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Your Brain on Stress



Our brain has a unique response to stress.

First, it doesn't have to real. It can be imagined. Let me repeat that..."it can be IMAGINED."


This real or imagined stressor stimulates the hippocampus to increase the secretion of glutamate, and then creates a "survival memory." That means your brain will now associate this stressful time with a memory that can later be triggered if something similar happens in the future; PTSD anyone? It can lead to feelings of anxiety, and uncertainty.


It gets more bleak...it also sends signals to the brain making it more difficult for us to tap into the higher learning centers in our brains, making it more difficult for us to learn new material. If this keeps up for a prolonged period of time (chronic) it can lead to depression, learning disabilities and social isolation.


Yikes!


Playing Games


Most parents are not fans of their kids playing video games but recent research shows that playing games like Tetris, Candy Crush and others has been shown to reduce risk of PTSD after a significant stressor or head trauma.

Dr. Jane McGonigal has a good, short TED talk on it.


Exercise


Running is a great way to "break" this pathway. The research is not clear on the pathway but there are many studies showing how exercise improves mood, creativity, and decision making. An interesting article from Arizona State University discusses the studies that show how much exercise improves your brain health and actually helps growth of certain brain regions.


Meditation


Meditation has been shown in studies to support fortification of the brain especially areas of the hippocampus and those associated with higher learning and executive decision making. An interesting interview with Harvard Neuroscientist, Sara Lazar discusses her findings here.


You can start with just observing a SINGLE breath a day. Pay attention to your breath as you breath in and as you breath out. That's it.


Nutrition


The best brain foods are Omega 3 fats; fish, nuts, avocados, coconut oil and many others are brain boosters. At the same time, eating a traditional "Western" diet of high energy foods (high levels of simple carbs and saturated fats) actually disrupts the function of the hippocampus and can compromise the Blood Brain Barrier." (study link)


There's always a solution


No matter how stressful things get, there is always a solution. The secret is to make your wellbeing a priority. That priority can be one of the above or a combination. The important thing is that you make it easy, don't make your wellbeing strategy a source of stress. PIck something you enjoy. Make it ridiculously simple and short. Repeat. Every time you do it, it's a win. Every time you think about doing it, it's a win.

Set yourself up for success.


Stay safe. Be kind. Take care of each other.

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