The Healthy BrainHow To Care For Your Brain & ReduceThe Impacts of Stress and Premature Aging Brenda McCreight Ph.D.
Disclaimer• I am not a neuroscientist and I do not have a medical degree – I am a Registered Clinical Social Worker license # 4399, a Registered Clinical Counsellor license # 235 and a member of the Canadian College of Professional Counsellors & Psychotherapists license # 1126.• I am presenting this information as a support to your mental and physical health.• My sources for this information are publically available and to my knowledge these sources are accurate.
Everyone knows about heart health – even ifyou don’t practice good heart health you readabout it, you see ads about it, you know whatyou should do take care of it. BUTDid you realize that many of the same thingsyou do to take care of your heart will also take care of your ANDTaking care of your brain can change, and evensave, your life!
• The human brain is the most intricate and complex thing, or system, yet discovered.• Until recently, it was thought that the brain stopped developing at a young age.• We know now that it continues to change and respond and re-wire throughout our lives – this process is known as NEUROPLASTICITY
• According to Medicine Net.com, neuroplasticity can be defined as: The brains ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.
The current knowledge is that the braindevelops and grows until the age of 25; and,after age 25, it continues to produce as many as10,000 new neurons every day - right up untilthe day we die.Researchers now believe that the brain changesin response to every single experience and everysingle stimuli that occursLearning something new and learningsomething different are just some of the thingsthat trigger neuroplasticity.
Brain Structure• Why should you know about how your brain is structured? Because you are smart and you understand that the more you know, the better you will manage & support the health of this magnificent system.
• We won’t examine all parts of the brain in this course. We’ll just provide an overview of the parts of the brain that you likely already know something about and are the easiest to support and take care of.
Brain Biology (simplified)• The rumply looking outside layer includes the cortex and the subcortex as well as the different lobes – including the very important frontal lobe. The cortex handles language, thought, judgment, personality, abstract reasoning, visual orientation, insight, mental calculation, behaviour control, & disinhibition.
• Neurons play an important role in the communication of information throughout the body. They are vulnerable to damage from stress hormones and toxins such as illicit drugs and alcohol.
• The subcortex is an older part of the brain and deals with the more automatic parts of functioning – such as motor skills, balance, swallowing, the speed at which we process information, and coordination.• There is constant interplay between the cortex and the subcortex – in fact, there is constant interaction between all parts of the brain.
Frontal lobe• Many of the severe behavioral and psychiatric challenges are thought to be related to the pre-frontal cortex.• These include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD, adhd, and there is some research to show problems in this area related to autism and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Hemispheres• The brain is also divided into hemispheres – right and left. There has been a lot of mythology about the functions of each – and although each hemisphere has primary responsibility for certain tasks – they interact constantly with each other and with the rest of the brain.
Brain Hemispheres• This picture presents it well.
Hypothalamus• The hypothalamus is involved in several functions of the body such as hormone control and includes: autonomic function control endocrine function control homeostasis motor function control food and water intake regulation (thirst) sleep-wake cycle regulation When information comes into the brain – it goes to the hypothalamus which then sends it on to what it believes it the appropriate place ie if there’strouble – it sends the hormone adrenalin to the amygdala to get thewhole alarm system going
Hippocampus• The hippocampus takes in all the new input, or information, and assigns the information to memory where it is used for learning and for recall. It’s also involved in emotional response and spatial orientation• When you are under chronic, unrelieved stress, the neurons in the hippocampus can be damaged by the stress produced cortisol which makes it more difficult for you to learn and remember.
Amygdala• This part of the brain is located in the limbic system which evolved very early on in order to keep us alive.• It is crucial to managing stress and trauma.• It is involved in many of our survival based emotions and motivations• It is involved in the processing of emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure.• It also decides helps you decide by setting off a survival response of either flight, fight, or freeze.
• The amygdala, the hippocampus, and the stress system (hypothalamus) work together to hold onto fear• The hypothalamus initiates the stress response• The hippocampus registers the details of the event which will trigger the amygdala to anything that is even remotely similar• The amygdala memorizes and the emotional atmosphere of life and remembersthe negative experiences and their associated negativefeelings and then evaluates their importance
The Amygdala has a learning disorder!• It learns to fear very quickly• Then it produces a fear response in anything resembling the first event• It doesn’t have a mechanism to *unlearn* the fear response• *Unlearning* doesn’t have the intensity of *learning* so reducing stress has to be longer term and more consistent than building stress
How These Parts Interact to Wire the Brain• Information comes in to the brain in the form of an activity, an event, words, an experience…• The brain compares the incoming information with past similar experiences (the hippocampus)• It chooses the most dominant or strongest neural path or wiring• If there is no similar wiring it will create new wiring• Different areas will become linked by neuronal paths that automatically ignite together whenever one is triggered (Hebbs Axiom) “the neurons that fire together wire together”.
• Input, or information, has to go first to either the hippocampus or the amygdala (thought and feeling) – this where you have choice.
Adjusting your response• Anything that alleviates the stress is an adjustment• This can be positive or negative• The brain will seek the familiar• To re-wire for something new you have to risk discomfort and it has to be conscious
• Located in the frontal lobes and the parietal lobes• They activate when we watch someone doing something
• They relate to learning – they create an internal model of what we’re watching• Our brain activates the same neural structures as the brain of the other person ie if they are angry, you will become angry
• You have a choice about whether to let yourself become overwhelmed by, and hooked into, the other person’s mood – or whether you will be responsible for your own mood and emotionally walk away.
Telomeres• A telomere is a region of repetitive DNA at the end of a chromosome that protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration.• Telomeres protect a cells chromosomes from fusing with each other or rearranging which can lead to cancer or other forms of poor health —and so cells are normally destroyed when their telomeres are consumed.• Telomeres, then, are linked to both health and the aging process.• Unmanaged stress damages telomeres and can lead to premature aging and ill health.
Brain Health and You• The main facts that you need to know are:• Fact 1) You need your brain to be healthy in order for you to have a quality of life• Fact 2) You have control over the health of your brain = you have control over the quality of your life!
How To Damage Your Brain• Your brain is vulnerable to damage from both internal and external forces which can include: Drugs abuse Alcohol abuse Stressful events Chronically stressful relationships Anxiety producing situations or people Lack of exercise
• Chronic work related stress• Unemployment or under employment or job uncertainty• Living with family members who have behavior disorders or mood disorders• Chronic marital discord• Chronic financial stress• Physical illness• Loss of a loved one• Poor diet
• Change or unpredictability• Moving• Unresolved childhood trauma• Constantly trying to change the unchangeable• There are many more causes of stress, feel free to add your own to this list.
Summarizing…• These can all be put under the umbrella of 5 major ways to promote poor brain health:• 1) chronic stress from any source• 2) poor diet• 3) lack of exercise• 4) lack of sleep• 5) lack of joy
STRESS• Stress is a biological response to an event, a person, a thought, a relationship, or a behavior.• It’s very important to understand the role that chronic stress plays in destroying your brain and shredding your telomeres!• Stress can lead to physical problems, such as headaches, stomach problems, cancer, hypertension, and it can increase your vulnerability to colds and flu. Enough stress over a long enough period of time can trigger depression and anxiety so that you have the evil triplets – stress, depression, and anxiety – all at once.
Here are some of the cognitive symptoms of chronic stress• When you experience stress from a perceived threat the nervous system responds by releasing a flood of the major stress hormones, which are : adrenaline and cortisol.• These hormones immediately get the body set up for emergency action. The heart beats more quickly, the muscles tense, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and senses become sharper.• These physical changes increase strength, stamina, speed, and reaction time, as well as create an enhanced ability to focus.
• The brain feels overwhelmed by all of this, and in turn, it over activates the limbic system and creates the following cognitive problems:• Information that is coming in from the external world is misunderstood or misinterpreted• The brain gets in the habit of looking for trouble• This makes all events, feelings, relationships, tasks, etc seem too important, too imminent, too frightening, too threatening, too difficult, and unrecoverable.
Optimizing brain health• Let’s start with stress:• To re wire your brain to be the healthy, positive, thinking machine it’s supposed to be, you will need to take some active steps and make changes in how you live your day.• None of these are easy – especially if you don’t have control over the source of the stress, but if you want to have healthy brain, you have to be in charge of the care of your brain!
• Exercise: the basic and first step to good neural health is exercise. Perhaps you already do enough, but if not, it’s time to start and it’s an essential factor in your recovery. Exercise gets the oxygen flowing through your brain which reduces the cortisol that does so much damage.
• Neurofeedback: this is an electronic means of exercising the brain. It’s easy, painless and you can either find a neurofeedback practitioner or you can invest in some “do it yourself” equipment. Check out http://www.mindalive.com to see what they are offering for stress reduction.• Biofeedback: another electronic means of measuring your stress and then controlling how your heart, lungs, and brain respond so that you literally retrain your brain to function better and to alleviate its own stressors. Check out http://www.heartmath.com and see what they have for you.
• Cognitive behavioral therapy: a trained therapist can provide this form of relief from stress symptoms.• Tapping: this is a controversial form of therapy, some would even dispute that it is therapy, but it has been effective for many and you can do this yourself or find a therapist who offers it. Check out http://www.eftuniverse.com or my web site http://www.hazardousparenting.com• EMDR: another form of therapy which requires a therapist who is trained in the method. Check out http://www.emdr.org or my web sites
• Medications: I recommend medications only when all else has failed. If you need meds it doesn’t mean that you have failed, only that your brain and your stress are presenting a challenge to other forms of stress reduction.• Support: others who are recovering from stress can give you tips and ideas for your own recovery.
Take care of yourself!• Creating and maintaining a healthy brain takes time, energy ,planning, commitment, and work. But it takes less time and effort than taking care of all the other problems that arise from poor brain health.
• Skill & knowledge acquisition: learn everything you can about stress reduction and stress management. You spend lots of time researching when you want to buy a new car, or when you are choosing schools for your child, so invest the same amount of time and energy into learning how to build your own stress reduction plan.• Positive & nurturing self talk: your brain will respond to what you say and what you make yourself think about – you can re-train it to go to the positive by focusing on the good in your life and the good you have to offer the world.
Poor Diet• We all know we need to eat properly, but its’ too difficult for many of us with overly busy schedules and too many demands on our time.• So, don’t try to overhaul what you eat – just try to add something healthier on a daily basis.
For example…• Substitute one cup of coffee with one cup of green tea• Add two servings of vegetables to your normal dinner• Add two servings of raw vegetables to your normal lunch• Add a cup of blueberries to your breakfast or for your mid afternoon snack• Add nuts and seeds to your mid morning snack
• Add some raw avacado to your green salad• Substitute your lunch sandwich with a soup made with lentils or beans• Drink a cup or two of pomegranate juice daily• Enjoy a bit of dark chocolate in the evening
Exercise and Your Brain• Exercise makes your brain release neurotransmitters that lessen physical and mental pain.• Exercise generates new neurons which improves your cognitive functions such as the ability to learn and remember.• Exercise triggers endorphin release (the feel good hormones).• Find an exercise you like – swimming walking, going to the gym, anything that gives you an oxygen boost and gets your heart rate up.
Sleep and Your Brain• During deep sleep, the brain repairs itself and boosts the immune system.• During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the brain consolidates information learned during the previous day.• Poor sleep or sleep loss leads to fatigue, immune suppression, memory, concentration and mood disorders.
If you can’t sleep…• Make sure your room is dark• Have a regular bed time and awake time• Watch how late you drink caffeine and don’t drink alcohol (it will wake you up later)• Do a meditation or a relaxation exercise, and keep doing it till it works! You can find these on the web – or here’s one I created and really like (you should do it in bed, with the lights out and the room quiet).
Quiet the MonkeysPicture a tree – try to make it make it big and thick with manybranches and full of shiny green leaves. Now, picture monkeyson the branches – they may be swinging from one branch toanother, or they may be settled firmly on their favorite spot,peeking out at the world from behind smaller tree limbs, stillleaf filled.Picture the monkeys chattering away – all chatter at the sametime, without pause, without meaning that you can discern.Now, picture the monkeys slowly quieting. One by one theycease their noise, one by one they close their eyes andassume a resting position. They begin to fade behind theleaves, and tree stands strong and silent.• The monkeys are quiet.
Quiet the Monkeys continued…• Square your shoulders to allow maximum O2 in to your lungs• Think about a word that describes how you intend to feel ie calm, sleepy• (When your thoughts wonder, just bring them back to the meditation)• Breathe a little bit deeper and a little bit slower than usual for about 30 seconds• Think about your heart for about 30 seconds
• Picture your oxygen rich blood flowing up to, and through, your brain• Picture the oxygen washing out the stress hormones and toxic thoughts that fill your brain for about 30 seconds, or longer if you have time• Think of something you love or something that makes you feel wonderful, or think of a person, place or event that brings you joy --- for about 30 seconds• If you’re still awake, do it again.
Illicit Drugs and Alcohol• There is more than enough research to show that illicit drug use harms the brain.• Research has shown that, in chronic users, marijuana has a negative impact on learning and memory that can last for days or weeks.• As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning below their normal intellectual level all of the time.• Many studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.
• Cocaine interferes with dopamine production (a feel good hormone) which results in increasing amounts in order to feel high or to feel good at all and that leads to addiction.• Interruption in cocaine intake leads to depression, fatigue, and mood disorders.• Differing doses of cocaine can also produce neurological and behavioral problems such as dizziness, headaches, movement problems, anxiety, insomnia, depression, hallucinations, and even death.
Alcohol• One or two small glasses of wine on occasion isn’t believed to be harmful, but regular use, or overuse, of any alcohol can lead to all kinds of damage.• Alcohol kills brain cells which leads to brain shrinkage, and to memory and learning problems.• Other parts of the body that can be damaged include the liver, the heart, and overall nerve damage.• There is no research to indicate that alcohol has ever solved anyone’s problems or improved anyone’s brain!
Brain Health and Joy• You probably spend plenty of time worrying or stressing about the negative things in your life – when you do that – you harm the neurons and you harm the telomeres.• Be prepared and willing to spend equal or more time triggering the healing and positive hormones that will protect your telomeres and stimulate the growth of new neurons.
Joy suggestions…• Do the Quiet The Monkeys meditation at least twice a day to increase O2 flow to your brain and reduce the stress hormones – that will allow time and energy to seek the positive and make room for joy• When you find yourself ruminating on the negatives, give equal time to ruminating on things that are positive or hopeful.• Look for things that make you smile during the day – a butterfly that flew near, a bright flower garden in your neighborhood, a friendly encounter with a co-worker - don’t wait for these things to wave a flag to get your attention – LOOK FOR THEM OR CREATE THEM!
Creating a moment of joy• Hug someone you love at least twice each day• Try to do one thing you like each day – it doesn’t have to be a major event – it can be a warm bath at the end of the day, listening to some music in your car that always makes you feel better, petting your dog for more than a few seconds, phoning your mom (if she’s a positive influence).
• Smile whenever you have a choice – you don’t have to walk around like a grinning fool – but notice how many times you could smile when you haven’t been doing so
• Just before doing the Monkeys meditation at night – make a mental list of all that you have to be grateful for during the day – it might be a stretch on some days – but you are still alive and breathing and at least be grateful for that.
Suggested Additional Resources• Neurobics http://www.keepyourbrainalive.com/exercise. html to find great brain exercises• Neurofeedback entrainment glasses at http://www.mindalive.com• Dr. Daniel Amens books and clinic at http://www.amenclinics.com
• Remember – you have control over your brain health just like you do over heart health and general health. Change can be hard – but it’s easier than senility and death!• Best wishes to you all and remember – You’re entitled to a better day!
• Sooner or later your brain will get in the habit of falling asleep with Quiet The Monkeys and you will drop off as soon as you begin the meditation.• If you wake up in the night, just begin the meditation again and keep doing it.
Thank you for sharing this time with me• You can check out other services and products at these sites:• http://www.lifespancounselling.com• http://www.theadoptioncounselor.com• http://www.hazardousparenting.com• The Hazardous Parenting facebook site• Udemy.com (search under Brenda McCreight)• Slideshare.com (search under Brenda McCreight)• Amazon.com (search under Brenda McCreight)• firstname.lastname@example.org• Brenda provides counselling and parent coaching worldwide via skype, telephone, and email. Please contact her if you would like an appointment.