being discussed currently, however. It appears that the human brain creates "the mind," so called. It also appears that "consciousness" represents a very small portion of what really goes on in the brain. It may be just the tip of the iceberg, per se, and the bulk of everything else lies hidden beneath the surface. (According to Dr. Candace Pert, the entire body is part of the subconscious.) Another researcher described the brain-mind interaction by comparing it to traffic and vehicles, saying that traffic is caused by vehicles. However, that traffic can also contrain vehicles. Complex and cognitively challening to understand. So, using this description, the physical brain creates the mind, including the portion that we refer to as consciousness (the ability to be aware of what is going on inside the human organism in the internal environment--at least to some degree--as well as what is happening outside the human organism in the external environment). And much like the vehicle-traffic metaphor, the mind (once created) is actually able to constrain the brain (the very organ that created the mind). Hmmmm.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Longevity and Location

Is there any correlation between length of life and where you live? According to 2007 data released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the answer is yes—for females. Of course, study results are really about “in general” and “on average,” which means that the data may not apply to a specific woman. Nevertheless, there appears to be a difference in longevity based on location in the United States. According to the study data, the top ten locations in terms of longevity for women are (#1 being highest and some ties):


#1 Hawaii

#2 Minnesota

#3 California

#4 Florida

#4 New York

#6 Arizona

#6 North Dakota

#8 Massachusettes

#8 South Dakota

#10 Connecticut

Here’s the URL if you want to check out other locations.

http://xfinity.comcast.net/blogs/lifestyle/2013/04/04/where-in-america-do-women-live-the-longest/?cid=hero_media

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Dawn of Consciousnesss

The concept of “consciousness” is typically of interest to brain function researchers. For decades, neuroscientists have been looking for an unmistakable signal of consciousness in electrical brain activity. For one thing, this type of evidence could help determine whether minimally conscious or anesthetized adults are aware. For another, it could help explain when consciousness begins in babies. "We make the assumption that babies are learning very quickly and that they're fully unconscious of what they learn," said cognitive neuroscientist Sid Kouider of CNRS, the French National Research Agency in Paris. "Maybe that's not true." The team monitored infants' brain activity through caps fitted with electrodes and watched for swings in electrical activity, called event-related potentials (ERPs), in the babies' brains. The exciting results indicated that the babies displayed glimmers of consciousness and memory as early as 5 months old (and perhaps even younger). [ Sid Kouider et al., A Neural Marker of Perceptual Consciousness in Infants, Science, 2013, DOI: 10.1126/science.1232509 ]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mindful Recovery #2

In order to “protect” my brain to the extent possible, I had negotiated with my surgical-anesthetic team for a spinal rather than a general anesthetic, with as little additional non-pain medication as possible. I had no problem being relatively “awake” during the procedure (e.g., during the first surgery I had received Propofol, sometimes referred to as the "milk of amnesia"). While I don’t recall everything that was said (probably a good thing!) I chattered away to the team during much of the surgery and knew when the head of my femur was sawed off and when the hammer tapped in the titanium prosthesis and so on. Being able to be engaged at some level during the surgery was very empowering. During the first three weeks post-op, it’s as if my perceptual recognition of environmental space became restricted as my brain and body concentrated on getting the rehab routine in place, monitoring the fluxuation of Coumadin (blood thinner), raising my hemoglobin (that had dropped to 7.6), tracking the decrease in swelling, appreciating the resolution of bruising discoloration, and staying ahead of the pain. Now, at the beginning of the fourth post-op week, my conscious mind seems ready to expand my environmental perimeters. Meaning that the borders of my consciousness, which had been very circumscribed to a zone of about 6-8 feet around my body, have suddenly doubled or tripled or even quadrupled in size -- because all resources are no longer required to concentrate on the initial healing process. We’ll see what happens next…

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mindful Recovery #1

Being more mindful during this second hip-joint-replacement surgery is proving very interesting. There is something to be said for having been through the process once already; to say nothing of being able to select my surgeon, hospital, type of anesthesia, and even date of surgery. I believe all of that conspired to reduce the anxiety that typically goes along with this type of major procedure—seeing as the entire body is part of the subconscious mind. Not only did I purposefully engage in specific preparatory exercises for three months immediately pre-operatively, I spent 10-15 minutes each day visualizing different aspects of the process, reminding my body of what would be happening and instructing it in how I wanted it to behave. Based on the old axiom that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, it’s been fun to identify positive differences between the two experiences.

1. My body was much more relaxed during initiation of the spinal anesthetic, allowing the CRNA to “get in” more easily.

2. I was able to lift my right leg and foot up off the floor to a height of about four inches on day one post-op, which didn’t happen until day four post-op last time.

3. My brain could joke in advance about some of the procedures, which while it may have disconcerted some of the staff certainly released dopamine and endorphins as I laughed at my own descriptions.

Meanwhile, in my conscious mind . . .

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mindfulness Training

Does your mind wander and your attention stray from the task at hand? Some of this is normal. Some has been linked with impairments in working memory capacity, fluid intelligence, and even SAT performance. According to an article published in Psychological Science, mindfulness training may help to improve working memory and even boost standardized test scores. “We set out to find ways to reduce mind wandering and thereby improve performance within educational contexts,” says Michael D. Mrazek, a graduate student in the lab of UCSB professor of psychology Jonathan Schooler. Researchers provided a series of eight 45-minute mindfulness training sessions where participants learned to focus on a “single aspect of experience” (e.g., their breathing). There were average improvements in standardized-test scores analogous to sixteen (16) percentile points. Mrazek plans to conduct similar studies in K-12 and to investigate if web-based training could achieve desired results. [For a copy of the article "Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering," contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org ]

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Brain and Intuitive Grammar

Studies have shown that the brain is intuitively good at some things. Grammar, for example. According to Daniel Kahneman, author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and winner of the nobel prize in economics, the human brain appears to be a good intuitive grammarian. Any normal baby brain born on this planet is able to learn any of the languages and dialogues that are spoken on this planet. By the age of four, children conform to the rules of grammar of their native language(s)—effortlessly—even though they have no idea that grammar rules even exist. They also pick up the inflections or dialects or speech styles of their immediate environment, which may differ based on the locale or section of the country even though the basic “language” is the same. A couple years ago I visited Nova Scotia where the Acadians (French-speaking individuals) lived. More recently I visited New Orleans where the Cajuns lived (slang for Acadians who migrated from Nova Scotia to South Louisiana in the 18th century). Watch for examples of dialects or speech styles in upcoming blogs.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Snacking, Grazing, and the Brain


Do you tend to snack and graze? If so, you may be ingesting far more calories than you think and packing around more “fat” than you need can negatively impact your brain function. Grazing and snacking involve habits and habits can be altered. According to Susan Bowerman, RD, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, there are no snacks that burn fat. There are some snacks that can help to increase metabolism and that are much lower in fat and sugar than others, however: snacks that are 200 calories or less and that contain around 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Here are examples:

• An apple or ½ an avocado with 6-8 raw or dry roasted almonds

• An apple or ½ an avocado with 2 ounces of 1% cottage cheese

• Three ounces of light tuna with 6 whole wheat crackers

• A mixture of 1 diced pear, ¼ cup diced walnuts, and 2 ounces of 1% cottage cheese on 2 pieces of sour dough toast

• One teaspoon of natural almond butter on 2 pieces of sour dough toast and covered with unsweetened applesauce

Develop new habits. Eat slowly, chew well, stay hydrated with water, and tell your brain you feel satisfied with these healthier snacks.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Grief and Gratitute

No doubt many of you have been watching and listening to updates about the Boston marathon act of terrorism and the Texas fertilizer explosion--as have I. Even for individuals who were not on either site or who knew no one in either arena, there can be a level of horror and grief, if not outright despair about "What is the world coming to?" It can feel like that when incident compounds incident. It is important to take a brain-balanced look at this, however. First, evil has been part of the human condition for the life of recorded history. Goodness, heroism, and self-lessness have, as well. While I will forever regret the loss of life and the families who are changed by injury or death, the individuals at fault would like us to get stuck on the sadness, to become frightened of life and living, and to become overly isolated and defensive. It is my brain's opinion that even the individuals who had life cut short wouldn't want this. Even as we do everything in our power to help the FBI find these individuals and bring them to justice on behalf of those who were injuried or killed, let us remain hopeful and advisably alert--courageously living life to its fullness. As Diane Sawyer put it, "Courage is fear that has said its prayers." Let us live in a state of gratitute.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Brain-Body Communication

The healing process continues to amaze me. Every day I notice ways in which my body is not only healing but also trying to make me aware of what is happening. For example, it may be a bruise that is slightly lighter in color or edema that is smaller in size or a muscle that screamed during rehab yesterday and is only shouting today or a range of motion that is just a bit expanded or a reduced need for pain medication. I read an article a while back that suggested your brain and body appreciate knowing that you not only recognize what they are doing but also like to hear you say "thank you." That was a new concept. For years I've thumped my thymus gland every morning and thanked it for keeping my immune system healthy. But thank my brain and body for healing? Hmmm. I decided I'd try it. After rehab this morning I said aloud:  "I really appreciate the way you are helping me recover from surgery. Thank you for showing me some progress every day, which helps me stay focused and positive. Life is good and my health is excellent." I'm gaining an expanded appreciation of the exponential progress that a coordinated team effort can make. Me, my brain, and my body.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Friend-To-Friend Communications

What does a friend say to a friend who is under the weather? A newly released book entitled “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who is Sick” included some helpful suggestions. The author, interviewed on television recently, indicated three specific communication tips for these situations. I’m very fortunate to have friends who actually use some of these with me. Maybe they’d already read the book or perhaps they’re just naturally gifted. I know I’ll be communicating a bit differently from here on out. 
  • Do you want company now or not? (It takes energy to interact with visitors no matter how much you love them. Sometimes “company” via phone or text or email is perfect and saves your friends a trip for just a few minutes of visit. A choice is good. It’s a gift! Close friends called a couple of days ago and offered to drive out from the city for a visit if I was up to it. Exhausted from rehab, I asked if we could just chat on the phone for a bit. It was wonderful to know they would not be offended. People who genuinely love you are all about doing what works for you.)
  • Tell me what to bring and when to leave. (Friends called to say they were bringing me a food basket and asked what I wanted in it. “You can tell us what you want and get what you like or you can risk liking only some of the contents.” I said what I wanted—and got it. Great option! We had a fun visit and I didn’t even need to tell them that it was time for them to leave so I could do my next rehab session. They left before I was tired. Great perception!)
  • Tell me what’s helpful and what’s not. (Every person has things he/she prefers to do versus those that it would be helpful for others to do. Be clear about what you need and want and be willing to state that. In my case, offering to do my hair is unhelpful, so is suggesting having oil rubbed on my feet. Picking up my mail, on the other hand, is beyond helpful! Most good friends would rather do what’s helpful to you instead of guessing!)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What To Say?

What are helpful (versus unhelpful) things to say to friends who are under the weather, having an off day, or downright ill? Most people have struggled with what to say at some time or another. Many have been recipients of unhelpful comments. Letty Catlin Pogrelbin recently released a book entitled “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who is Sick.” It is filled with suggestions of what to say and what to avoid saying. Perhaps I found it unusually interesting because of my recent hip-joint replacement surgery. Whenever I’m on the opposite side of health care (a patient rather than a provider), there is always something to learn—especially from well-wishers and visitors. It can be tempting to think you know what the person you are calling or visiting needs and yet the most comfort you can offer is more likely related to what the person perceives he/she needs or wants. For example, “Tell me how I can help,” may be more effective than saying, “Let me do such and such for you.” Rather than asking, “How are you?” try, “What are you feeling today?” That leaves the door open to answer “fine, okay, fair-to-middlin’, improving, none of your business,” or whatever, rather than the person sensing any obligation to rehearse diagnosis and treatment options. Small things. Yes. But good things often come in small packages.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kousins Krispy - Brain Snacks

During my recovery from hip-joint replacement surgery, my cousin Carmen has been doing some cooking experiments in an effort to provide me with not only nutritious meals but also with food that meets my need for “crunch” and “variety.” One of her creations we dubbed Kousins Krispy. It's brain friendly! I have added the recipe to my website but thought I might try including it in a blog. A first for me!

Ingredients

• 2 cups old fashioned oatmeal (uncooked)
• 3 ripe bananas, mashed
• 1/3 cup applesauce
• ¼ cup almond milk or rice milk
• ¼ cup grated coconut
• ½ cup raisins
• ½ cup chopped nuts
• ½ cup dried cranberries or finely diced dried figs or dates
• 1 Tbsp real maple syrup
• 1 tsp cinnamon
• 1 tsp vanilla

Preparation

Place oatmeal, raisins, nuts, coconut, and dried fruit in a mixing bowl and stir well.
Add mashed bananas, milk, applesauce, cinnamon, and vanilla. Mix well.
Spoon onto greased cookie sheet and flatten each slightly into about a 2-inch diameter size.
Place in oven preheated to 350 F. Bake for 20-25 minutes until brown and crispy.

Serving

Remove from oven. Let cool and serve. You can use for dessert, in place of muffins at breakfast, or as a snack on a hike or at the beach.







Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Sick" Brain Messages

I kept thinking about the word “sick. My brain’s opinion is that the word “sick” gives a definite message to your brain. We’re not talking about pretending you’re well when you’re not. If I’m really “sick” with the flu or food poisoning or a nauseous reaction to opiate pain meds (that was not pretty!), I’m more than willing to acknowledge that. When you say, “I feel sick,” a representation of what sick means to your brain goes into working memory. Working memory is the center stage part of consciousness, if you will. The brain figures that whatever is in working memory must be important to you because you put it there; and it will do its best to help you make that happen. And then the principle of congruence kicks in. The brain wants everything to match. At the words, “I feel sick,” your brain begins to search your memory banks for all the other times in your life when you felt sick and pretty soon you feel much more sick than when you started this whole process. In my case, step one involves identifying what is happening (my body is giving me some symptoms of nausea—it isn’t happy about something). Step two involves figuring out strategies to make the situation more livable (suck on chipped ice, sip a cold 7-Up, chew some crackers, change pain medications!). That can help to keep your brain’s working memory brainstorming possible solutions instead of collecting and rehearsing all the other “nausea episodes” that may have crossed your path . . .

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Sick" and "Sick"

“I’m so sorry you’re sick,” said the voice over the phone. Sick? Hmmm. I know I just had a hip-joint replacement but sick? Don’t think so. That sent me on a word search for “sick.” I found several definitions, a plethora of synonyms, multiple metaphors, and some usage differences between British English and American English. To take the last one first, in Canada I often heard, “She’s off sick.” In the USA I’m more likely to hear, “She’s out sick.”


A couple of the more common definitions for feeling sick are “nausea and vomiting” and “suffering from an illness or disease.” And then there are metaphors and expressions such as:
 
  • I’m so sick (identifying with your symptoms)
  • Call in sick (unable to go to work or school)
  • Sick and tired of your excuses (frustrated about something)
  • Sick at heart (sad, disappointed)
  • You make me sick (disgusted)
  • Sick with fear (terrified)
  • The cat’s been sick on the carpet (another mess to clean up)
  • I’m sick to death of waiting for you (worried, impatient)
  • Sick as a dog (desperately ill)
  • That is really sick (awful, inappropriate, unusual, impressive)
  • He fell sick (hope he didn't break anything in the process)
  • She took sick (stole another's illness)
  • You’ll make yourself sick if you eat any more (overeating pain)
  • That sick pervert is on the line again (inappropriate comments)
  • No more of your sick jokes! (unpleasant, cruel, strange)
 As I said, I’m recovering well from hip-joint replacement surgery. I am not sick!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bucket and Un-Bucket Lists


The concept of a bucket list became popular with the 2007 comedy/drama movie directed by Rob Reiner and starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The idea was to make a list of all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket. I’ve done a lot of things from my bucket list. Getting to visit the 7th continent, Antarctica, was one of them. While reclining in my hospital bed recently, I read a wonderful piece by Jim Mullen who wrote: “For every item you put on your Bucket List, you should put one on your Un-Bucket List -- the list of all the things you don’t want to do before you die.” I started laughing about that and am still chuckling. When my cousin Carmen came to stay with me for a couple of weeks post-op, we brainstormed some Un-Bucket List ideas we plan to avoid.  
  • Eat raw escargot on the beach
  • Bungee jump from the top of the Eiffel Tower
  • Become a snake-handler
  • Take a two-week vacation to Afghanistan
  • Ride Brahman bulls bareback
  • Parachute over Haleakala
  • Learn to wrestle an alligator
  • Become a Cardinal
  • Swimming with great white sharks
  • BASE jumping from El Capitan
 So what’s on your Un-Bucket List?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cholesterol Caveats

You likely already know that your body is designed to make all the cholesterol you need. Your blood levels of cholesterol can rise, however, based on your lifestyle. This includes your type, level, and frequency of exercise as well as what you eat. Dietary cholesterol is found in egg yolks, whole-milk dairy foods, poultry, fish, and animal meats. Your physician can evaluate your total cholesterol as well as your blood levels of Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and help you design a personal program, if you need to achieve a healthier ratio of HDL to LDL. For some, this may include medication to help lower LDL or increase HDL. Other strategies may include maintaining an optimum weight, exercising for 30-60 minutes a day, leaning toward Mediterranean cuisine, using low-fat dairy products, and selecting a wide variety of foods that are naturally low in saturated fat and cholesterol such as vegetables, fruits, and whole-grains. Think of a high-level-wellness lifestyle as “getting more bang for your buck.” This is because generally what’s good for your brain is also good for your heart and immune system.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Oil, Water, and Your Brain

No doubt you've heard a natural law stated as, "Oil and water do not mix." In the body, blood is watery while cholesterol is oily. And the two don't mix, either. Cholesterol travels through the blood in little packages known as lipoproteins. Two types of lipoproteins are Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and High Density Lipoprotein (HDL). LDL tends to lead toward the buildup of cholesterol in your arteries, which increases your risk of heart disease. No surprise, it can increase your risk for brain problems such as strokes, too. For that reason LDL is sometimes called the bad type of cholesterol. HDL, on the other hand is often referred to as the good type. It helps carry cholesterol to your liver, which removes it from your body. The higher your blood level of HDL, the lower your risk of developing heart disease. Interestingly enough, what is good for your heart is good for your brain and immune system, as well. There are strategies to help you achieve a healthier ratio of HDL to LDL. That’s for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cholesterol and Your Brain

When you throw out the word cholesterol in a social setting, most people have heard of it but aren’t sure what it really is or may think it’s all “bad.” Cholesterol is the label for a fat-like, waxy substance found in cells of the body and you need some of it. Your body uses cholesterol to make substances that help you digest your food. It is involved in making a variety of hormones. It even impacts Vitamin D in your body. Having cholesterol levels that are too high, however, are associated with an increased risk for heart disease. But think brain health, too. Heart disease can impact brain function because it’s the heart that keeps blood flowing through the arteries of the brain, bringing glucose for fuel, oxygen, and micronutrients so you can “think.” The blood also carries waste products away from the brain. Your total cholesterol is a combination of two types. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sleepy Foods #4

Did you know that L-theanine, an amino acid that is contained naturally in green tea, not only helps maintain a calm alertness during the day but also appears to promotes a deeper sleep at night? The down side is that green tea doesn't contain a high enough concentration of L-theanine to provide these effects. Suntheanine, which is pure L-theanine, and delta-E (available from IMPaXworld.com) may be better choices. And then there is melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep. No surprise, it can help to induce sleep. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that lower doses of melatonin are more effective than higher doses. Some recommend taking 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams three-to four hours before going to bed. It’s different strokes for different strokes. Experiment until you discover what works best for your brain.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Imaginary Brain Playmate

Researchers at the University of Oregon and the University of Washington have been studying imaginary playmates. An article in the journal Developmental Psychology reported that what people once thought was a rare phenomenon of early childhood development is not rare, and neither is it a red flag. In fact, children’s pretend play can persist well into school years and may morph into a different form. The power of imagination is a mental faculty built into the brain (likely in the right frontal lobe). If you have honed your imagination, those skills can help you plan, envision, create, innovate, invent, set and achieve goals, and so on. Without these skills, I believe a brain can actually be handicapped in thinking ahead, figuring out what something may be like, and what may be needed in the situation. My brain created an imaginary First Nation playmate, although I learned quickly to keep quiet about it. Growing up in Canada, Little John Deerfoot (and I have no idea where that name came from!) was the recipient of a great deal of my childhood chatter about life. Today, when I pull up his image in my mind’s eye, he is as clear as if he were here in person, with his jet-black hair, beaded headband, single feather stuck in the back, and buff deer-skin clothing with fringe. Lots of fringe! Did you have an imaginary playmate?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stress and Your Brain

Does your brain harbor unrealistic expectations that, in turn can cause negative stress known as distress? Or are you experiencing misstress, the result of expectations that you have not brought to conscious awareness so you miss the actual impact to your life and health? The brain is the first body organ to register a stressor. Within the brain itself, the hippocampus, often referred to as the brain’s “search engine,” may be the portion most sensitive to stress. High levels of adrenalin and cortisol due to chronic stress can actually end up killing brain cells, often beginning with cells in the hippocampus. Effective stress management techniques can be, therefore, critically important to maintaining good brain function. Remember that multiple stressors may require multiple stress management strategies. Here are three to consider:

1. Whenever possible, avoid negative stressors or limit the length of exposure time (e.g., do you really need to attend that function and if so what is the minimum amount of time you can devote to it)?

2. When in a stressful situation, decide whether there is some action you need to take at the moment. Maybe not, but perhaps you can use the knowledge gained to take a different action in the future.

3. If a specific task is very stressful for your brain and you decide you must do it eventually, try to get it over with sooner than later. Procrastination can add even more stress to the task itself.

Hercule Poirot, the fictional Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie, might put it this way: “Use your little gray cells to take care of your little gray cells.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Intuition and the Child's Brain

Someone asked the other day if it was possible to hone one's sense of intuition and if this could be taught to children? My brain's opinon is "yes," at least to some degree in both instances. As you pay attention to a "sense of something" (rather than ignoring it, trying to explain it away, or misidentifying the message), you can become more adept at picking up the information your brain and body is trying to convey through intuition. Intuitive flashes are always in response to something your brain or body has become aware of and it always has your best interest at heart. You can tell children: if you sense something is wrong, pay attention, try to identify the danger, and take action to protect yourself and to get away from whatever you sense is wrong. In The Gift of Fear, author de Becker wrote that everything intuition communicates to you is meaningful. It is all about learning. Fear is the intuitive signal of greatest urgency and de  Becker says you should always pay attention. Other levels of intuition in descending order include apprehension, suspicion, hesitation, gut feelings, hunches, curiosity, nagging feelings, persistent thoughts, physical sensations, wonder, anxiety, and yes, even humor. "By thinking about these signals with an open mind when they occur, you will learn how you communicate with yourself." If it turns out there is no real danger, you haven't lost anything and if there is, paying attention to your intuition and taking appropriate action might save your life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

M-F Brains and Stressors

The female brain appears to be twice as vulnerable as the male brain to many stress-related disorders, including depression and PTSD. Studies have revealed a discovery in rat brains that may help to explain this male-female difference. Researchers, including Rita Valentino PhD, a NIMH grantee, used antibodies and an electron microscope to see how receptors for Corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), which acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter, responded in the brains of male versus female rats. The brains were studied unstressed and after exposure to a stressful swim. In the male brain under stress, many of the hormone's receptors retreated inside the cell, making the brain less stress reactive. In the female brain, the hormone’s receptors remained on the surface of the cell, resulting in a lower threshold for stress-induced activation of the brain’s alarm system. According to Valentino, this study is the first to uncover sex differences at the level of receptor signaling.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stress Responses and Gender Differences

Males and females tend to deal with stressful situations differently. When confronted with acute stress, both males and females may initiate a fight-flight response initially. Males are more likely to respond to an emergency situation with aggression (fight), while females are more likely to flee (flight), turn to others for help, or attempt to defuse the situation, and then move rather quickly into a tend-befriend pattern. Results of studies by Shelley E. Taylor, et al have shown that tending involves nurturing activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending involves the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process. Males are more likely to use physical aggression in struggles for power within a hierarchy or to defend territory against external enemies. Females reliably show less physical aggression than males but they display as much or more indirect aggression in the form of gossip, rumor-spreading, and enlisting the cooperation of a third party in undermining an acquaintance.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Laugh and Last

Studies have shown that the person who laughs, lasts. In other words, a good sense of humor and using that to trigger mirthful laughter can provide many therapeutic effects on the body. It’s one of the strategies to help retard the onset of symptoms of aging. Every normal brain is believed to be born with the ability to develop a sense of humor. Not everyone chooses to hone those skills, however. Some have developed a good sense of humor and yet fail to exhibit mirthful laughter, saying things instead such as, “That was funny,” or ‘That was hysterical.” Those comments, however, are not particularly helpful to brain and body unless accompanied by mirthful laughter. Different people find different things funny. Identify what your brain finds funny and then expand the list. The more things your brain finds funny, the more opportunities for you to choose mirthful laughter.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools' Day

When, where, and how did April Fools' Day begin? Apparently, no one is absolutely certain. It might have happened when the Gregorian Calendar took effect in 1582, changing New Year's Day from April 1 to January 1. The term itself may have originated in France in 1582 or 1584. Some people insisted on celebrating the “old” New Year and they came to be known as April fools. It became a common phenomenon to play tricks and jokes on them. The general concept of having a day when people play jokes and tricks on others is, however, an ancient one. The ancient Romans had such a day, the Hilaria festival of March 25. And the Holi festival was celebrated in India on March 31. The medieval monasteries even had a celebration when the bishop was replaced for one day by a common monk, who could order his superiors to do the most ridiculous tasks. The custom of playing April Fools' jokes was likely brought to America by the British. As grade-school students in Canada, I remember we liked it when April Fools’ Day fell on a school day. It was great fun to tell the other kids some piece of “believable news” and then laugh and say “April Fools!” Today, my right hip is getting replaced and that is NOT an April Fools’ joke. Thank you for your good wishes!