Monthly Archives: September 2010

Pregnancy and The Brain

New research has wonderful news for pregnant women but unfortunately it also has news that is no so good. The wonderful news is that pregnancy increases brain power in expectant moms. The not-so-good news is that stress can take mother and child in the opposite direction.  Stress hormones can cross over into the fetus and affect the brain of the child.  Additionally, stress hormones can shrink the mother’s neural networks that generate the higher order brain function that make her smart.  Happily, there is something that can be done about it to insure that all goes well for mother and child.

The Good News

It was once thought that pregnancy caused a woman to lose brain power.  Not so.  A new research study involving more than 2,500 women over ten years has found that brainpower not only doesn’t decline during pregnancy; it appears to actually increase, producing a permanent improvement in brain function. The study found significant increases in mental acuity and memory in women during pregnancy and after childbirth. Even husbands show increased mental performance and empathy, although not to the same degree (Kinsley and Lambert, 2009).

Pregnant women have long been the butt of a demeaning stereotype. It paints a picture of a hormonal mess of a woman, charmingly stupid and erratic, turning every day into an episode of  I Love Lucy.  “Placenta brain” is the common term used to describe this stereotype; some in medical science call it “maternal amnesia.” It’s another in that long list of stereotypes that doesn’t hold up to examination. When researchers challenged the stereotype they found evidence of cultural prejudice toward a pregnant woman. Sara Corse at the University of Pennsylvania had MBA students interact with a manager they were told was pregnant. In reality, she was really a research assistant pretending to be pregnant.

The students who related to the ‘manager’ as pregnant gave her more negative ratings than the control group that had no notion of her being pregnant. The deceived students viewed the “pregnant manager” as passive or erratic, not as a leader deserving respect.

The Not-So-Good News

Stress is bad news for mother and child during pregnancy.  When large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol reach the fetal brain, it can cause structural and functional changes that are not good. New research (Weinstock-Rosin, 2008; Monk, 2010) shows that the offspring of stressed mothers during pregnancy were later shown to have impaired learning and memory abilities, attention-deficit, less capacity to cope with adverse situations and symptoms of anxiety and depressive-like behavior, as compared to unstressed mothers.  There is evidence that stress during pregnancy may even be a factor in autism and schizophrenia.

Here’s What You Can Do About It

It turns out that, biologically, a peaceful attitude is the path to the best outcome. The more peaceful you are during pregnancy, the more your child’s brain will grow in the positive ways that assure the good life you envision for him or her.  As a number of studies have shown over the last decade (Davidson, 2001) a dynamically peaceful attitude is a prescription for an amazing brain – for mother as well as child.

Click here for the full article that also contains a set of tools that can help expectant moms and dads sustain the dynamically peaceful attitude that grows a healthy baby.

Transforming The Workplace We All Hate

It’s All About The Brain

The annual Gallup Lifestyle study reports that 75% of us are stressed, 38% to an extreme degree, and 75% of us say stress got worse this last year. Stress costs us and our organization at every level that matters. Research has established beyond any doubt that a brain chronically under stress is incapable of sustaining peak performance.

  • Stress hormones cause higher order brain networks to shrink, retarding the creative, analytic and practical intelligence that enables you not only to succeed but excel.
  • A stressed brain is incapable of generating the emotional intelligence that keeps you passionate about your work, joyful about life, and cool, calm and collected in a crisis.
  • Stress hormones also block neural networks driving the social intelligence that makes you influential, authentic and trustworthy.

Stress also makes you sick. There are a million Americans absent from work everyday due to stress and even more missing due to presenteeism. Add all the stress related illness together — from heart diseases to immunodeficiency — and you have the #1 cause of death in America. The long list of stress-related diseases is driving-up the cost of health benefits.

Stress also accounts for nearly half of turnover and is rated as the #1 problem for 90% of senior executives. The price tag is somewhere around a trillion dollars. It’s a mess and few companies know what to do to solve it. Most would tell you there is no solution. There is as solution and comes straight from breakthroughs in brain research over the last ten years.

The neurological opposite of stress is peace. It may surprise you to learn that peace is a highly dynamic neurological state. It is a core condition that expands the physical brain structure to increase analytic, practical and creative intelligence. It is also the core condition that promotes a mindset for emotional and social intelligence, optimal health and psychological resilience.

Breakthroughs in neuroscience make it clear that the prescription for peak performance is to shift our attitude — from stress to peace. This shift in attitude involves a simple set of processes anyone can learn. These simple processes literally rewire the brain to produce a highly creative, emotionally balanced, and increasingly healthy employee.  A dynamic state of peace represents a shift in perception that allows us to relate to demands without fear. A simple but consistent practice that shifts anxious, stress-provoking attitudes at the point of inception generates significant changes in brain structure and in a relatively short period of time, in as little as six weeks time.

  • Higher gamma wave activity, indicating the brain is linking and processing information from all of its parts faster and in a more organized manner. Gamma waves are associated with high levels of intelligence, higher cognitiveprocesses, and peak performance.
  • Higher levels of activity in the left prefrontal cortex, indicating that a positive perspective has become the emotional default, producing a calm, clear, optimistic, and emotionally resilient way of being.
  • Greater activity in the center of the brain (caudate and right insula,) indicating a higher level of interpersonal resonance and social intelligence.

This change is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that a change of attitude which changes our experience, physically changes our brain. As you shift our attitude from fear to peace, your brain rewire. This resolves chronic stress by quieting the primitive neuro-circuits of fear and amplifying higher brain function.

In this new environment, companies generate a neuro-competitive advantage. The emotional climate shifts from negative to positive, from survival mode to the joy of excelling. Challenges stretch people in positive ways, instead of taxing them. Work becomes an intrinsically rewarding experience that energizes people instead of rendering them drained and dissatisfied.

The ROI for making this shift is enormous, solving chronic problems that are costly, such as turnover, absenteeism, presenteeism, worker comp, and health care costs.

Stress, Success and Your Attitude

The preeminent stress researcher, Richard Lazarus of the University of California-Berkeley, divides “stress” into two parts: a stressor and stress. He defines a stressor as any kind of demand that life imposes. It can be another task that gets added to your to-do list, or a traffic jam or a difficult boss. Stressors are relative: The same stressor that ruins my day may not bother you at all, and vice-versa.

Lazarus defines stress as the appraisal that this demand is something that must be addressed, together with the perception that the demand overwhelms your resources.

Most people relate to the term “resources” as something external. It’s things like time, money, equipment or the support of other people. Add weather, war and the economy to this list and you have the elements of what can be defined as The World.  The World is everything in life you don’t completely control. Meaning there is always some problem with money, time, computers, the economy and especially people that mess with your perfect plan.
Evolution or the Universe or whatever you might call it gave you one resource over which you have absolute control in this world: your attitude. As it turns out, it was an enormous gift. The power of attitude can move the world in the direction you want to go.  Attitude is everything.  It is the essence of your spiritual nature and the sole means by which you control your destiny. Napolean Hill, the father of motivational psychology who mapped out the law of attraction more than 80 years ago, said if you “fail to direct your attitude you can be sure you will influence little else in this world.” The great psychiatrist Karl Menninger, who founded the Menninger Institute, said “attitude is more important than facts.” Viktor Frankl asserted that it is the only thing that could make an inner triumph of something as horrible as Auschwitz. Neuroscience now defines attitude as “neuroplastic,” which means it can rewire your brain to lead with creative intelligence instead of fight, flight or freeze.
Fundamentally, stress represents you losing touch with your greatest resource: the power of attitude. The key to success in life is building the attitude that gives you the inner resources to deal with any kind of stressor, regardless of circumstances.

Neuroscience has discovered that the most powerful attitude we can mobilize is a dynamically peaceful attitude. It’s the attitude through which we face life’s challenges without fear. Some people think peace, especially in business or politics, means losing your edge or becoming complacent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Set aside a few moments to write down in one or two words phrases your experience when you are at the top of your game. Identify your internal experience when you’re in the flow, in the zone, running on all cylinders, making things happen.

The qualities that are present in you at such times are the same qualities attributed to peace. Peak performance is a mystical experience. I challenge you to spend the entire day choosing to be at peace, regardless of circumstances. See what happens to your mind, your brain function, your level of energy, to the way you relate to others and how you feel about yourself and what you achieved at the end of the day.