Stress, the Brain, and the Neuroscience of Success

from my article in the Huffington Post

A new field of neuroscience has emerged in the last ten years that has mapped the mental zone that can literally change the brain to quiet an overly active stress response system and simultaneously pave the way for higher brain networks to perform at optimum. The more we function from this mental zone, the less we stress, and the more our brain lights up with the mix of intelligence that predicts a successful life.

When these higher networks wire and fire together, humming away at the brain speed of a hundred million computer instructions per second, we not only succeed, we excel at every level of life: from career to family, from physical and emotional well-being to fully actualizing our talent and ability. It’s a brain generating the fluid and creative intelligence to achieve goals, along with the emotional and social intelligence to instill joy in our work, peace in our life, and harmony in our relationships. It’s also a brain generating the homeostasis that promotes health and longevity. The key to all of these positive outcomes is building the mindset that transcends stress.

First, the Bad News You Need to Know

Stress hormones erode higher-brain networks, inhibiting you from succeeding fully at life.  Chronic stress means the stress response system is turned on nearly full time, releasing toxic hormones into your system.

Add together all the life threatening stress-related illnesses and you have the #1 killer of Americans. At work, stress dampens performance, thwarts teamwork, leads people to make bad decisions, and accounts for nearly half of turnover.[5] The greater the stress at home, the more spouses will argue, criticize, withhold affection, and judge the relationship negatively, not realizing that stress is the real problem.[6] Stress isn’t something we should someday do something about.

Yet 83 percent of Americans are doing nothing about it.[7]  And neither are organizations, and it’s cutting into their collective brain power. Think about it; when a company hires an employee, they are actually hiring that person’s brain and hoping it’s a smart brain that will grow even smarter.  Place that person in a high pressure work environment without the tools to transcend stress, and the likelihood is that he or she will lose brain capacity.

There are two brain scans from the Mayo Clinic that show the impact of stress on brain function. One scan shows a brain beleaguered by stress. The other shows a brain functioning at optimum, lit up and pulsing with activity. The scan of optimal brain function looks like the massive networks of light you see when flying on a dark night over a metropolis like New York, while the stressed brain looks like the dim lights you see scattered here and there as you fly over Nebraska’s farmland.  The difference between the two brain scans is a good representation of the brain power a company has lost and could retrieve if they could solve the problem of stress.

The Good News in All this Bad News

The good news is neuroscience has identified a solution to stress that goes far beyond conventional stress management.  This approach not only repairs the damage stress hormones cause, but also generates the neurological conditions that stimulate the growth of new connections within the higher brain that expand brain capacity, making people smarter, more innovative, and emotionally intelligent. The solution lies in the power of our mental state to rewire our brains. Change your mindset in specific ways and you can literally change brain structure to extinguish stress reactions and amplify higher brain function.  The technical term for this change is neuroplasticity. Here’s a list of the positive change neuroplasticity can produce:

  • The usual networks that generate the brain’s executive functions grow larger and PET_Normal_brain_US_dept_of-health_and_human_services-public domainbecome more fully integrated with other neural networks.  This means you increased your skillfulness at planning, decision making, error correction, and troubleshooting.  You build strong cognitive abilities and can think abstractly.
  • Gamma wave activity is far better organized and coordinated, signaling the higher mental activity and heightened awareness found in peak performers.
  • The right brain and the prefrontal cortex work together to elevate intuition and creative insight into practical innovation.
  • Activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the seat of positive emotion, swamps activity in the right prefrontal cortex, the seat of negative emotion. This condition enables you to achieve a high level of emotional intelligence.
  • There is greater activity in the center of the brain, especially the caudate and right insula, generating the social intelligence that sustains interpersonal resonance.
  • Your physiology functions at optimum, securing optimal health and energy.[8]

Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a change like that? Who in corporate leadership wouldn’t want a work force operating at that level of brain function?  If an individual or company is not actualizing the mindset that transcends stress to empower higher brain function, they are not maximizing their full extent of fluid, creative, emotional, and social intelligence. There is no excuse for not making this change.

Achieving the prescribed shift in mindset is easier than one might imagine, adding little to your to-do list. It’s essentially about practicing a to-be list. Even better is the fact that change in brain structure happens quickly, within four to eight weeks.  More and more, CEOs and HR executives are contracting with experts on neuroplasticity to heighten the brain power in their company. Mark my words, neuroplasticity will soon become the new competitive edge.

Notes

[1] Eduardo Dias-Ferreira,  João C. Sousa, Irene Melo, Pedro Morgado,Ana R. Mesquita, João J. Cerqueira,1 Rui M. Costa,2,4,* Nuno Sousa1,* Chronic Stress Causes Frontostriatal Reorganization and Affects Decision-Making, Science 31 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5940, pp. 621– 625

[2] S. T. Charles, J. R. Piazza, J. Mogle, M. J. Sliwinski, D. M. Almeida. The Wear and Tear of Daily Stressors on Mental Health. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612462222

[3] Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress Related Diseases, and Coping, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1998), 144-153.

[4] Ibid

[5] Wesley E. Sime, MPH, PhD, Stress Management: A Review of Principles, an online series of lectures on stress management, Lecture 1, University of Nebraska, Dept. of Health and Human Performance

[6] L. A. Neff and B. R. Karney, “Stress and reactivity to daily relationship experiences: How stress hinders adaptive processes in marriage,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 97 (2009): 435–50.

[7] American Psychological Association, “Stress in America, Missing the Health Care Connection,” February 7, 2013, pg. 5 [

8] Daniel Siegel, MD, The Mindful Brain (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2007), 41–44.

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7 Ways Stress Ruins Your Life & 5 Steps To Turn It Around

from my article in the Huffington Post

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We think our problems produce the stress we experience but it’s actually the reverse. Stress causes most of our troubles– from money, family, and work problems, to physical and mental health issues. Most of us realize that stress is harmful, but few understand it as causal … at least until they come across the following research findings:

  • Stress and money: When our mind is preoccupied with fears of financial scarcity, it activates stress reactions, releasing stress hormones that dampen the brain’s executive functions. This leads to a decline in fluid intelligence, which is the “smarts” the higher brain generates to solve money problems.[1]
  • Stress and bad decisions: The greater the stress the greater the likelihood you’ll make bad decisions at home and at work.  Knee-jerk reactions will cause you to make risky or premature decisions. You’ll drop long-range goals for immediate survival needs,[2] and every day you’ll wonder why you keep falling behind instead of getting ahead.
  • Stress and declining performance: Stress hormones shrink higher brain networks and break the connections between them. This inhibits you from maximizing your full measure of talent and sustaining peak performance.[3] You’ll have a good day now and then, but your brain won’t be able to generate your best day every day.
  • Stress and dampened creativity: Your capacity for creative insight and innovation is thwarted by stress.[4] Those sudden “aha” moments of insight, inspiration, and comprehension will be few and far between.
  • Stress and emotional negativity: Stress locks you into fight, flight, or freeze reactions. Your emotional set point switches to negative, predisposing you to anxiety, anger, aggression, paranoia, and depression.[5]
  • Stress and family: The greater the stress, the more reactive you’ll be to the normal ups and downs at home. You and your partner will argue, criticize, blame, and withhold affection, not realizing that stress is distorting how you see the relationship. Stress hormones also lower sex drive, adding to the estrangement.[6]
  • Stress and health: Chronic stress impairs the immune system. It wreaks havoc

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    on the cardiovascular system. It damages chromosomes prematurely aging your body and causing the production of cancer. It kills brain cells, and if left unchecked, will eventually kill you.[7] If you add up all the deaths from stress-related illnesses, you have our #1 killer.

Obviously, if you want a healthy, happy and successful life, ending stress belongs at the top of your to-do list.  Yet 83 percent of us are doing nothing about it.[8] Too often, the wake-up call comes on the gurney in the emergency room. Make no mistake, stress is life-threatening serious. “It is not something that maybe someday you should do something about,” says Carol Shively of Stanford. “You need to attend to it today.” [9] There is a solution If you have a problem with stress it’s because genetics and hard knocks have wired you for a hyperactive stress response system. There is a solution to stress that is based on the capacity of the human brain to: a) rewire primitive neural circuits that habituate stress reactions, and b) stimulate the growth of higher brain networks that enable you to succeed fully. The process of rewiring, called neuroplasticity, is surprisingly simple. It’s achieved through a specific shift in mindset. Norman Doige of Columbia University calls neuroplasticity “the single most important change in our understanding of the human brain in 400 years.”[10] Neuroplasticity works in real life situations, where stress abounds. It’s been studied in high pressure corporations and found to achieve impressive results in increasing morale and productivity in previously unproductive groups. [11] In an independent evaluation of a training my firm conducted at Wells Fargo, more than 300 managers making a similar shift experienced a significant improvement in their level of stress, job performance, creativity, and personal relationships … all in three weeks. [12]  Who doesn’t want those outcomes? It starts with making stress a priority.

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5 steps that start to turn it around If you’re one of the 83 per cent who are procrastinating, here are five simple neuroplastic steps that can get your mindset moving in the right direction 1: Bust Stressful-Provoking Thoughts: Be aware all day of stress-provoking thoughts as they occur. Tell yourself: These thoughts are in me, not in reality. Then refuse to believe the stressful thought and see what happens to your experience. An anxious thought not believed doesn’t turn into stress. 2: Stop Worrying (The Clear Button): Imagine there is a button at the center of your palm that, when pushed, signals the brain to stop worrying. Keep pressing the button while you slowly count to three, thinking of each number as a color. As you exhale on the final breath, let your mind go completely and relax into the present moment. Repeat the process until your worries are gone. 3: Start Each Day in Quiet: Set aside five-minutes first thing each morning to frame a positive mindset. Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life. Set your intention to have a rewarding day. Commit yourself to being at peace on the inside, regardless of what happens on the outside. 4: Take Regular Breaks: A 15-20minutebreak every two hours allows your brain to rebound. So, every two hours step away from your work and go outside or to a window.   Watch the clouds pass, the wind blow, or the sun shine, allowing your mind to grow quiet and to connect with life. 5: Count Your Blessings: Once a week, at bedtime, recall three things that happened during the previous week for which you are grateful.  Then acknowledge three things in your life for which you feel blessed. NOTES [1] Sendhil Mullainathan, Ph.D. and Eldar Shafir, Ph.D., Freeing Up Intelligence, Scientific American Mind, January/February 2014, p.58-61 [2] Wesley E. Sime, MPH, PhD, Stress Management: A Review of Principles, an online series of lectures on stress management, Lecture 1, University of Nebraska, Dept. of Health and Human Performance [3] Eduardo Dias-Ferreira et al., “Chronic Stress Causes Frontostriatal Reorganization and Affects Decision-Making,” Science 325, no. 5940 (31 July 2009): 621–25. [4] Amabile TM, Hadley CN, Kramer SJ , Creativity under the Gun, Harvard Business Review, 2002, 80(8):52-61, 147 [5] S. T. Charles, J. R. Piazza, J. Mogle, M. J. Sliwinski, D. M. Almeida. The Wear and Tear of Daily Stressors on Mental Health. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612462222 [6] L. A. Neff and B. R. Karney, “Stress and reactivity to daily relationship experiences: How stress hinders adaptive processes in marriage,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 97 (2009): 435–50. [7] Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress Related Diseases, and Coping, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1998), 144-153. [8]American Psychological Association, “Stress in America, Missing the Health Care Connection,” February 7, 2013, pg. 5 [9]Killer Stress, A National Geographic Special, PBS, 2008, produced by Stanford University and Nation Geographic  [10] Nancy Churnin, Brain has ability to adapt and change through life, March 22, 2010, The Dallas Morning News  [11] R. J. Davidson, J. Kabat-Zinn, et al., “Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation,” Psychosomatic Medicine 65 (2003): 564  [12] Don Joseph Goewey, The Solution to Stress that Not Only Works in the Lab; It Works in High Pressure Corporations, April 6, 2013, http://donjosephgoewey.com/the-stress-solution-works-high-pressure-places/

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Take Your Vacation. It Will Rebuild Your Brain.

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More than one in three of us are forfeiting our vacation time.  Instead of taking time to renew, most of us are working harder than ever, an average 49 hours a week. We are putting in 100-200 more hours per year than our parents.  We sleep less than our parents did; one to two hours less.  Those are averages; you might be working more and sleeping less than that.

Two million years of lost vacation time

We talk about vacations, plan them, dream about them and then fail to take one. As much as a half billion vacation days will go unused this year.  Surveys reveal that we don’t take vacations because we fear an adversary will get ahead of us, or that work will pile up while we’re gone.  If we do take a vacation, we take work with us.  A survey found that 92% of those away on vacation frequently check in with the office.  That’s really not a vacation.

The Reward for Taking Vacation Time

A proper vacation can repair and expand higher order brain function that a stressful year has debilitated and even damaged. The reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence, emotional balance, and physical energy that sustains you at the top of your game. When you return from vacation, neurologically you will be ahead of the person you worried would get ahead of you.

Here’s How to Take Your Vacation

Think of your vacation as an intensive care unit for your brain, where no one from the outside is allowed to enter your personal space who might stress you. That means that before you leave for your trip, put your email account on auto-responder.

When you arrive at your destination, put your Blackberry in a drawer. If you have to use it, be disciplined about letting non-urgent business calls go to voice mail.

Here’s a simple approach to making your vacation rejuvenate your brain.

(1)  Start your day in quiet in a place where you won’t be disturbed and follow the process below:

  • Close your eyes or take a downward gaze.
  • Tilt your head toward your heart. Follow your breathing. Imagine each breath softening your heart and opening it wider.
  • Take a few minutes to frame the day in a positive light.
  • Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life.
  • Feel appreciation for another day to be with the ones you love.
  • Set the intention to have a relaxing, happy day.
  • Make your goal to succeed at love, peace and joy.

(2) During the day,

  • Practice being present, right here, right now.
  • Practice letting go of worries and judgments.
  • Commit to tuning into your loved ones. Rediscover them all over again.
  • Hold the intention to listen better, judge less, and forgive more. In fact, practice judging nothing that happens while on vacation, from traffic jams to unpleasant people.

 

 

 

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The Power of Suggestion is Real (the scientific version of “The Secret”)

You get what you expect to get

Crossing your  fingers, rubbing a rabbit’s foot, knocking on wood, or wishing on a falling star all have one thing in common – the power of suggestion.  The magic you imagine in the bones and fur of the rabbit’s foot makes you feel lucky and hopeful, which invites into your mind the anticipation that canstockphoto3064755an outcome you desire could actually happen.

Expectation is the key.  Science has found that the genie emerges from the bottle when our expectation of success mobilizes vast cognitive and emotional resources and directs those resources toward fulfilling our desire.

In other words, we get what we expect to get. This phenomenon has been called the placebo effect, the power of suggestion, and more recently it’s been touted as The Secret. The evidence of real life outcomes is now so overwhelming that science is taking this phenomenon seriously. Researchers Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School and Maryanne Garry of Victoria University found that, “the effects of suggestion are wider and often more surprising than many people might otherwise think … [with] real life implications. They added:  If we can harness the power of suggestion, we can improve people’s lives.”[1]  

The landmark research of Ellen Langer of Harvard showed that the power of suggestion could roll back the biological clock by twenty years for men in their late seventies and early eighties.[2]  She also found it can increase eye sight by 40 percent[3] and allow you to lose weight at a rapid rate.[4]  A study conducted by the Scottish Institute of Sport found that a placebo can improve athletic performance the same as taking steroids.[5] The power of suggestion can improve cognitive function, reduce pain, and even change the outcome in as deadly a disease as Hodgkin lymphoma.  I had a client, who in his mid-20s was diagnosed with stage-2 Adult Hodgkin lymphoma.  The medical prognosis was considered highly unfavorable. Somehow, when his oncologist delivered the bad news he heard the opposite. He left the clinic thinking the doctor had told him that his chances were highly favorable. During the course of his treatment, his mindset was built on the anticipation that every step of his medical care was moving toward the highly favorable outcome of complete remission, which is exactly what happened. It wasn’t until his oncologist presented the case at grand rounds that he learned he’d misunderstood the facts, proving Karl Menninger’s maxim that attitude is more important than facts. He stated that, had he known the verdict that medical statistics predicted, he probably would’ve died. He was absolutely certain that the mindset his misunderstanding produced saved his life.

The proof is there. The power of suggestion can shape your reality. When the power of suggestion is infused with expectation, the odds go up that you’ll get what you’re hoping to get. It modifies the old proverb be careful what you ask for with be careful to ask for it with  impassioned belief.



[1] R. B. Michael, M. Garry and I. Kirsch, Suggestion, Cognition, and Behavior, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol.21(3), pp.151–156, 2012

[2]Ellen J. Langer, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, Random House (new York), 2009 p. 5-12

[3] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/media/releases/2010/langer.cfm

[4] Crum, Alia J., and Ellen J. Langer. Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science 18, 2007, no. 2:165-171.

[5] McClung, M.; Collins, D. Because I know it will!”: Placebo effects of an ergogenic aid on athletic performance, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology 2007 Vol. 29 No. 3 pp. 382-394

 

 

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Back To School ~ The best predictor of your child doing well

Every good parent wants to empower their child to excel in school.  You buy them school supplies, dress them up in the latest fashion and, if you can arrange it, enroll them in the best school in town. Certainly, these are important steps.  But none of these are the most important step.

The Most Important Step

The most important step a parent can take is helping their child build the higher order brain function that predicts success and well-being in school and in life. How does a parent accomplish this? It’s accomplished by modeling the attitude that transcends stress yourself (see Five Steps below).  Why is it the most important step?  It’s because stress kills intelligence.

Stress Kills Intelligence

Mitigating stress is essential to developing a healthy brain during childhood and key to achieving optimal brain function throughout life.  This is because stress reactions cause stress hormones to flood the brain and research has shown that stress hormones shrink higher order brain networks.[1]  These networks drive intellectual, emotional and social intelligence, making human beings smarter, happier, more constructive and more successful in life.   Conversely, the deficiencies toxic stress hormones produce result in cognitive and learning disabilities, anxiety disorders, depression and reactive behavior.  A brain chronically under stress is incapable of sustaining peak performance or even happiness.

So here’s the problem: the incidence of stress among children is high and it’s growing.  A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association and the YMCA found that nearly half of teens and more than a quarter of ‘tweens (age 8-12) are more worried and stressed than ever before, most to an extreme. Unfortunatey, many parents are not picking up on it. [2]  Only 2-5 percent of parents rated their child’s stress as extreme.

Why aren’t parents picking up on it? It’s probably because of their own high level of stress.  Nationally, 75 percent of adults report moderate to high levels of stress in the past month and nearly half said their stress had increased in the past year.  The majority of adults are now struggling with bouts of anger, overwhelm and fatigue.  They are arguing more with colleagues and lovers, and find themselves lying awake at night ruminating over problems. [4]   Sadly, the study found that most people are doing little or nothing to alleviate the level of stress in their lives.

The Best Predictor of Your Child’s Well-Being

Studies in attachment theory have established that the best predictor of a child’s well-being is a parent’s self-understanding and positive attitude toward life.  Both of these are key factors in enabling a person to transcend stress and anxiety.  A parent’s attitude shapes a child’s developing frame of mind, which in turn literally shapes a child’s brain. If a parent’s attitude is stressed and anxious, as it is with most Americans in these difficult times, it is likely the child’s attitude will be as well. Their developing brains will be dominated by the brain’s stress response system (fight, flight or freeze) and unhealthy amounts of stress hormones will course through their brains.

This can cause higher brain networks to shrink and more primitive networks to expand. Cognitive functions will dampen and the emotional set point will default to negative.  As a result, a child’s performance in school is likely to suffer and behavior problems can develop.  Additionally, they are more likely to get sick and for colds and flu to hit them harder. That’s because stress reactions dampen the immune system. Stress also inhibits the production of growth hormones, dampening a child’s physical development.

This is a picture we can change. It’s simpler than you might think. It involves a fundamental shift in attitude.

Attitude is Everything, Especially to the Brain

Attitude is extremely “neuroplastic,” meaning it shapes your brain.  A positive or negative attitude literally wires the brain for success or failure, health or disease, confidence or insecurity, happiness or anxiety. When it comes to the brain attitude is everything. A shift in attitude that changes your experience to the positive can literally change your brain to function at optimum.  A dynamically peaceful attitude produces the greatest neurological benefit.  Establish a more peaceful relationship with life and five important changes can occur:

  1. The flow of toxic stress hormones cease.
  2. Control of the brain shifts from the stress response system deep in primitive brain structure to the higher order networks of the prefrontal cortex.
  3. Neural networks throughout the system integrate and expand to generate intelligence.
  4. The emotional meter resets to positive.
  5. In the absence of stress hormones, immune and growth systems function at optimum.

So what does a parent’s attitude have to do with how well their children perform in school this year?  Children model everything, especially a parent’s attitude.  You shift your attitude from stress to peace and your children will follow suit.  Soon neural networks that make a person healthier, happier and smarter will expand in both of you, all because of a little inner work on your part.

Stress-Free Is What Kids Want Most

If you think that making this change in yourself won’t matter to your kids, think again.  It appears that kids understand the importance of a stress free attitude better than parents. It is what they want most for their parents, according to a national study of over a thousand children.[5] In the study, interviewers gave children one wish to make for a change in their parents. Their parents were then asked to guess what their child wished for. More than half of parents guessed it was for more quality time together. It was the wrong answer. Most of the children wished for their parents to be free of stress. The research found that kids are very good at reading signs of stress. They are good at detecting subtle cues about a parent’s mood, such as their down-turned expression or heavy footsteps.

If our parents were less tired and stressed, said one of the children interviewed, I think that the kids would be less tired and stressed.

I know when my mom has a bad day because when she picks me up from after school she doesn’t smile, one young girl told interviewers. She has a really frustrated look on her face.

Every good parent wants their children to be happy. Every good parent also wants to empower their child to excel. The most effective thing a parent can do in achieving both is to teach kids to transcend stress by making the shift themselves.

5 Steps to the Attitude that Rewires the Brain

There are five steps parents can take immediately now to shift their attitude in ways that, neurologically, can wire their child’s brain for success.  All five are so simple you might think they could not possibly produce a dramatic shift in your attitude, let alone your child’s brain function. They can and results are profound, accruing rapidly. Put it to the test for two weeks and see what changes in you and your child.

Here is what you need to practice:

1. Make Time For A Little Physical Activity

The National Institute on Aging found that moderate walking three times per week for a year increased brain connectivity and brain function. [6] Improvement was especially found in the prefrontal executive networks, which aids in the performance of complex tasks like planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity, and working memory.

  • Three times a week, take a 20-30 minute walk in a green environment to dissolve stress hormones and oxygenate the brain.
  • Leave your troubles at the trailhead and, as you walk along, imagine each step puts your worries and concerns further and further behind you.
  • Be at peace. Open your mind and heart and tune into the life teeming all around you.
  • Walking in a green area is especially beneficial. After taking a walk in the country, 71 per cent of subjects reported decreased levels of depression and said they felt less tense while 90 per cent reported increased self-esteem.[7]

 2. Bust Negative, Stressful Thinking

The mind makes up emergencies that the brain believes are real. The vast majority of these are false alarms but the brain’s fear center cannot tell the difference between a real and imagined threat. It’s what Mark Twain meant when he said: My life had been a series of terrible calamities some of which actually happened.

The brain can churn out troubling thoughts at a rapid rate. It’s not your fault.  It’s the way the brain is wired.  You can’t always stop thinking a negative thought, but you can stop believing it. If you don’t believe an anxious, stressful, pessimistic thought it has no power.  It’s just a thought that comes and goes.  When you don’t believe a negative thought, it doesn’t turn into stress, anxiety, or depression.

Practice the following for the next two weeks:

  • Be aware of negative, anxious, stress-provoking thoughts whenever they occur. Notice the way these thoughts morph into negative emotions that produce a perception of threat.
  • Don’t try to change these thoughts or feelings.  Simply observe them.  If you criticize, blame or condemn yourself for thinking and feeling negatively, simply observe this as another negative thought.
  • Tell yourself:These thoughts and feelings are in me, not in reality. Take a moment and see the truth in this.  Let it sink in.  Then refuse to believe the stressful thought.
  • Remind yourself that although negative thoughts and feelings are “in me,” they are not me. They come and go like clouds. But the essence of your being is like the blue sky these clouds travel through and sometimes cover.  Let your mind go completely and become the blue sky for a moment and be at peace.

The more you practice not believing negative thoughts, the more joy you will experience and the more you will see solutions instead of problems.

3. Stop Worrying (The Clear Button) 

Eight-five percent (85%) of what we worry about never happens.[8]  As you worry, you release stress hormones that can dull your brains and make you emotionally negative.  Worry serves no useful purpose.  You can bust worried thinking and spare your brain enormous wear and tear by utilizing the Clear Button:

  • Imagine there is a button at the center of your palm that is a biofeedback mechanism that, when pushed, sends a signal to the primitive brain to stop negative, fearful, worried, or pessimistic thinking.
  • Press the button and as you do become aware of your breath.
  • Count to three, as follows, thinking of each number as a color.
  1. Take a breath, count “1,” and think red.
  2. Take a second breath, count “2,” and think blue.
  3. Take a third breath, count “3,” and think green.
  • As you exhale, let your mind go completely.  Relax into the present moment. Be right here, right now.  Create the intention to be at peace as your relate to stressors and problems that arise during the day, confident in the clarity your calm now affords you.

Why the Clear Button Works

The part of the primitive brain that excites stress reactions is fully developed in a human being by age two. It possesses the intelligence of a two-year old.  This is why people resemble a two-year during heightened stress reaction.  Every parent knows that you can’t reason with a two year’s tantrum.  You can only distract them from it.   Pressing the button, counting to “3” and seeing the numbers as colors is a form of distraction that quiets your primitive brain.

5.    Inspire Yourself Regularly  

 ~Start Each Day in Quiet.

  • Close your eyes or take a downward gaze.
  • Tilt your head toward your heart.  Follow your breathing.
  • Feel each breath softening your heart and opening it wider.  After a minute or two, open your eyes.
  • Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life.
  • Set your intention to have great day, filled with achieving things,
  • Commit to being at peace today. Imagine yourself able to sustain a dynamically peaceful state of mind, extending a positive attitude, regardless of what might be happening around you.

   ~Take Spiritual Breaks

  • Believe it or not, breaks are an important element in peak performance. Researchers have found that blood flow to brain networks responsible for memory and learning increases during periods of wakeful rest, such as during a break.[9] Here is an effective way to take a break:
  • Every 90 minutes take a break from work.  Step outside or go to a window and see what Mother Earth is doing.
  • Look at the sky, notice the quality of light that’s present, watch the clouds pass, the wind blow, the rain fall, or whatever is happening. Allow your mind to grow quiet and connect with life for a moment.

   ~Count Your Blessings.

  • Once a week, at bedtime, recall three things that happened during the previous week for which you are grateful.
  • Then acknowledge three things in your life for which you feel blessed.

5.    Master The Small Stuff

You don’t have to be Gandhi to find peace. Peace is in the small stuff.

For example, a brain under stress wants to elbow its way to the head of every line or pass the car in front. It always feels late, pressured and victimized. You can actually rewire those brain reactions away. How?

  • Practice peace when you feel rushed. Every now and then, choose to stand in the longest line at a store. Use the time to slow your motor and quiet your mind until you are at peace.
  • Assert peace in a traffic jam. Listen to soft music or an uplifting interview. Tell yourself, my peace does not depend on my car moving faster.
  • When you feel conflict today, tell yourself, “I am not going to let this person or situation control how I feel.”
  • Quietly do good deeds and acts of kindness.
  • Practice receiving compliments graciously.
  • Look for the best in someone you know.
  • Devote today to seeing your strengths and positive qualities.
  • Practice forgiving trivial errors.

Use Peace to Facilitate Brain Power during Homework.

Given the mountain of research that has established the role of a peaceful attitude in building a powerful brain, it makes sense to build peace into homework time. Make a ritual that commences homework time by evoking a peaceful feeling in your child.

  • Gather the family together and use a bell, gong or singing bowl to chime in homework time.
  • Sit quietly for one minute. If the kids giggle, let them, and then motion them back to being peaceful. You can signal this by simply putting your hands together, prayer fashion.
  • Do it with a smile, not disapproval.
  • At the end of the minute remind the children that there is nothing the brain cannot do when it’s peaceful. Tell them if they become agitated by an assignment during homework time to come and talk to you.

 Keep Practicing and Never Give Up on Peace

Peace is our most powerful human asset. No matter what is going on, never give up. Work for peace, in your heart and in the world.  Never give up on it.  Your brain will thank you and so will the brains of your children.

References

[1] Eduardo Dias-Ferreira,  João C. Sousa, Irene Melo, Pedro Morgado, Ana R. Mesquita, João J. Cerqueira,1 Rui M. Costa,2,4,* Nuno Sousa1,* Chronic Stress Causes Frontostriatal Reorganization and Affects Decision-Making, Science 31 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5940, pp. 621 – 625

[2] APA Stress Survey: Children are More Stressed Than Parents Realize by Public Affairs Staff, American Psychological Association,  2010

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Jeanna Bryner, “Kids to Parents: Leave the Stress at Work,” Associated Press (January 23, 2007).

[6] Erikson, K., Kramer, et al., Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108: 3017-22, January 31, 2011

[7] Mental Health Benefits from Nature: Green Exercise Reduces Depression and Aggression in Adults and Children http://mindbodyfitness.suite101.com/article.cfm/mental_health_benefits_from_nature#ixzz0vYX3K9dL

[8] Matthews, G., & Wells, A. (2000).  Attention, automaticity, and affective disorder.  Behavior modification, 24, 69-93

[9] Bernard Mazoyer, Olivier Houdé, et al, Regional cerebral blood flow increases during wakeful rest following cognitive training,  Brain Research Bulletin Volume 80, Issue 3, 28 September 2009, Pages 133-138

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