Category Archives: The Neuroscience of Stress

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.

Generation Stress

from Don Joseph Goewey’s article in the Huffington Post

Millennials, who came of age after 1999, and Generation X, born between the early 1960’s and early 1980’s, are now being dubbed Generation Stress. That’s because the American Psychological Association’s research on stress has found Millennials to be the most stressed demographic in America, with Generation X coming in a close second.

Wired-For-STRESS-2 copyBoth generations report nearly twice the level of stress that’s considered safe from serious health risk. They’re having problems with anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression, and it’s affecting their children. Research has found that today’s kids are stressed, now more than ever, and it’s because of how stressed their parents have become. Yet 83 percent of us are doing little or nothing about it.

BUT DON’T STRESS. If stress is a problem in your life, it because genetics and past traumas wired you for it. You can rewire those faulty circuits with simple, proven approaches. Your experience of life can change dramatically without circumstances necessarily changing. Experiencing a higher quality of life is simpler than you might imagine and change can happen fast, as happier, healthier, and more successful outcomes build one on the other to achieve the Good Life.

Below is a starter kit to get you moving in the right direction. These 3 stress busting tools are part of the more extensive program in my new book, The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.

Look Inside

The tools are all quite simple. This is because simple approaches are what work best in resolving stress. The tools in my book are also neuroplastic, meaning they rewire the brain to change a stress-provoking auto-pilot  that causes you to fixate on a problem … to a calmer auto-pilot accessing the clarity of higher order brain networks to create solutions.

The first step is a simple practice that goes a long way to frame a great day, instead allowing a stressful beginning to take over. It’s called Starting the Day in Quiet. This tool is an antidote to the frenetic, over-caffeinated early morning rush out the door that heads straight into a traffic jam. This tool encourages you to set aside a few minutes first thing in the morning to consciously frame a dynamically positive, peaceful, and creative mindset to meet the day’s challenges. Doing this can make a big difference in how the day goes.  Here’s how it works.

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  • Start your day by rising 10 minutes earlier, ahead of the morning rush.
  • Sit quietly in a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Close your eyes, tilt your head toward your heart, and follow your breathing. The idea is to feel each breath opening your heart and mind wider, empowering heart and mind to work in concert.
  • Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life. It’s not guaranteed. Feel gratitude for another day with the people you love. Gratitude is a powerful psychological state. It is the gateway to positive emotions.
  • Set your intention to have a great day, filled with achievements. Equally, commit to a great state of mind to face the day’s ups and down with a dynamically positive, peaceful, and creative attitude.

The next step is to practice using a tool during the day that busts stressful, anxious, angry, or depressing thoughts and emotions that ruin your attitude. The brain offers you 90 seconds to bust these reaction before dumping a load of toxic stress hormones in your system that can overwhelm you with anxiety. This tool is called the Clear Button. It gets you through the 90-second window in time. Here’s how it works. You imagine a button at the center of your palm.

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You press the button and keep pressing it as you count to 3, thinking of each number as a color.

  • Breathe in, count 1, and on the exhale think red.
  • Breathe in, count 2, and on the exhale think blue.
  • Breathe in, count 3, and on the exhale think green.
  • On the next breath, let your mind go completely blank for 10 seconds.
  • Next, refocus on the problem at hand, recommitting yourself to being calm, creative, and optimistic as you face this and other stressors that arise during the day.
  • If the problem you face seems beyond your control, recite the Serenity Prayer: Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

The calm this tool facilitates can shift control from the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, where all you see are problems, to higher order brain function in the prefrontal cortex where you are able to create solutions.

The third step in this “starter kit” provides a way to close out the day. It’s called Finish
Each Day and Be Done With It.

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This helps you let go of the day’s problems, so you don’t take them home.  Moreover, it allows you to let the day go so you can begin tomorrow serenely, with too high a spirit and purpose to be encumbered by the past. This piece of wisdom comes from a letter written by the great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to his daughter who was stressed over a mistake she’d made. This is what it says:

Finish each day and be done with it.

You have done what you could. Some blunders, losses, and the old nonsense no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day.  It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.

I invite you to cut-and-paste the statement and post it where you’ll see it at the close of your work day.

The more you learn to apply tools that bust stress reactions, the more your brain will strengthen synapses that quiet stress and anxiety the moment it raises its ugly hand. Before you know it, you’re functioning at the top of your game, and at the end of the day you’re the person coming through the door that your loved ones were hoping to see.

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85% of What We Worry About Never Happens

Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said: My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.  Now there’s a study that proves it.   This study looked into how many of our imagined calamities never materialize. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen.

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Lo and behold, it turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.

Montaigne’s quote has made people laugh for five centuries, but worry is no joke. A worried mind means a chronically stressed brain, and chronic stress generates serious problems.  The stress hormones stress and worry dump into your system shrinks brain masslowers your IQ, makes you prone to heart disease, cancer and premature aging, predicts martial problems, family dysfunction, and depression, and makes seniors more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s.

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If we could get a handle on the worry and stress that habitually, incessantly, and often unconsciously seizes hold of our mind, we would greatly increase the odds of living a longer, happier, healthier, and more successful life. It’s a matter of reprogramming our brain.  We human beings are called the Crown of Creation because of our brain and Nobel Prize laureate Eric Kandle tells us that we direct our brain with “the most complex set of processes in the universe, the mind.”

Until recently, we haven’t had the owner’s manual for our brain that could identify the mental processes that switch our brain to full power … but we have it now. In the last 15 years new research has identified the mindset or mental attitude that literally changes your brain to change your life. In addition, this shift in attitude stimulates the growth of new connections that expand high order brain function to enable you to reach even greater heights.

The process of reprogramming your brain is called neuroplasticity. It takes a decision and a specific practice, but it’s simpler than you might imagine and results can happen quickly, in as little as four weeks. You can learn more about neuroplasticityin my book The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.  The book presents 20 proven tools and processes that are organized into a step by step practice that build the attitude that programs your brain for a better experience of life leading to far better results.Look Inside

“… the missing owner’s manual for your mind.
PsychCentral.com

Developing Breakthrough Innovators

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Long-term success in the global economy depends on innovation that is both original and practical.  Few would argue with that statement. In fact, a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the most crucial factor for future success. Success is not only about developing breakthrough innovators. It also hinges on cultivating creative, out-of-the-box thinkers in sales, manufacturing, and leadership to prevent the company from devolving into bureaucratic mediocrity.

Yet most companies smother the creative spark, says the Harvard Business Review, because their understanding of how innovation works is rooted in false beliefs.

Science has dispelled these false beliefs, but companies have not yet caught up with the neuroscience on how the brain generates creative intelligence (CQ). As a result, most companies are failing to facilitate the creative environment that taps and expands CQ.

Innovation is all about the brain.  It’s all about meeting the neurological conditions that (a) stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain to generate creative insight, (b) captures the insight quickly, and (c) transfers it to the brain’s left hemisphere where it can be forged into something revolutionary.

The False Beliefs about Innovation

The great American psychologist, William James, described the creative process as “a seething caldron of ideas,” and now, for the first time, science is beginning to see into the cauldron itself. We are beginning to see how creative insight is actually generated inside our brain. And what’s been made clear is that our old ideas about the creative process are all wrong.

False Belief #1: We used to believe that people were most creative when stressed, anxious, and pressured, but a number of studies strongly suggests that stress undermines the creative cognitive processing that contributes to creative output in organizations (Forbes, 2012, Amabile, Mueller, 2002).  Studies have found that creativity is positively associated with inner peace, joy, empathy, and optimism, and negatively associated with stress and fear (Subramaniam, Kounios, 2009). A positive mood broadens your scope and allows you to look at a problem in new ways and come up with better solutions (Fredrickson, Branigan, 2005).

False Belief #2: There is the belief that creativity takes an intense, sustained focus, and yet research has demonstrated that intense focus is not the best approach when you need a creative solution (White, Shah, 2006). People with ADHD actually score higher on creativity tests and win more awards in art and science contests.

PICASSO DRAWING WITH LIGHTCreativity emerges initially in a spontaneous, free-flowing, and non-linear manner. The essence of creativity is as playful as a child.  Picasso said “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” The way we remain an artist, according to Dr. Paul Torrance, the scientist who designed the gold standard for measuring creative talent, is to provide ample room for exploring, questioning, experimenting, manipulating, re-arranging, and stepping back to allow creative ideas to incubate.

False Belief #3: We have also tended to believe that innovation means we have to put our noses to grindstone, but the experience of 3M Corporation and Google have proven that the polar opposite is true, which research has corroborated.

For decades employees at 3M have been encouraged to use up to 15 percent of their regular work hours to pursue ideas of their own making, even if these ideas are outside 3M’s strategic pursuits. It’s called the 15-Percent Rule, and it’s credited with many of 3M’s stellar innovations, including the Post-It.

Google upped the 15-Percent-Rule to 20 percent, and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stated that Google’s 20% rule was instrumental to the company’s ability to innovate, leading to many of its most significant advances, including AdSense, which now accounts for a quarter of the company’s annual revenue.

the anterior superior temporal gyrus Ah-Hah copyFalse Belief #4: Perhaps the most limiting belief about creativity is the notion that
people are either genetically gifted with creative talent or not. The capacity for creativity is built into the very structure of everyone’s brain (Beeman, Bowden, 2004). It’s merely that people who become highly innovative as adults had teachers, mentors, and parents who helped them cultivate creative intelligence as children (Runco, Millar, 2010).  But if we missed the leg-up as a kid, we can get it as an adult.  Creativity is teachable. Research shows that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better (Jung, Haier, 2008).

How Do Companies Develop Breakthrough Innovators?

The research on creativity indicates that raising creative intelligence begins with raising people’s emotional intelligence, and in particular their level of happiness and inner peace. In large part, this is because processes that increase positive emotional states stimulate the right hemisphere of the brain where creative insights are generated.

There are four proven approaches to facilitating the mental and emotional states that predict creative insight.  Each is quite simple, and they are easily learned and applied.

1. Decrease emotional negativity by teaching people how to alleviate stress, anxiety, and pessimism. This is achieved through a practice that (a) actively interrupts patterns of stress provoking thoughts and perceptions that stressed and anxious people habitually think (Robinson, Alloy, 2003), and (b) strengthens a dynamically peaceful mindset (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn,2003).

2. Elevate the capacity for positive emotional states through an active practice of gratitude, and by teaching people to visualize their “best possible self” (Sheldon, Lyubomirsky, 2006).

  • Gratitude is develop through a simple practice of counting blessing in a specific manner.
  • Invoking one’s “best possible self” is achieved (a) by identifying qualities we experience when we perform at the top of our game at work, and when are at our best in our personal life, (b) forming these qualities into a clear mental image of who we are capable of being, and (c) making our “best possible self” the primary goal we aspire to actualize every day.”

3. Integrate 20-minute breaks into the work-day, at least one mid-morning and another mid-afternoon. Breaks improve memory consolidation, which is essential to envisioning something novel or learning something new (Tambini, 2013), and breaks increase unconscious associative processing that facilitates creative problem solving (Baird, Smallword, 2012).

4. Encourage people to take a 90-minute walk periodically through a natural environment. A 90-minute walk in nature has been shown to reduce the mental rumination associated with anxiety and depression. (Bratman, Daily 2015).

The Bridge from Creative Insights to Innovative Solutions to Actions

Last but not least, implementing the most promising creative ideas that emerge from the new creative environment involves a methodical process, such as Treffinger’s Creative Problem-Solving method (CPS).  CPS helps teams move from creative insight to tangible innovation through a process that clarifies the creative problem, researches it, generates and processes ideas, turns good ideas into best solutions, and then creates a plan to bridge solutions to actions.

The Genome to Health, Wealth, and Love

Being Well and Doing Well on the Way to Flourishing

(Huffington Post)

There are people in the world who, outwardly, seem to be doing quite well, and yet inwardly are living an unhappy life encumbered by stress, www.canstockphoto19191645health problems, and family dysfunction. Conversely, there are people who are far from wealthy, yet they’re joyful, at peace, and buoyed by the love they give and receive.

Then there’s those I call the Lucky Few who are living the Good Life, which is a life of being well and doing well on the way to flourishing.  These folks have managed to secure the wealth, health, and love we all desire.

Was it good luck that bestows these blessings or something else that the rest of us have failed to see?

Well, science researched this very question and discovered three essential factors that combine to either thwart or support your efforts to achieve the Good Life. It turns out that the first two factors actually relate to luck, but the third factor is the one that makes the biggest impact. It can turn bad luck into good, propelling you into the Good Life, and it’s completely under your control.

1. The first factor that determines your quality of life is genetics. This relates to the Happiness Pie Three Factorstype of stress gene you inherit, and it accounts for 50% of why you are either flourishing, or stressed and struggling.

If you’re lucky and the stress gene you inherited is turned-down low, your brain is more likely to maximize the analytical, emotional, and social intelligence that enables you to move through life’s ups and downs in a creative manner, and progress forward toward achieving your goals.

Conversely, if the stress gene is turned up high (as it is with many Millennials and Gen Xers), you’re more likely to over-react to stressors, struggle with negative emotions, and effort against periodic drops in your IQ caused by stress hormones. This leads to making bad decisions, the likelihood of marital problems and financial distress, an inability to sustain peak performance, and susceptibility to a long list of stress-related health problems.

2. The second factor in determining whether you live a life of stress or a happy, rewarding life is your circumstances, meaning your financial situation, your job, the condition of your health, and the quality of your close relationships.  But research has found that circumstances only account for 10% of what raises or lowers your quality of life. The famous Brickman study of lottery winners and people paralyzed in traumatic accidents substantiated this. The study found that ultimately people who won the lottery were not happier because of their good fortune, and people who became paralyzed were not unhappier because of their misfortune.

In as little as three months, the elation of lottery winners disappeared as they grew accustomed to being wealthy. Equally, the initial shock and despair paraplegics felt eventually resolved as they adjusted to their injury. Similar research found that the blind, the retarded, and the malformed are no less happy than other people.

Yet most people still believe that a change in circumstances is what will put an end to a stressful, disappointing, and unhappy life, despite the research that shows it doesn’t make a big difference.

3. The change that makes the biggest difference is a change in our attitude. Happiness Pie  Change in AttitudeThis was shown in the study of paraplegics I cited above. Their misfortune challenged them to elevate their attitude, and as a result they began to experience more joy from life’s simple, every day pleasures. It turns out that attitude accounts for 40% of what either perpetuates a stressful existence or actualizes a higher quality of mind that empowers a higher quality of life.  How?

A positive shift in attitude turns down the volume on your stress gene,  elevating the brain function that maximizes IQ, increases the capacity to learn, stimulates the creative insight that solves problems, and resets the brain’s emotional set point to positive, inspiring the optimism that fuels your passion.

A positive shift in attitude can produce an exponential shift in all three factors, changing the odds in your favor. You’re now 90 percent in charge of your life. When the stress gene stops working against you, your brain starts working for you, applying your full measure of intelligence toward achieving the Good Life.

Science has provided a number of proven methods that strengthen our capacity to relate to life through a calmer, more creative, more optimistic attitude.  In my new book, The End of Stress, I’ve organized twenty of these approaches into a program that can open the way to a higher quality of life.  Or attend the 4-part live webinar that begins April 28th.one-star-roberto-weigand