Stress is contagious and kids are catching it at the expense of their developing brains

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) study on stress found that nearly half of America’s kids are stressed.  This is bad news because it means unhealthy amounts of stress hormones are coursing through the developing brains of these children and that causes learning and behavior problems. The area of the brain most vulnerable to stress hormones is the prefrontal cortex. It generates intelligence, learning, and the top-down regulation for impulse control, which means that a child’s stressed brain will struggle with learning and be prone to acting out. Stress hormones also dampen the immune system causing more frequent and more intense colds and flu.

PARENTS TAKE NOTE

The same APA study found that 91 percent of kids say that what stresses them most is how stressed their parents have become, and that 69 percent of parents were oblivious to the impact their level of stress is having on the kids. This finding corroborates a previous study by the Families and Work Institute that found what kids want most is “stress-free parents.” In this study, interviewers asked children to make one wish for a change in their parents. Parents were then asked to guess what the children wished for, and most parents guessed it was for more quality time. It was the wrong answer. The majority of children wished for their parents to be free of stress. It turns out that kids are very good at detecting subtle cues about a parent’s stress, such as their down-turned expression, heavy footsteps, and fatigue.

SCHOOLS TAKE NOTE

Teaching school is a highly stressful occupation and now a study in Canada, the first of its kind, has found that a teacher’s stress is also impacting kids. In this study, researchers examined the connection between teacher burnout and students’ cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone and a biological indicator of stress. Researchers collected saliva samples from over 400 elementary school children and tested their cortisol levels. They found that in classrooms in which teachers experienced more stress or feelings of emotional exhaustion, students’ cortisol levels were elevated. Higher cortisol levels in elementary school children have been linked to learning difficulties as well as mental health problems.

THE KEY TAKE-AWAY

The same APA study I cited earlier found that 83 percent of Americans are doing little or nothing to lower their stress level. These new findings should help motivate us to take stress seriously.  Stress is not something we should someday do something about.  It needs our attention now, especially parents and teachers. A child’s ability to tap their full measure of brain power depends on it.

FREE STARTER KIT FOR BUSTING STRESS

But don’t stress. Take heart. The picture the research paints is something we can change. It’s simpler than you might imagine and results can accrue faster than you might think. It takes a commitment to understanding your pattern of stress that a painful past and genetics wired into your brain, and then learning the shift in mindset that rewires your brain to instill more joy in your work, more peace in your life, and more harmony in your relationships.

We can change our brain in ways that achieve a better day and turn each and every day into a better life. The studies that prove it are now piled high.  Click here for a free starter kit that begins the process of making you, your home, and the classroom happier and more peaceful.

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The End of Stress

See if you can remember a time that perhaps lasted only a minute, when nothing came to interrupt your peace of mind. Perhaps you were on a beach or walking in a groove of trees, and suddenly you felt safe, whole, and loving, and for that moment all was well and your future was not in doubt. If you can’t remember such a moment, imagine it. Experience how quiet and at ease your mind would become, how expansive you would feel, and how clear and present you would be.

Now picture what it would be like to have that moment extend until it became your day. This might give you a hint of what it would be like to be free of the fearful illusions that a brain chronically under stress generates. Without these illusions, there would be no fear, no stress, no doubt, and no need to attack or defend.

“Who you are,” states Eckhart Tolle, “is the very sense of being, or presence, that is there when you become conscious of the present moment. You and what we call the present moment are one.” In the quiet of the present moment, the false image of yourself fades. The image of a threatening world fades. The judgments you project onto people and events fade. Your fear of failure fades and what takes its place is the happiness you can experience right here, right now, when you are not afraid of anything. Merton-large-2 copy

Peace is powerfully positive and yet some people equate it with complacency. To the contrary, inner peace is the mental state that drives the emotional intelligence that predicts success at every level of life. The poet W.B. Yeats said, “We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” Growing up, the person who fit Yeats’ description in my life was my Irish godmother. She was wise with a face that was lit from within and a quality of presence that was kind and calming. Our home was full of the pandemonium that my siblings and I could make, but when Genevieve came to visit we all quieted down and behaved ourselves. We loved being in her presence. Her way of being had a way of inspiring us to want to do something good with our lives.

Thomas Merton wrote, “All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear.” Which is to say, what matters is the quality of your inner experience as you face the outer world. One way to bring a little more peace to a stressful day is to take an occasional time-out to give peace the chance to change your day. It’s simple and only takes a minute. Here’s how.

  • Stop what you’re doing and step away from the world for a moment.
  • Let go of what you were thinking or doing, and allow your mind and body to relax.
  • Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
  • No worries, no problems, no goals, no one to please, nothing to change or fix.
  • Take a slow, deep breath and as you do, let your mind and heart open wide and allow peace to emerge as your experience, all by itself.
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10 Brain Discoveries You Should Know

Listed below are 10 discoveries about your brain that hold out to you the possibility of turning a brain wired for stress into a brain wired for the Good Life, which is a life of being well and doing well on the way to flourishing. Actualizing this change is simpler than you might imagine and change can happen quickly.  It’s called positive neuroplasticity and its the key to the health, wealth and love we desire but has eluded us.

Positive emotions make you smarter. Positive emotions broaden thought, refine behavior, increase mental flexibility, and facilitate creative problem-solving. Attaining a positive emotion state takes practice.  Rx: Use the Start Your Day Positive Tool. It only requires five minutes of time each morning but it pays dividends for the investment. People who start the day mindfully experience more positive emotions during the day, exhibit more interest in their work, are more likely to feel connected and supportive toward others, and are more likely to sleep better that night.

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Reacting to stressors with negativity invites long-term mental health problems:  If chronic, negative emotional responses to daily stressors predict psychological distress and emotional disorder ten years later. Yikes! Rx: Most emotional negativity begins in negative thinking, which is largely fear-based.  Use the Thought Awareness Tool to bust your negative pattern.

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Happiness leads to success, not the other way around: Happy people are in general more successful across the board than less happy people, and their happiness is in large part a consequence of having cultivated a positive state of mind. Rx: Count your blessing periodically. A mountain of research has shown that gratitude promotes a happy attitude. Give attention to what’s right in your life. Practice noticing moments when you feel happy, or peaceful, or connected, or expansive in any way. When your heart opens, even for a second, mark the moment. Tell yourself this moment matters. Tell your brain, This is how I want to feel, so please wire me for it. Then enjoy the moment for as long as it last. Neurologically, marking the moment makes the experience a reward and the brain cues on rewards in forming habits.

Stress and depression can shrink the brain: Major depression or chronic stress can cause the loss of brain volume, a condition that contributes to both emotional and cognitive impairment. Rx: Stress is serious. It’s not something you should someday do something about. Alleviating the stress in your life and accentuating an attitude of peace needs to be at the top of your to-do. Read my book, The End of Stress, or find a stress coach, but don’t continue to ignore stress.

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Financial stress can temporarily lower IQ: People who are worried about having enough money to pay their bills can experience a temporary decrease in their IQ, reducing the brain bandwidth needed to solve a financial problem. It ends up producing a mental state called “scarcity.” Yet research shows that 85% of what we worry about never happens.  Rx: Use the Clear Button tool to quiet your worried, stressful thoughts so you can focus your mental energy on the solution instead being trapped in the problem.

Your brain needs a 20 minute break every two hours to sustain peak performance: The brain cycles every 90-120 minutes. During the first phase brainwaves oscillate at a fast rate, using sodium and potassium ions to generate electrical signals that enable you to perform at a peak level. But fast brain waves burn through the ions, which means your brain needs to refuel with new ions. That’s the second phase, which necessitates a 20-minute break. Rx: A walk under the trees is the best way to take a break, weather permitting. If the weather prohibits, walk around the office. Stop at windows and look out at what’s happening in the world around you.

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Zinc may relieve depression:Two corroborating studies found that depressed people tend to have about 14 percent less zinc in their blood than most people, and the deficiency was greater among those with more severe depression. In addition, people with the highest zinc intake reduced the odds of developing depression by 30 to 50%. Rx: It’s self-explanatory.

The more you think on a problem the more you block the creative insight that can solve it. Pushing the brain’s higher-level, cognitive centers into high gear to solve a problem impairs, rather than enhances, creativity.  The more you think about a problem, the more you mess it up. Rx: If a problem stumps you, take a quiet walk under the trees and let your mind relax, but keep a mental window open for a creative insight to come through.

Exercise may slow brain aging by 10 years for older people: Exercise in older people is associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occurs with aging. People who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise. Rx: Hike, walk in a park, or go to the gym at least three days a week. Walking around the neighborhood is a good way to get started if you haven’t been exercising.

Sitting for more than three hours a day can shorten your life by up to two years:We need to pull away from the computer, stand up, and move our bodies. Rx: The prescription is simple. At least every hour, stand up, stretch, do some movement, or take a walk to see if your brain offers a creative insight.

Study identifies State laws that ‘substantially reduce’ gun deaths: Gun-related deaths in the US could be reduced by more than 80 percent if three laws implemented in some states were extended nationally. Rx: If gun deaths worry you, check out this study.

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From Stressed to Inner Peace to Flourishing

from Don’s Huffington Post article

Neuroscience has become quite adept at mapping the brain and they can actually measure your level of inner peace. And here’s what they found. We are at our creative cognitive and emotional best when we are at peace. By simply accentuating qualities of a positive peaceful attitude you produce positive changes in your brain that enable you to flourish.

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As a result of all the above, you are more likely to succeed at life, with greater subjective well-being.  A mind at peace generates the brain power to achieve the Good Life, which is  a state of flourishing, achieving the health, wealth and love we all desire.

So what does it mean to be at peace?

Let me start by defining what it doesn’t mean. Peace doesn’t mean to be in a place where there is no noise or hard work or problems. There is a Buddhist parable about a farmer who goes to the Buddha in hopes that the saint can miraculously remove all of his problems.

“I cannot help you with that,” the Buddha said. “Everyone has problems. In fact, everyone has eighty-three problems. You may solve one now and then, but another is sure to take its place.”

“How is that supposed to help me?” the farmer retorted in frustration.

“Perhaps,” the Buddha said, “this understanding will help you with the 84th problem, which is the problem of not wanting any problems.”

Peace is not about taking away our problems; it’s about engaging problems and stressors fearlessly, with the calm, creativity, and optimism that generates the brain power to solve them.

Some people think that a peaceful attitude makes us complacent, but inner peace is a vibrant, dynamic state of mind. It fosters in us an open, curious vitality that is fully present and able to engage life exactly as it is.

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Inner peace is having a calm clear sense of our own power in any situation without the need to overpower others.

By definition, being at peace means we are unafraid, unhurried, kind, and resilient.

Inner peace is an end to worry.

It’s a disinterest in judging ourselves or others or events.

It’s an end to the need to change anyone.

It’s a compassionate understanding that is not codependent, and a willingness to forgive.

It’s a heartfelt connection with others and with life itself that engenders a sense of the sacred.

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Inner peace is a dynamic choice that leads to a dynamic way of being in the world that literally changes the brain to tap its full potential. But peace of mind doesn’t happen all by itself; not in our fast paced modern world. Peace develops out of that voluntary state of mindfulness called choice. The more mindful we are about choosing to be at peace, the more we experience it.  The more we experience it, the more we come to treasure it.  The more we treasure our peace of mind, the more expansive it becomes.

Peace takes practice and practice takes discipline, which is simply knowing what you want to experience, and then choosing it consistently.  The core choice is basic; it’s between fear and peace. It begins with mindfully asking ourselves, what do I want to experience as I face people and events each day.

Mindfulness asks: What do I want to experience?

Do I want to be stressed or calm and clear … Afraid of failing or creative … Critical or empathic … Think negative or positive … Worry or have faith … Remain stuck or let go … Angry or composed … Condemning or forgiving … Self-righteous or happy.

Byron Katie, author of Loving the Way It Is, says this about the way practice works. She says once a stressful, anxious perception is understood for what it is and met with the feeling of understanding, the next time it appears you may find it interesting. What used to be a nightmare is now just interesting. The next time after that you may find it funny and after that you may not even notice it.

The stressful fearful perception has left your mind making room for you to be peace, and your brain will reward you with the higher brain function that enables you to sustain your best self, achieving your best day, every day.

If peace has alluded you, here’s a tool that can help establish it in your daily life. It’s called the 30-Second Time Out for PeaceUse it for a couple of weeks and then add taking walks in nature two or three times a week, leaving all your troubles and problems behind you as you take the first step.  A walk in the park quiets the mind and gradually rewires your brain to raise your IQ and generate great mental health. The experience from taking both of these simple steps will prove to you the power of inner peace. How could that not motivate you to move forward to develop a mindfulness practice that deepens your peace of mind. In my book The End of Stress, I present a simple step by step process that helps you build such a practice.

 30-Second Time Out for Peace

  • Stop what you’re doing and step away from the world for a moment.
  • Let go of what you were thinking and allow yourself to relax a little.
  • Now allow yourself to relax a little more.
  • Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
  • No worries, no problems, no goals. Just let them all go for a moment.
  • Take a slow, deep breath – and as you do – let your mind and heart open wide.
  • Allow peace to begin to emerge as your experience, all by itself.  

You can do this short exercise just about anywhere: standing in line, walking to a meeting, or looking out a window. Try it a few times throughout today and see what happens to your day.

images: canstockphoto.com

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Thought Attacks That Cause Heart Attacks

from Don’s Huffington Post article

Five hundred years ago, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.”  This quote made people laugh back then and it still makes us laugh today because our species hasn’t made much progress in transcending the mind’s capacity to catastrophize. But the consequences a fearful mind bring-on aren’t so funny.  Worry and fear activates the brain’s stress response system, dumping toxic stress hormones into the system that debilitates higher brain function that makes us smart, happy, and loving.

Studies suggest that high levels of stress hormones from chronic stress reactions can increase the risk of heart disease. At its worse, fight or flight stress reactions can take over and generate the hostile, impatient, controlling competitiveness that leads to the extreme stress condition called Type-A.  Type-A behavior increases the likelihood of a fatal heart attack.

Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, one of the world’s top stress researcher, states: “We human beings … generate all sorts of stressful events purely in our heads. We can experience wildly strong emotions, provoking our bodies into an accompanying uproar, and it’s all linked to mere thought.”

The technical term for it is psychological fear. It’s fearful, worried, pessimistic thoughts and attitudes that, when believed, produce a perception of threat, when none actually exist. Research has found that 85 percent of what people worried about never happened, and of the 15 percent that did, 79 percent solved the problem better than they thought they would. That means when we imagine some “terrible misfortune”, 97 percent of the time there was nothing to get worked up about.

Psychological Fear

We can wire our brain for the calm, creativity, and optimism that predicts the health, success, and love that defines the “Good Life”. It takes a change in mindset that accentuates the positive.  Making this change is simpler than you might think and change can happen faster than you might imagine, within a few weeks if you practice.

Rx Build Positive Mindset copyBelow is a prescription for wiring your brain for the Good Life by building a positive mindset (←click this link to download it). Do one of these lessons every day for the next three weeks.  You can do any one of these more than once if you like, but be consistent.  It takes an everyday practice to change the brain.

Day / Prescription

 1.   Choose the longest line at a store and stand in it, letting go of your mind’s sense of hurry and choosing to be at peace.

2.   Look out the window for thirty seconds and let your mind go. Watch the wind blow or the sun shine or the rain fall.

3.   Do one special thing for yourself today.

4.   Drive home in the slow lane.

5.   Listen to calming music instead of the news on the drive home.

6.   Smile more today.

7.   Practice listening without interrupting.

8.   Buy a small gift for a friend or family member.

9.   Call a good friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

10.  Look for the best in someone you know.

11.  Devote today to seeing your strengths and positive qualities.

12.  Practice forgiving trivial errors, yours and others.

13.  Use a measuring stick other than business to measure your accomplishments, such as your talents, creative abilities, human qualities, or close relationships.

14.  Quietly do a good deed or an act of kindness.

15.  Practice receiving compliments graciously.

16.  Accept that life is unfinished business.

17.  Take five minutes today to recall times when you were happy.

18.  Commit to stop judging yourself for your lack of perfection.

19.  Reflect for five minutes how in your life perfection has tended to emerge from the imperfections.

20.  When you feel conflict today, tell yourself, “I am not going to let this person or situation control how I feel.”

21.  Today,  feel more and think less. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to what you feel without your thoughts turning into a story.

 

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