Important things to know about COPING so you aren’t more anxious

During our 30+ years as psychotherapists we never had to address the fear and uncertainty the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic has created.  The disruption to individual lives and society is surreal.

There are coping truths that we know are real:

  1. Everyone copes with horrible situations differently.  Some use humor (even gallows humor), some become immobilized or depressed, for others anxiety explodes, some grasp at things that are seemingly frivolous but under their control (like hoarding toilet paper).  I watch the news obsessively since I find comfort in information.
  2. We want our family & friends to cope in the same way we cope. “Why aren’t you acting more worried?”, “Don’t be so obsessive”.  “Do something productive.”  “Calm down and slow down.” There’s comfort in thinking we are connected and not alone in our own way of seeing and responding to threats, real or perceived.  When other people don’t cope the way we cope it makes us nervous, as if something is wrong with them.
  3. The higher the stress the more the brain reverts to automatic, old, tried and true patterns and coping mechanisms that are basic to who we are and how we are in the world.  Our mind-body stress response says this is NOT time to change our normal behaviors and natural tendencies because doing something new creates more stress.
  4. It’s normal to feel productiveanxiety right now,and while we need to allow ourselves to feel these feelings.  Some anxiety is productive—it’s what motivates us to wash our hands often and distance ourselves from others when there’s an important reason to do so. If we weren’t reasonably worried, no one would be taking these measure to help reduce the viral spread.
  5. Unproductiveanxiety— unchecked rumination—makes our mind spin in frightening directions. Our anxiety is actually trying to keep us safe by focusing on potential threats preparing us for fight, flight or freeze. However, anxiety when constant elevates our stress response chronically which dampens the immune response which is the last thing we want during a pandemic.

    Click here for your FREE Incredibly Creative Stress Kit PDF

In recent weeks we have been doing daily posts on coping with stress, anxiety and social distancing.

Scroll down to see these posts.

How Gossip Helps You Survive and Thrive

I’m so relieved to know that my urge to read the Tabloid Headlines at the check-out stand means I’m highly adaptive in the food chain . . . if not the food market.

This is fascinating!

Psst! The Human Brain Is Wired For Gossip  

by Jon Hamilton

“Hearing gossip about people can change the way you see them — literally.

Negative gossip actually alters the way our visual system responds to a particular face, according to a study published online by the journal Science.

The findings suggest that the human brain is wired to respond to gossip, researchers say. And it adds to the evidence that gossip helped early humans get ahead.

“Gossip is helping you to predict who is friend and who is foe,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett, distinguished professor of psychology at Northeastern University and an author of the study.

Barrett is part of a team that’s been studying how gossip affects not just what we know about an unfamiliar person but how we feel about them. The team has shown that getting second-hand information about a person can have a powerful effect.

But Barrett and her team wanted to answer another question: Once hearsay has predisposed us to see someone in a certain way, is it possible that we literally see them differently?

It makes sense when you consider that the human brain has lots of connections between regions that process visual information and areas involved in our most basic emotions, Barrett says.

Volunteer subjects looked at faces paired with gossip. Some of these faces were associated with negative gossip, such as “threw a chair at his classmate.” Other faces were associated with more positive actions, such as “helped an elderly woman with her groceries.”

The Study:
Participants in the study were shown a neutral face paired with (A) negative gossip, (B) positive gossip, (C) neutral gossip, (D) negative non-social information, (E) positive non-social information, and (F) neutral non-social information. When the study participants viewed the faces again, their brains were more likely to fix on the faces associated with negative gossip.
Then the researchers looked to see how the volunteers’ brains responded to the different kinds of information. They did this by showing the left and right eyes of each person very different images. So one eye might see a face while the other eye would see a house.

These very different images cause something called binocular rivalry. The human brain can only handle one of the images at a time. So it unconsciously tends to linger on the one it considers more important.

Researchers found that volunteers’ brains were most likely to fix on faces associated with negative gossip.

Gossip doesn’t just influence your opinions about people, it actually influences how you see them visually,”

The finding suggests “we are hardwired to pay more attention to a person if we’ve been told they are dangerous or dishonest or unpleasant.”

“If somebody is higher than you in the food chain, you want dirt about them. You want negative information, because that’s the stuff you can exploit to get ahead.”

“I was actually pretty excited to see this paper,” says Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “For years people like me have been saying that our intense interest in gossip is not really a character flaw. It’s part of who we are. It’s almost a biological event, and it exists for good evolutionary reasons.”

“Even when primitive humans lived in small groups, they needed to know things like who might be a threat and who was after a particular mate, McAndrew says. And learning those things through personal experience would have been slow and potentially dangerous”, he says.

One shortcut would have been gossip.

“People who had an intense interest in that — that constantly were monitoring who’s sleeping with who and who’s friends with whom and who you can trust and who you can’t — came out ahead,” he says. “People who just didn’t care about that stuff got left behind.”

And it makes sense that our brains pay special attention to negative gossip”, McAndrew says.

“If somebody is a competitor or somebody is higher than you in the food chain, you want dirt about them,” he says. “You want negative information, because that’s the stuff you can exploit to get ahead.”

Who knew tabloid news is honing our survival skills ?  

Originally posted on Curious to the Max. Click here for more on Curious to the Max

Curious Coloring for Calming Down

Coloring books aren’t just for kids anymore.  Adults have discovered coloring provides a brief focus, away from the world within and the world around us. It’s a form of meditation:  Concentrated visual focus on color, patterns and repetitive motion are hallmarks of the meditative process.

We’ve picked out some Curious Critters that lend themselves for for quick & easy coloring. Embellish them, add patterns, squiggles and make them your own.

Click on the download at the bottom

Get out your crayons or colored pencils 

CREATE your own meditation.

(Don’t want to meditate?   Color with a child!)

 

Click here for your free coloring PDF

 

Scroll down for more posts in this series.

 

4 FREE Resources for Social Distancing & Isolation

Here are some fun, FREE resources for social distancing and self isolation-check them out!

Online University learning of all kinds of subjects

click here for  Coursera

Join Courserafor free and learn online. Courses from top universities like Yale, Michigan, Stanford, Imperial College-London, Tel Aviv University, Duke, Johns Hopkins, University of Cape Town, University of Tokyo etc. . . . and leading companies like Google and IBM.

I (Judy) have taken 2 of the courses and they were excellent.  Since I don’t need any more degrees or certifications I never did the papers or took the tests . . .  just watched the lectures and did the reading.  There is a large catalogue of classes from colleges and universities all over the WORLD.  Fabulous resource.

Online exercise classes – Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness, one of the nation’s largest chain gyms, is offering free online exercise classes 

The at-home workouts are streaming on the company’s Facebook page, open to anyone, including non-members.

Because I love all of you I (Peggy) sacrificed myself and tried two Planet Fitness on-line workouts.

The workouts were actually great!  The instructors made it easy to follow all the exercises, all of which could be modified to easier levels.  

To make sure all of you could do the routines I did the easier levels, even though I didn’t NEED to, of course . . .   

I am recovering from a sprained ankle and didn’t want to jump on my foot, so I was clever enough to figure out ways to keep both feet on the ground.   (I couldn’t think of other excuses to modify more exercises but carefully watched how they were done.)

Instructors do warm ups and cool downs. Have a chair handy and water.  You get 15 second rests in between the exercises.  

Another thing I liked is the instructor stopped exercising in order to continue talking.  That allowed me to stop early too so I could hear what he was saying without the distraction of exercising. . . The workouts are scheduled for 4pm PST. I was late but no one said anything. There are many workout videos on the Planet Fitness Facebook page so if you’re late I’m positive they’ll let you in the class.

Fun things to do from NASAfor kids and adults

https://www.space.com/free-nasa-space-projects-at-home-coronavirus.html

“NASA’s website has a plethora of opportunities for kids and adults alike to learn more about astronomy and spaceflight. Whether you want to be an astronaut, kill some time learning about the universe or help the agency work on future space exploration activities, there’s no lack of things to do.”

“So, if you’re looking for a little out-of-this-world escapewhile you’re stuck at home, There is a list of free space-themed activities from NASA to keep you occupied.”

Get out in the open -no charge at National Parks

The National Park Service is waiving entrance fees at all national parks that remain open during the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to aid public social distancing.

“This small step makes it a little easier for the American public to enjoy the outdoors in our incredible National Parks,” Bernhardt said in a news release Wednesday.
“Our vast public lands that are overseen by the Department offer special outdoor experiences to recreate, embrace nature and implement some social distancing.”
Scroll down to see more posts in this series.

 

Frankly Freddie – Social Distance from people not FOOD

For the Foodie
If you don’t know what a “foodie” is you are probably around the same age as Peggy & Judy. For all you “oldies” . . . “gastronome” and “epicure” define the same thing.  If you don’t know what gastronome and epicure mean it’s a person who enjoys food for pleasure.

  • Have a picnic on the floor (benefit-no ants, just dust).
  • Get takeout. Support independent restaurants which are hurting right now by eating their food. It’s reported that takeout service Grubhub will stop collecting commission of up to $100 million to support independent restaurants that use their service. (Just make sure you limit your contact with the delivery driver and wash your hands after unpacking the food.)
  • Have your own wine tasting of whatever bottles you have.  No wine?  Have a tea-tasting.
  • Make a new recipe, like dog biscuits.
  • Perfect grandma’s special recipe.
  • Make coffee, and study how many beans you use, which types, how hot the water is, how long it brews and whether any of that even makes a difference.
  • Read your cookbooks and find new culinary sites on the internet.
  • Make doggie biscuits – peanut butter should be the #1 ingredient
  • Watch “The Great British Baking Show,” and bake something with the ingredients you have on hand
  • Organize your spice rack alphabetically.
  • Make a cocktail or mocktail  (if you don’t know what a mocktail is you’re over the age of 21) Don’t forget the garnish.
  • Cook something special – make a double recipe and give half to an elderly neighbor and the other half to your dog.

Scroll down to see other posts in this series.

Frankly Freddie – Social Distancing Naturally in Nature

Dear Freddie Fans,

Because I’m not allowed to go anywhere without a leash I KNOW how to cope. This week I will share what you humans can do.  Since I’m Editor-in-Canine-Chief for several blogs I have a trove of posts to share with you.  Here’s today’s bit of my wisdom. 

Get out of the house. Just remember to keep 6 feet of distance from other people,  Find an area where you won’t encounter crowds.

  • Garden!
  • Pot a plant.
  • Repot house plants.
  • Weed, mulch, rake & mow.
  • Start birdwatching. Coronavirus hasn’t bothered birds. Download a birdwatching map. Sit in your backyard or near a window.
  • Take a brisk walk  You can still exercise – It helps your immune system be strong.*
  • Go on a stroll.  Sniff around and clear your mind.
  • Sit outside & breathe fresh air. Notice things about the world around you that you didn’t see before.
  • Bike ride.
  • Meditate, journal, draw in your yard or patio.

Resting after munching the lawn, bird watching, walking and sniffing.

*Exercise which increases immunity and reduces the stress response . . . even if it’s marching in place for 5 minutes without a leash.

Take a 10 minute walk outside – 5 minutes out and 5 minutes back.  The colors of nature are also calming to the brain.

 

Frankly Freddie – How to be a Good Sport While Social Distancing

Sports fans are going bonkers since all the games are canceled or have no spectators.  Don’t go bonkers, it’s not becoming, unless you are in a parking lot, eating hot dogs and drinking beer from the back of your pick-up truck.  Do these things instead:

  • Become an expert. Readup on your sport so that when your team starts playing again, you’ll have even greater insight into the game.
  • Show your team some love. Tweet them a positive message or send them a photo of you wearing team gear in solidarity.
  • Even better, support a charity that your favorite player loves. 
  • PLAY FETCH.

  • Practice painting your face in the colors of your favorite team.  Keep your “art work” above the neck. Bare chests make you look like an “animal”.
  • Revisit an old game. You know the one – The game that made you fall in love with the sport.  If you have a subscription to a sport-specific streaming service, check if they have your favorite game. YouTube has clips of  large collection of games.
  • Play Keep-Away or Dodge Ball.  No yard?  Use balloons.
  • Watch sports documentaries about games of the past and present.
  • Donate all your clothes that aren’t in the colors of your favorite team.
  • Pretend you’re an athlete and do calisthentics (If you don’t know what calisthenitics are do jumping jacks).
  • PLAY FETCH.
  • Go Bonkers!

 

Things to do when Virus Fears Overwhelm you – Hand-washing and Social distancing for your Brain

The constant flood of precautions and warnings, whether it’s from the medical authorities or recirculated, dubiously-sourced information on social media, can take a toll on our mental health.
The uncertainty of what a pandemic portends for our future, the drastic changes it means for the present can be unnerving.

It’s ok, it’s normal, to feel anxious and stressed when everything familiar has seemingly come to a halt in the entire world and when experts, whom we normally turn to, have no answers, no treatments and are impacted in the same way we are.  We feel helpless and our fears are heightened when we can’t see or predict where the threat may strike.  

Yes, it’s a serious situation, and deserves your vigilance and attention.   However, there is a happy medium between ignoring the biggest story in the world, and panic. Here are some tips. 

Social Distancing for your Brain

Pare down your sources of information

  • Continually tell yourself it’s ok not knowing every little thing because there will always be an update a click away.
  • Don’t carry your phone around so you’re not tempted to check it.  
  • Leave your phone on a charging station, put it in “airplane mode”or turn off notifications.
  • Limit time on social media.  Your friends and acquaintances filter what they share through their own fears and lenses.
  • Unfriend those who are conspiracy theorists.
  • Install social media apps or tools that limit access to content, or limit aimless scrolling.
  • Schedule a set time, and no more, to get updates from reliable news or health organizations.

Hand-Washing for your Brain.

Don’t Chastise Yourself for Worrying

“You are allowed to worry or feel bad. When discussing how to talk to children about the coronavirus, health experts say people should acknowledge a child’s fear and let them know their feelings are valid.”

“Surely, you can afford yourself the same compassion. The key is to work toward understanding and contextualizing your fears so they don’t keep you from living your healthiest life.”

Name your Fears

A virus can’t be seen by the naked eye.  It’s threat is abstract.  Writing things down makes the worries concrete and stops your brain from going over and over the worries.  Here’s what to write to reassure your brain that you’ll remember everything it’s been reminding you of.  You may do all steps at once or over several days.

1. List what specific threats worry you.Do you think you will catch the coronavirus and die?  (The fear of death taps into one of our core existential fears.) Someone you love falls ill?  Would you need treatment?  What would happen if self quarantine was necessary?  Not able to work?  No access to support or childcare?  

Keep writing small fears, big fears, rational and irrational, until you can’t think of anything else.

2.  Mark the ones that are REALISTIC.  Consider your personal risk and how likely it is that you will actually come in contact with the virus, lose work, etc.

3.  Write down what you are in CONTROL of  – what you are currently doing and what you might consider doing.  

4.  Make a plan – Brainstorm options and write them down even if they seem out-of-reach or impractical.   Being prepared for your fears will help keep them in scale.

5. Review and add, delete, rearrange, update all the steps frequently to keep your brain in the know.

Think Outside Yourself

Since action can allay our anxieties, also consider what you can do to help others who may be more affected by the outbreak than you. Service workers, medical workers, hourly workers and people in the restaurant or entertainment industries may have their livelihoods paralyzed or have to put themselves in disproportionate danger.

Talk to your brain: “Most of the precautions put in place to help stall the spread of the virus aren’t just for me. They’re intended to keep entire communities and vulnerable people safe.”

There are ways to reach out that don’t demand a lot of time or energy.  Examples:  Double the recipe you are making and give half to a neighbor, donate money, (if you have the means) to a reputable charity, write a letter or a note to someone in quarantine, e-mail friends who are isolated . . .  

Seek Support Wisely

Talking to friends about the latest news, outbreak cluster or your family’s contingency plans is a good idea so you don’t feel alone.  However, if you are overwhelmed, don’t seek out someone who also is overwhelmed.  Find someone who does not support or inflame you on your anxiety and can provide some advice.  Always consider professional help which can be short-term. Most psychotherapists and doctors are offering phone sessions.  There are community agencies or religious clergy that are free or low fee.

Enforce or Create Healthy HABITS

Pay attention to your daily basic needs- healthy practices that affect your wellbeing. 

If you haven’t practiced self-care, NOW is the time to create healthy habits that will last after this crisis is over.

  • Get adequate sleep
  • Have proper nutrition
  • Go outside as much a possible
  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Practicing mindfulness, prayer, meditation, yoga or other forms of self care can also help center you in routines and awareness, and keep your mind from wandering into worry and fear. 

Remember!  Fear and Anxiety is . . .

. . . overestimating the likelihood of something bad happening, and  underestimating our capacity to deal with it. 

Source: CNN.com

Frankly Freddie – Social Distancing for the Cultured

Dear Freddie Fans,

Because I’m not allowed to go anywhere without a leash I KNOW how to cope. This week I will share what you humans can do.  Since I’m Editor-in-Canine-Chief for several blogs I have a trove of posts to share with you.  

CULTURED: characterized by refined taste and manners and good education.
cultivated, artistic, enlightened, civilized, educated, well read, well informed, discerning, discriminating, 

sophisticated, urbane, intellectual, scholarly, erudite

If you are lacking in any of these here’s what you can do:

  • Download e-books and audiobooks and READ.
  • Create a virtual book club and video call each other to discuss.
  • Take a virtual museum tour. Many museums offer audio tours on your smart phone. The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim Museum are two that host online tours.
  • Explore overseas? Google Arts & Culture has a collection of virtual walk-throughs for dozens of international museums, from Paris to New Delhi.
  • Become a film critic.  Write a  review of the latest. Catch up recent Oscar winners and snubbed gems and share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. To exchange recommendations with your fellow cinephiles, join a site like Letterboxd, a social networking service for film geeks.
  • Learn a language — or just the basics. Learning a few phrases in another tongue will make you feel smart. 
  • Bolster your vocabulary. Remember when reading the dictionary was a form of punishment? No longer. Flip through a thesaurus or take online quizzes to test your vocabulary.

What “cultured” will look like after you do what I’ve told you.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/14/us/what-to-do-this-weekend-coronavirus-trnd/index.html

Frankly Freddie, How to Social Distance and Be Social

Dear Freddie Fans,

Because I’m not allowed to go anywhere without a leash I KNOW how to cope. This week I will share what you humans can do.  Since I’m Editor-in-Canine-Chief for several blogs I have a trove of posts to share with you.  Each day I’ll share a bit of my wisdom. 

Here’s my first recommendations for HUMANS

Ya Gotta Take Care of your Mental Health.  

  • Connect with family, friends.  If you can’t get a scratch behind their ears you will have to settle for the phone, internet or writing a note or letter.
  • Meditate, pray.
  • Take a nap.  One of my favorites.
  • Video chat.
  • Share funny messages on social media. Do NOT share conspiracy theories – leave theories to bonifide scientists.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Take another bath.
  • Go outside, get some fresh air and sunshine .

Keep your paws busy:

  • Tackle a puzzle.
  • Make art. Download my human’s free coloring pages.Click here for the PDF
  • Humans like to knit, sew, paint.
  • Do all the stuff I’ve watched humans put off – taxes, clean closets.
  • Play board games. Chess and checkers seem to be fun for humans .. . go figure.
  • Fix something around the house.
  • Rearrange the furniture.
  • Give yourself a manicure.
  • Pet your pet.
  • Brush your pet.
  • Feed your pet.
  • Give your pet treats

Tell me what you do to keep your paws busy!

See ya tomorrow.

click here for: “How to Cope in Uncertain Times” on Max your Mind 

How to activate your own Placebo to reduce Stress & Anxiety

In uncertain times we all need help to calm our fears so that our bodies are not flooded with stress hormones & neurochemicals.  

A placebo is NOT imaginary but creates biological changes in the brain that actually ease our symptoms and are very similar to the biological changes when we take drugs.

There are many DOCUMENTED placebo effects, depending on what we think a treatment is going to do for us.  Examples:

  • Fake painkillers cause the release of natural painkillers in the brain called endorphins and work through the same biochemical pathway that an opiod painkiller would work through.
  • A Parkinson’s patient takes a placebo they think is their Parkinson’s drug, they get a flood of dopamine in the brain, which is exactly what you would see with the real drug.
  • Altitude sickness – someone at altitude inhales fake oxygen, there’s a reduction in prostaglandins which actually work to dilate blood vessels that cause many of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Some explanations for the placebo effect 

Stress and anxiety — if we feel that we are in danger or under threat, the brain raises its sensitivity to symptoms like pain. Whereas, if we feel safe and cared for and things are going to get better soon, we relax and are not so alert to symptoms.

Physiological mechanisms like conditioning*   We can all be conditioned to have physiological responses to a stimulus, even immune responses. For example, take a pill that suppresses your immune system and on another occasion take a similar looking placebo pill, with no active drug, your body will mimic same immune response. Astonishingly, it doesn’t even matter if you know it’s a placebo.

Stress can rewire the brain — and create more stress

Like a muscle, the more you exercise any part the stronger it gets.

Brains are shaped by our thoughts and behaviors. Research shows your brain structure, neurochemical and electrical activity responds to and reflects how you think throughout your life.   For example: If you play a musical instrument, speak a second language, train for athletics for eight hours a day – the parts of your brain responsible for performing those activities gets more active and larger. 

If you’re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day parts of the brain involved in the stress response get larger and other parts of the brain actually deteriorate.  Consequently, the very brain circuits we need to counter stress no longer work as well as they should.  

It’s not as simple as saying, “I’m going to change how I think now. I’m not feeling stressed.”  It takes a long time to change your brain. 

In the middle of your face – your personal placebo “pill” 

When stressed, the brain influences your body AND the body influences your brain.  The stress response speeds up your breathing to pump more oxygen when your brain perceives danger, either real or imaginary.  If you deliberately speed up your breathing when not stressed you’ll start to feel more aroused and on edge.  The opposite is true: Slow your breathing down, forcing your body into a more relaxed state.  Your brain responds with more calming thoughts and feelings.

Condition your own calming response using your breath . . . salivating optional.

Click below to read two ways to slow your breathing down:

Decrease your Anxiety & Stress Increasing Immunity

Control your Anxiety: Easy, Fast, Effective and Square

* Ivan Pavlov, a physiologist, conditioned dogs so that whenever he gave them food he made a noise, like ring a bell.  Eventually the dogs associated the bell with their food and they would salivate just to the sound of the bell.

 

 

 

https://www.npr.org/

A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant, PhD. in genetics and medical microbiology

How to Empty your Brain to Reduce Stress & Control Anxiety – Write On!

Non-stop writing, stream of consciousness, free writing . . . it doesn’t matter what you call it – it can change your brain, change your day.

I’m not being overly dramatic as there is a body of research which shows that

simply putting pen to paper changes your brain to reduce anxiety & stress.

Write on! by Peggy

Easy Peasy Writing How-to

Choose a focus – a situation, feeling, thought and create a “topic Sentence”

If you can’t think of a specific begin with

 “When I ____________”,  Right this moment I am thinking . . . ” ,   “I am feeling . . .”,  

“I can’t think of anything to write because . . . “

It can be anything in the past, the present or the future.

  • Use a pen that writes smoothly and comfortable to your hand.  

Don’t use a keyboard since the act of writing with your hand is important.  Your small muscle movement is expressive (much like artistic expression, your handwriting is unique to you).  It doesn’t matter if it’s legible or beautiful as your hand movement registers with your brain in ways that tapping out letters on a keyboard do not.

  • Set a timer for approximately 20 minutes. It takes that long for your unconscious brain to push through your logical thinking processes.
  • Use a journal, a piece of paper, a brown bag- it doesn’t matter.
  • Start with your “topic sentence”,thought, feeling . . . just start. 
  • Write continuously for 20 minutes, never letting the pen stop. If your mind goes blank simply makes loop-d-loops with the pen until you have words to put down. Write quickly, spontaneously, intuitively.  It doesn’t matter what you write just put down on paper where your mind takes you.
  • Do not be concerned about spelling, punctuation or grammar.
  • Do not be concerned if it doesn’t make sense.

Read  research: How Writing About Past Failures May Help You Succeed In The Present

 click here

Decrease your Anxiety & Stress Increasing Immunity

Diaphragmatic breathing is the best known and one of the most powerful breath exercises to reduce the stress response, get oxygen flowing to your brain and in your body.

If you’re constantly and chronically stressed out, sleep-deprived, malnourished, or dehydrated over time your immune function will weaken.

Longer, deeper breaths into your abdomen, slows your heart rate and activates the calming, parasympathetic nervous system. 

Inhale . . . . . . . . . . . Exhale. . . . . . .  by Judy

The most basic type of diaphragmatic breathing is done by inhaling through your nose and breathing out through your mouth.  However, exhaling through your nose allows you to do this in public places.

Here’s how:

  • Sit in a comfortable position or lie flat on the floor, your bed, or another comfortable, flat surface.

  • Relax your shoulders.

  • To feel your diaphragm move as you breathe place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your ribs on your stomach.

  • Take a slow, full breath in through your nose for about two seconds. Experience the air moving through your nostrils into your abdomen, making your stomach expand. During this type of breathing, make sure your stomach is moving outward while your chest remains relatively still.

(your hand below your ribs moves in and out with each breath).

  • Press gently on your stomach, and exhale slowly for about two seconds through your nose (or mouth) and tighten your diaphragm

(just like squeezing a lemon to get all the juice out)

  • The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible throughout.

Repeat these steps several times for best results.

It may take you a bit of effort at first to do this cuz it ain’t the usual way you breathe.

With continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing becomes easier, Easier, EASIER.

After you get the hang of it, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing  . . . without using your hand.  

 

 

 

ME, a Stress Case? . . . This Anxiety Reduction Technique is for YOU too

Judy’s Self Reflection

I’m not a worrier by nature but during the past weeks and all the uncertainty about Covid-19 spreading throughout the world plus the fact that I have underlying medical conditions (I’m not mentioning my age!) I have had trouble falling asleep.

Tossing and turning, it took me 2 hours to realize my entire body was tense.

I relaxed my muscles. They tensed up againI relaxed again.  Muscles from head to toe tensed up again and again as if I were a trained athlete who had practiced so many times my muscle memory was so strong practice was no longer needed.

Flashing before my eyes was every therapy session I’ve ever had with anyone who had anxiety, PTSD, was a caretaker, had a sick loved one, experienced loss of any kind, anticipated loss, was in pain or had a medical condition. . . .

I had explained the relaxation response so many times that I automatically recognized the stress response in others (others being the operant word).

I know that our brains automatically perceive danger in any emotional, physical or imagined threat and sends signals to our bodies to ready us to flee or fight off our enemy.  Muscle tension is needed for running like hell or slugging it out – now’s not the time to relax if you want to live.

The opposite of DANGER is SAFETY

I’ve taught one of the very best, easiest mind-body techniques that calms the brain hundreds, maybe thousands, of times.  It absolutely works and only took me an hour of tossing and turning to remember to use it myself.

Best of all it requires no Rx, no money, no time and you take it with you where ever you go.

Safe Signal Breath:

1. Take a deep breath through your nose.
2. Hold the breath for just a moment
3. As you release the breath, through your nose, very gently, silently say: “Thank you brain, I’m safe.” (Be kind to your brain.  It’s just trying to keep you from being eaten alive)

Sound too simple!?

Our brains are relatively simple in that brains can not tell the difference between when we are actually in danger (anxiety is our brain’s way of keeping us on alert for danger so we can survive) or when we imagine danger through thoughts or other cues.

Imagine a snake, a spider, anything that you are afraid of. Your brain will signal “danger! danger!” and flood your cells with the neurochemistry of fear.  Watch a sad movie and your brain will flood you with the neurochemistry of sadness and, if you are like me, sob like a baby.
So, tell your brain you are safe and it will stop the neurochemistry of fear and anxiety.  

It’s not instant cup’o’soup because once you are flooded with the anxious feeling it will take about 20 minutes or so for the neurochemistry to metabolize out of your body’s cells.  No matter how you FEEL keep giving your brain the “I’m Safe” cue.

Here’s the Key for Continual or Chronic Threats

Yoga, meditation, mindfulness prayer, listening to relaxation recordings all help. However, to break into a CHRONIC cycle you need to chronically signal your brain to stop sending the neurochemistry of the stress response to your body. Let your brain know that no one is throwing grenades at you, animals are not trying to eat you alive, you are SAFE.

Continually “Sprinkle” the Breath/I’m safe cue throughout the day and evening. It’s a good idea to get a cue(s) to remind yourself to do this. A post-it-note on the bathroom mirror, every time your phone rings, a note in your appointment book etc.

You HAVE to breathe anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose — except your stress response!

My Self Realization

I figured out that I had a legitimate reason to be anxious while virus swirl around the world looking for bodies to inhabit.

Control your stress & anxiety – Comfort Eating Actually Comforts

When I am a little stressed I want to eat – usually carbs – but if I am very stressed I lose my appetite. Peggy

I never lose my appetite because I’m an emotional eater – eat when I’m stressed, happy, bored . . .  From now on I’m calling it “Comfort Eating” – it sounds less . . . emotional . . .  and  is a new area of research. Judy

For the second year in a row, just over a third of American adults reported eating “too much” or “unhealthy” food because of stress, according to an APA survey. Approximately 40 percent of people increase their eating when they’re stressed, 40 percent decrease their eating, and 20 percent stay the same. 

Dr. Janet Tomiyama has been trying to figure out if eating because of stress works for us.  Here is a summary of her findings:

  • Rats were given access to comfort food — usually Crisco mixed with sugar! 
  • Researchers then stressed them out
  • Over time, the comfort food actually dampened their stress hormones
  • Dampened down their brain’s responsivity to stress
  • Dampened down the signaling between the brain and the rest of the body, so they didn’t secrete as many stress hormones.”  

    CRISCO & sugar! At least they could have the decency to give us the cake under the frosting  . . .

We tend to be critical of people who eat because of stress BUT  “Not just psychologically, but also biologically — people who do a lot of comfort eating tend to show a reduced level of stress hormones and stress.”

What’s happening, according to Tomiyama:

  • “When you do anything that’s rewarding to you the reward parts of your brain light up — those parts of the brain can dampen down areas of your brain that are freaking out with negative emotion. And that’s why comfort foods tend to be foods that are high in sugar and fat. They’re really rewarding; they really do light up the reward centers of our brains.
  • There’s also some work showing that when you do comfort eating, it builds up fat in your belly region and that fat pad sends a signal to your brain to decrease the amount of stress hormones that you’re producing. 
  • Then there’s conditioning. If throughout your whole life, you’ve paired stress relief with comfort foods over and over again, then soon enough, your body is going to automatically respond to eating these comfort foods with relaxation.

Many people have had the experience of being given comfort food to cheer us up as kids. Part of the comfort t then came from bing cared for but that became associated with the food, which now gives us comfort on its own.

in addition to rodents, we also see comfort eating working in some non-human primate species as well. So my main take home from this is self-compassion: You’re not doing the comfort eating because you’re some sort of weak-willed human being; you’re biologically driven to do this. ” says Tomiyama.

What Tomiyama is trying to do now, is to see if healthy foods can also be comforting. Even in rat studies only unhealthy foods were used. Therein some data from surveys that say there are people who do use healthy foods for stress.

 “Nobody stress-eats strawberries, do they?”

Actually, strawberries might work she reports. Anything  sweet can dampen stress.

We’ll eat to that!

A. Janet Tomiyama, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab at UCLA

https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/9/18072318/does-stress-eating-work-psychology

Making Decisions & Avoiding Sweets – What is the “Cathy” Effect?

When I was a teenager I stumbled onto a method for making better decisions about food. I was terrified of getting acne and in those times, sweets were thought to cause acne. My strategy focused on how to stay away from the pies and cakes that daily tempted me in the school cafeteria lunch line.

I decided to tell myself I didn’t want anything sweet – they were TOO sweet and would taste bad. I succeed in convincing myself, and stayed away from sweets.  Years later the connection between sugar and acne was debunked and my deprivation was for nothing! (PA)

In the cartoon strip “Cathy”, by Cathy Guisewite,  her struggle dieting and avoiding eating high caloric treats was an ongoing focus:

Cathy would decide NOT to eat sweets.  Despite promising to herself she would not eat the treat, she gave in whenever the treats were in sight, she ate them.  

Dr. David A Redish calls this “The Cathy Effect” in his book about how our brains make decisions:  “The Mind Within The Brain”.   

Basically, our brain is always determining what is more valuable and what is less valuable. When not tempted, sweets are less valuable and Kathy’s diet is more valuable.  But when the sweet is available, it’s value becomes heightened . . . and she eats the treat.  Sound familiar?

How do we avoid the Cathy Effect?

1. Have an alternate reward which is immediately available or at least soon.  Our brains like immediate gratification and devalue abstract, hypothetical, future rewards.

2. Make a pre-commitment:  Set up a situation so in the future the choice has already been made.

Cathy knew her brain gave huge value to the taste, smell and look of sweets. Cathy could have avoided the bakery aisle or decide, like I did, that a clear complexion was more valuable than that tasty treat.  Reddish says that this ability to pre commit to one decision over another is a very strong tool to use in decision making.  Who knew I was as smart as I was when a teen-ager!

(Peggy)

 

Ice it! – for an adrenalin rush

You’ve seen the pictures of winter scenes – the on-lookers, clad in warm winter coats, hats, gloves, erupt in cheers as swimmers in bathing suits dash into the ice-cold waters of lakes, oceans and ponds surrounded by snow and ice.


This is ice swimming, and it’s more than dipping a toe into your local outdoor pool. These events take place in water colder than 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), and you won’t see anyone in a wetsuit.

With over 40 countries having branches of the International Ice Swimming Association, it is clearly becoming a popular sport, offering a dose of adrenaline and adventure. 
“It’s almost like the water is denser and I can feel it all down my arms and on my legs, and when I kick against it, it feels heavier than in a warm swimming pool,” Campbell said. “I think that feeling, that sense of being in nature in that moment, on the edge is really exhilarating,”

The benefits of getting cold

In addition to the adrenaline rush, early studies suggest that cold-water swimming could be a treatment for depression, as it activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases blood levels of noradrenaline and beta-endorphin, which play an important role in the functioning of the heart.

“Ice swimmers may also experience an endorphin rush, in which feel-good chemicals are released, says Dr. Jonathan D. Packer, an assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He explained that this could be good for helping to treat mood disorders, adding that endorphins release stress, with a variety of health benefits.”

“While the specific effects, the benefits of ice swimming haven’t really been studied in a scientific manner, we can certainly look at other types of cryotherapy for any perceived benefits,” Packer said.

Besides an adrenaline rush, early studies suggest that cold-water swimming could be a treatment for depression, as it activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases blood levels of noradrenaline and beta-endorphin, which play an important role in the functioning of the heart.

  • Cryotherapy, the application of extremely cold temperatures to the body, is often used by athletes who submerge themselves in ice-cold water for about 10 minutes. Packer said research shows that this can decrease inflammation, promote healing and improve circulation.
    “I know that many of the ice swimmers have had some anecdotal evidence — that it can improve their cognitive abilities; they say it improves their energy; some people even say it helps their libido,” Packer added.
  • “There’s also been some reports from patients with chronic pain conditions that have reported having improved pain from those conditions after starting ice swimming
  • In terms of exercise, ice swimming could feel like an extra-arduous workout. Packer noted that “a potential benefit is that you burn more calories than regular swimming. Not only does your body have to work just as hard to swim from point A to point B, but it also has to work harder to keep your body temperature up.”

Not all fun and games

“Despite some potential benefits, ice swimming can be a risky activity for rookies, so don’t go jumping into a freezing pool without some supervised practice. In this kind of sport, proper training is essential not only to success but to survival.”
“Someone might be able to swim 10 to 12 hours in water that’s 16 or 17 degrees (Celsius), and they are swimming 20 minutes in water of this temperature,” said Dr. Ruth Williamson, who led the medical team at the ice swimming event at Loch Lomond.
“This is something you train for. You get your body used to getting in to the cold water and get over that cold shock,” she said. With training, a competitor’s muscles adapt to a lower blood supply so they can keep that muscle effort going longer.”

Regular icy swims allow the body to acclimate or learn to navigate potential dangers such as hyperventilation, high blood pressure and hypothermia.

This could be life-saving, as plunging into icy water unprepared can lead to a strong gasping response — a reflex that can result in drowning.

  • “Initially, you have this shock, and people will take a couple of large breaths. It’s important not to panic at that time, because you can accidentally ingest water. It can be dangerous, and you can drown,” Packer warned.
  • “The most common source of death from being in cold bodies of water are the cardiac arrests from this cold shock response.”
  • The low temperature also makes the blood pressure rise, leading to fast breathing
  • And there’s a risk of hypothermia.

“Even out of the water, there’s a risk of the body temperature dropping even further, so it’s important to be monitored for an hour or so after a swim,” 

(Don’t) dive right in!
“This is definitely not something to try by yourself. All of the ice swimmers often start swimming in the summer and gradually acclimatize,” Campbell said.

It’s also best to enter slowly rather than diving in if the water is under 15 degrees Celsius, though this may come as a natural instinct anyway, to counter the body’s gasp reflex.
“Swimming in icy water is not for the faint-hearted — literally. If you have heart problems or pre-existing medical conditions, you should seek advice from a doctor before swimming, Packer said.”

British swimmer Jess Campbell — who holds the British women’s record in her age group for an ice kilometer (swimming 1 kilometer in waters of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or less) says:

“Usually, I feel fantastic. I get a huge buzz … a sense of elation, and I just want to do it again. I definitely have a sense of energy, a sense of life, a sense of purpose. It’s a definite mood-lifter, no question.”

https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/03/health/ice-swimming-health-benefits-and-dangers/index.html

Do You Know How to “Thought Diet”?

Slim down, trim down and slow down.  Not your body . . . Your brain.

5 steps, How to do a Thought Diet

1.  Intermittent Fasting

Give your mind a rest. On average we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts a day –  EXHAUSTING, RIGHT?.  Take time – even just five minutes a day will make a difference – to calm your mind and reduce incessant internal chatter.

Try neurochemical time-outs:

  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Journal
  • Nap
  • Laugh
  • Dance
  • Sing

2. Count Calories

Record your thoughts and prioritize. Thoughts filled with worries, stresses and to-do’s  can be overwhelming. When you write thoughts down on paper your brain says,  “Whew, now I can stop trying to remind  him/her OVER AND OVER AND OVER SO THERE’S NO FORGETTING.”

When a worrisome, stressful, hurtful, anxiety provoking thought comes into your head:

  1. Write it down – keep a running list or write it all down 1/2 before bed (you’ll sleep better)
  2. Decide what to do with it – if you have no control over the situation or don’t need to do anything about it right now, erase it, put a line through it, let it go.  Your brain will remind you again if it’s important.
  3. If the thought pops up again,  repeat #1 & 2 as many times as needed.

3.  Communal eating.

Actually listen to people. It’s not ALWAYS about YOU.

A good way of knowing if you are actually listening to others is to check your thoughts while they’re talking – are you thinking about the story you’re about to tell or impatient to jump in with your own anecdote or advice (like eating alone while watching TV)?  Focus on what they’re saying without thinking about what you’ll say next or the point you want to get across and notice how you feel more present, calmer. 

4.  Cut out Inflammatory Food.

Stop beating yourself up. The only person who expects you to be perfect, is you (and perhaps a parent).   Give yourself a break and let go of the need to be perfect in everything and anything.  You’ll be able to release any guilt that way too.

Speaking of guilt . . . my criteria is Illegal, Immoral, Unethical.  IF it doesn’t meet at least one of those standards guilt is the wrong emotion.  Pick another feeling food group – sad, mad, glad, disgusted, afraid.

5.  Substitute Vegetables for  junk food.

Shift your thinking. The way that we think about things has an impact on our neurochemistry which impacts our emotions, our health and our bodies.   Flip negative thinking to positive or even neutral is changes the brain chemistry and reduces the stress response.

  • Believe it or not, you can find the humor, absurdity in most situations.
  • View it from someone else’s perspective
  • Even if you don’t believe it – flip the thought from negative to positive.

Catastrophizing a situation can also lead us to make rash and wrong choices. When we respond ‘defensively’ the stress response is elevated. 

https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/thought-diet-try-january-080000884.html

Adverse Childhood Experience, life long health & How Neuroscience Can Help Heal

There is a lot of research into early trauma and disease.  The brain’s development under stress changes the brain structurally as well as neurochemically.  The brain however, exhibits neuroplasticity which allows it to change and learn.

Read this article which we’ve posted in it’s entirety to understand how we can help children (and we know the activities described can help adults too).

How Neuroscience Helps Kids Heal From Trauma

by Katie Grieze

lab school classroom
On a mid-December morning at Butler University Laboratory School 55, a fifth-grade classroom falls silent. The shouting and chatter fades, little by little, replaced by the chime of calming music.

Around the room, students lie flat on the floor, blinking up through the cucumber slices pressed to their eyes. Some sprawl out, arms spread wide, as others fold their hands together or reach up to feel the fruit’s coolness.

Cucumbers do more than signal a spa day in the movies, the students are learning. Rather, the slices can act as an anti-inflammatory for a stressed-out brain in the same way that ice treats injuries. They can calm the mind and prepare it for learning—a perfect addition to the collection of relaxation strategies Lori Desautels has brought to classrooms in Indianapolis and across the nation.

Throughout fall 2019, the College of Education Assistant Professor visited those fifth-graders every week to teach them about the brain, how it works, why we experience stress, and how to regulate emotions. Students learned that the prefrontal cortex is the brain’s center of learning, decision making, and problem solving. They learned that the amygdala, formed by a small set of deep-brain neurons, causes powerful emotions such as anger and fear that can make it difficult to concentrate. And they learned that, through a range of activities that incorporate breathing, movement, or sound, they can control those emotions and relax their minds.

It’s all part of Desautels’ work in a field known as educational neuroscience, which focuses on finding the most effective strategies for working with students who have experienced adversity or trauma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 percent of American children will experience at least one adverse childhood experience—or a potentially traumatic event—by the time they turn 18. About one in every six children will have four or more of these experiences, which can include circumstances such as violence, abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, food insecurity, or drug use, to name a few.

Beyond causing long-term consequences for overall health, trauma can affect a child’s ability to succeed in school as stress inhibits the brain from making decisions and building relationships. Some students respond to pain with aggression, while others exhibit high rates of absenteeism or keep their heads down during class.

“As the research points,” she says, “anxiety has kind of become our nation’s new learning disability.”

Desautels tackles this problem from multiple fronts. Based on her research, she develops new strategies to help kids heal from trauma. She visits schools across Indiana, talking about the importance of caring for mental and emotional health in the classroom. Desautels works directly with children to help them succeed, and through leading workshops and teaching classes, she shows current and future educators how they can better support their students.

How to stay sensitive to trauma in the classroom

Desautels teaches a variety of strategies for responding to trauma in schools, but she says rethinking the discipline is the first step. When educators react with punishments based on frustration and arbitrary consequences, this usually reactivates a student’s stress response, leading to new trauma instead of new healing.

Change starts with teachers modeling the behavior they want to see from their students.

When a child’s actions require discipline, Desautels says the adult should always take some time to cool off. After reflecting on how the incident made them feel, they should explain to the student how they plan to calm down before addressing the situation.

I’m really frustrated, so we aren’t going to talk about this right now. I’ll count to four, and then I’ll take my two deep breaths, and then I’ll wait. And if my amygdala is still feeling angry, I’ll count to four again, until my cortex feels calm.

Teachers should also consider the power of non-verbal communication. Desautels says tone of voice is critical in calming a child’s nervous system, along with facial expressions, posture, and gestures.

“Emotions are contagious,” she says. “When a teacher is able to model a calm presence, students are less likely to react defensively.”

Once everyone feels relaxed, the teacher and student can discuss what happened, why it happened, and how they can repair the damage together. Consequences should follow naturally from the action in a meaningful way, Desautels says. For example, if the student was mean to a classmate, they could create something that shows kindness.

Desautels also stresses the need for listening to and validating the student throughout the process. If a child says, ‘This isn’t fair’ or ‘You are always picking on me,’ a validating comment might be, ‘That must feel so frustrating.’

“In the moment of rising tension,” she says, “when you feel someone hears you, that’s calming.”

But these strategies aren’t only for when there’s a problem. Building strong connections with students can help with easing their anxiety and preventing negative behavior from arising in the first place.

At Butler, Desautels has created a graduate certificate in Applied Educational Neuroscience to teach these strategies to educators, medical professionals, and others who work closely with children who have experienced trauma. The nine-credit-hour program launched in 2016 and has grown from just six students in the first cohort to more than 70 today. The classes explore the most recent research in neuroscience and attachment, then shift to how that research can be used to help students.

“And these strategies aren’t just useful for working with children,” Desautels says. “We are all dealing with more and more adversity and stress. Everyone taking this certificate is trying to improve on their professional practices, but I often hear feedback about how helpful it has been personally.”

A new way of teaching

Until a couple years ago, Emily Wilkerson didn’t know anything about neuroscience. She didn’t think she needed to. Then, as an Elementary Education major at Butler, she met Lori Desautels. “It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I realized teaching isn’t just about math, reading, writing, science, and social studies,” Wilkerson says. “Kids need so much more than academic content.”

So shortly after graduating in 2018 and taking a position with the then-new Butler Lab School 55, Wilkerson enrolled in Butler’s Applied Educational Neuroscience certificate. Right away, she started practicing the techniques in her fifth-grade classroom—the same classroom Desautels worked with last semester.

Together, Desautels and Wilkerson taught the students about three key regions of the brain and what it looks like to “be” in each one. In the prefrontal cortex, located near the forehead, the mind feels calm and creative. In the limbic system, closer to the center of the brain, you might start to be distracted by emotions such as fear, irritation, or embarrassment.

On the back of the neck, near the hairline, is the brain stem. Once here, you’re basically frozen. You might feel hopeless or disconnected. You might lash out, or you might run away.

“When a student has experienced trauma, we know that their brain is most likely not in the prefrontal cortex throughout the day,” Wilkerson says. “There could be triggers in the classroom, or they could just think about something traumatic that happened to them, and that could completely spiral their day. If they are locked into that anxiety or fear, they are inclined to stay in that brain state—unless they know that they can regulate their brain.”

So, the students learned how to do just that.

Every time Desautels visited Wilkerson’s class, she brought a new focused attention practice. These activities quiet the mind by having kids focus on a specific stimulus, whether that is a sound, a sight, a taste, or a breath—similar to meditation. This helps soothe the nervous system in a way that makes it easier to cope with challenges.

For example,

  • The class could spend a few minutes with a breathing exercise that matches movement to the rhythm of the breath, lifting their arms high on the inhale and dropping them on the exhale.
  • They could place their non-dominant hands flat on pieces of paper, tracing the outlines repeatedly until their minds feel calm. Or,
  • The students could put ice cubes in their mouths, imagining their stress fading as they feel the ice slowly melt away.

Desautels also uses “brain breaks.” These exercises introduce new challenges or novel sensations to help break up the routine of a school day, training the mind to see things through new perspectives.

  • Desautels always carries a bag of assorted household objects—markers, paper, shoelaces, and so on. After picking an item, students imagine two ways it could be used for something other than its intended purpose.
  • Another brain break involves asking the kids to peel a tangerine with their eyes closed, then to eat the fruit while focusing on its smell and taste.

The more senses these activities draw on, the more effective they will be for regulating the brain.

The students learned to be more aware of how they feel throughout the day. Desautels introduced brain reflection sheets, which help both students and teachers evaluate their current brain states and figure out what they might need to feel better in that moment.

“If I’m feeling frustrated,” Wilkerson says, “I’m going to go sit in the reset corner and take 10 deep breaths, or roll playdough in my hands, because that might be something that feels good to me. But you can regulate a brain in a thousand different ways.”

Most of the fifth-grade students now use the language of neuroscience throughout the school day. And since Desautels first visited, Wilkerson has noticed an overall shift in classroom culture.

“We as elementary school teachers have the opportunity, if we are using the language of neuroscience in our classrooms, to really set students up for a greater level of success throughout their whole lives,” Wilkerson says. “I can’t imagine, if I could go back in time and learn about all this neuroscience during fifth grade, how that would have impacted me in middle school, high school, college, and adulthood.”

Beyond her work at Butler and in Indianapolis classrooms, Desautels visits schools across the state to speak about the trauma-responsive strategies she has developed. She’s also published three books about the human side of education, with a fourth expected to release in 2021.

Nationally, Desautels’ work has inspired hundreds of schools to build what she calls amygdala first aid stations. Typically set up at a designated table or corner of the classroom, these spaces give students a place to go to calm down or recharge. They might offer stationary bikes, yoga mats, art materials, or headphones. Others have bean bag chairs where students can relax with weighted blankets while smelling lavender-scented cotton balls.

Since she first started co-teaching six years ago, Desautels has worked with 13 classes ranging from preschool to 12th grade. It has become more common for schools to address mental and emotional wellbeing, but Desautels says her work is unique for its focus on actually teaching kids the science behind how their brains work.

“Teaching students about their amygdala and their fear response is so empowering,” she says. “When we understand that this biology is thousands of years in the making, hardwired to protect us, our minds begin to relax through knowing that our reactions to negative experiences are natural and common. Many of our children report a sense of relief to know there’s nothing wrong with them.”

“What’s predictable is preventable”

https://stories.butler.edu/content/how-neuroscience-helps-kids-heal-trauma

Why the brain is hardwired to believe falsehoods

Why do some people still believe the earth is flat, man hasn’t walked on the moon, the Holocast never happened or do not believe the scientific evidence of global warming?  Given its negative impact on society, it is important to understand why certain groups of people are more vulnerable to believing unsupported lies than others. The fields of psychology and neuroscience can offer insight.

A basic fact about the brain: it takes more mental effort to reject an idea as false than to accept it as true. In other words,

it’s easier to believe than to not.

“This fact is based on a landmark study published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2009, which asked the simple question, how is the brain activated differently during a state of belief compared to a state of disbelief? To test this, participants were asked whether or not they believed in a series of statements while their brain activity was being imaged by an fMRI scanner. Some sentences were simple and fact-based (California is larger than Rhode Island), while others were more abstract and subjective (God probably does not exist). The results showed the activation of distinct but often overlapping brain areas in the belief and disbelief conditions.”

While these imaging results are complicated to interpret, the electrical patterns also showed something that was fairly straightforward. Overall, there was greater brain activation that persisted for longer during states of disbelief. Greater brain activation requires more cognitive resources, of which there is a limited supply. What these findings show is that the mental process of believing is simply less work for the brain, and therefore often favored. The default state of the human brain is to accept what we are told, because doubt takes effort. Belief, on the other hand, comes easily.

This finding makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.

If children questioned every single fact they were being taught, learning would occur at a rate so slow that it would be a hindrance. 

This finding makes sense from a developmental standpoint.

“For some children being taught to suppress critical thinking begins at a very early age. It is the combination of the brain’s vulnerability to believing unsupported facts and aggressive indoctrination that create the perfect storm for gullibility. Due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, or ability to be sculpted by lived experiences, some of us literally become hardwired to believe far-fetched statements.”

For example: This wiring begins when children are first taught to accept whatever adults tell them as objective truth and not to question.  Even mystical explanations for natural events train young minds to not demand evidence for beliefs. “As a result, the neural pathways that promote healthy skepticism and rational thought are not properly developed. This inevitably leads to a greater susceptibility to whatever we are told.”

“If we want to combat the brain’s habit of taking the path of least resistance, which has destructive downstream consequences for critical thinking, as a society we must place more value on empirical evidence, and this must be reflected in how we educate our youth. Additionally, we must create an awareness of the fact that for the human mind, believing is more of a reflex than a careful and methodical action.”

From Psychology Today Article

Green means Go . . . away for Migraine & Chronic Pain

We are proponents of creativity in all forms and applaud these doctors and researchers for this possible pain-numbing approach.  We are posting this article in its entirety and have the video and highlighted some of the information for those of you who want a “quickie” 

Researchers Explore A Drug-Free Idea To Relieve Chronic Pain: Green Light

by WILL STONE

Ann Jones has been spending two hours each day in front of a green LED light — an experimental treatment aimed at alleviating migraines and other forms of chronic pain.
Ann Jones tried everything short of surgery for her chronic migraines, which have plagued her since she was a child.

“They’ve actually gotten worse in my old age,” says Jones, who is 70 years old and lives in Tucson, Ariz. Jones would have as many as two dozen migraines a month. Over the years, some treatments might work initially, but the effects would prove temporary. Other medications had such severe side effects she couldn’t stay on them.  “It was pretty life-changing and debilitating,” Jones says. “I could either plow through them and sometimes I simply couldn’t.”

In 2018, her doctor mentioned a study that was taking place nearby at the University of Arizona: Researchers were testing if daily exposure to green light could relieve migraines and other kinds of chronic pain.

It began with her spending two hours each day in a dark room with only a white light, which served as the control. In the second half of the study, she swapped out the conventional light for a string of green LED lights.  For more than a month, Jones didn’t notice any change in her symptoms. But close to the six-week mark, there was a big shift.

She began going days in a row without migraines. Even when the headaches did come, they weren’t as intense as they had been before the green light therapy.”I got to the point where I was having about four migraines a month, if that many, and I felt like I had just been cut free,” Jones says.

Some patients in the study of about 25 people noticed a change in just a few days. For others, it took several weeks. Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, the migraine study’s principal investigator and an associate professor at the University of Arizona, says that on average, people experienced a 60% decrease in the intensity of their migraines and a drop from 20 migraines a month to about six.

The results of the migraine study aren’t published yet. But they build on a small but growing body of research suggesting a link between green light and pain, including animal research done by Ibrahim’s team. While there are not yet robust data on humans, some researchers see promise for a drug-free approach that could help with migraines and possibly other forms of chronic pain.

A hunch and a headache

At his office in Tucson, Ibrahim demonstrates a device he has been using with patients. It’s a thin vertical stand mounted with green LED lights — an update from his earlier model, which was a simple string of lights.

Ibrahim, who directs the chronic pain clinic at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, became interested in the idea of green light therapy because of something his brother told him about his headaches. Instead of taking medicine, he would sit in a garden and eventually they would subside. That got Ibrahim thinking about the color green and how green light could be applied as a therapy.

“There was a healthy dose of skepticism,” he says. “It was kind of strange. Why are you using light to treat pain?”

This low-tech approach to treating pain may seem out of sync with Ibrahim’s credentials*.  As he puts it: “Drugs are my tools.”  But he started to explore the idea anyway, designing an animal study, published in the journal Pain in 2017, that demonstrated that the pain response of rats decreased when they were exposed to green light.

“We were able to reproduce it over and over and over again to the point where you just had to follow the story,” he says.

Why green?

The idea that there’s a link between green light and pain is being explored by several research groups.

Research led by Rodrigo Noseda at Harvard Medical School looked at light sensitivity, known as photophobia, a common symptom of migraines. The research, published in 2016, found that green light is significantly less likely to exacerbate a migraine compared with other colors and, in some cases, can actually decrease the intensity of the headache. The group at Harvard has also shown that green light can “trigger positive emotions” during migraines, in contrast to colors like red, which are associated with negative feelings.

Ibrahim and his research colleagues also found a connection with the visual system. As part of their 2017 study, they fitted tiny contact lenses on the rats.

They found that only the animals that could see green, either from an external light or through green lenses, had a drop in their pain response.

“We basically made the conclusion that whatever effect is happening is taking place through the visual system,” he says. “That’s why when we recruited patients, we told them you cannot fall asleep when you’re undergoing this therapy.”

Ibrahim says there’s a lot more to investigate about the biological underpinnings of the green light treatment, but research by him and his colleagues is offering some clues.

For example, Ibrahim’s 2017 study tested the effect of the opioid reversal drug naloxone on rats that had been exposed to green light. After administering the drug, there was a “complete reversal” of the pain-relieving effects of the green LED.

“Whatever the mechanism is, we thought maybe the endogenous opioid system might be involved,” Ibrahim says.

Ibrahim says his most recent research supports the theory that green light therapy is working in multiple ways: “It’s a concert of mechanisms working in harmony toward a common goal.”

Ibrahim was awarded funding by the National Institutes of Health to look deeper.

Ibrahim is also studying the effect of green light for conditions such as fibromyalgia, nerve pain related to HIV and chemotherapy and a painful bladder condition called interstitial cystitis.

The interaction between light and pain

The link between light and pain is a promising area of research, says Mary Heinricher, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Neurological Surgery at Oregon Health & Science University, but she says she’s not yet convinced that color is the most important variable in modulating pain.

“The effects of the green light is pretty subtle,” Heinricher says. “We need the parallel work showing what are the relevant neural circuits if we are going to make anything tremendously useful for people.”

She says it also remains to be seen if the green light research translates into humans, who process color differently from how rodents do.

Heinricher doesn’t expect that green light will be a primary treatment for chronic pain anytime soon, but she says the research is a laudable and necessary step as we tease out the underlying science.

“We have tended to run to drugs and not thought about intervening in the physical environment,” she says. “This is a wake-up call. There’s something going on there.”

At OHSU, her team is looking at photosensitivity in veterans with chronic pain, some of whom have a traumatic brain injury, and using functional MRI to see how they process light compared with those without chronic pain. She says it’s possible that photosensitivity could be a predictor of chronic pain.

Heinricher says her team happened upon this area of research accidentally when they noticed certain cells that facilitate pain responded to a flashlight in a dark lab.

“I was quite surprised,” she says. “If you had asked me this five years ago, I would have said no way.

If green light proves effective in human studies, neurologist Dr. Morris Levin says, he would welcome the treatment.  “It is a happy thought. I hope it works,” says Levin, director of the Headache Center at the University of California, San Francisco. “A lot of these other treatments don’t work as well as we’d like, and a lot of them cause side effects.”

Migraine sufferers are “very sensitive to environmental stimuli,” and Levin says the idea of manipulating light to lessen headache severity is a “plausible” approach.

“The problem arises when you try to find exactly what in the environment really stimulates the migraine and what in the environment might be changed without too much trouble that would still be really beneficial,” he says.

Levin says there isn’t enough evidence yet to support green light as a truly beneficial treatment for headache pain.

“It is very intriguing, but it still has a long way to go,” says Dr. Andrew Hershey, who is co-director of the Headache Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“Trying to do a classic placebo-controlled study to see if one light works or not is likely not doable in this area,” he says, since the patient knows the color of the light.

He says positive results from patients who spend time with just a green light may also relate to them spending less time with irritating light, like the blue glow of computers and phones.

From light box to glasses

Ibrahim’s patient Ann Jones decided to keep the green light, even though the study is over. She discovered that when she stopped doing the treatment regularly, her migraines reemerged.

“I made a commitment to go back on the green lights daily,” she says. “The very next day I did not have migraine, and for five straight days I didn’t have a migraine.”

Jones says the only downside is finding time to spend in a dark room with just a green light for company.

In a separate clinical trial, researchers at Duke University are trying to see if that problem can be solved through a wearable treatment.

Having a patient sit in a room with green ambient light is not necessarily conducive to normal life,” says Padma Gulur, a professor of anesthesiology, who is leading the Duke study.

Gulur’s NIH-funded study is looking at how different shades of glasses — clear, blue and green — affect postoperative pain and fibromyalgia. She says the early results are encouraging her to pursue larger human studies for multiple conditions.

“It just goes to show the power of our nervous system in how it responds and adapts to different stimuli,” says Gulur.

She says “minimal harm, ease of access and compliance” are all strong cases for seriously considering the feasibility of green light.

“Even if we see 50% of patients benefit from this, then already it becomes something worth trying,” she says.

Some people aren’t waiting for more research.

Duane Lowe is a chiropractor with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Grand Junction, Colorado. He works with patients in chronic pain. After reading some of Ibrahim’s research, Lowe wanted to see if it could help his own patients.

He ordered some green glasses online.  “I just gave them to patients to try for a week,” he says. “After a very short period of time, patients were coming back giving very positive reviews.”

So he kept doing it.

He makes sure to tell the patients that this is experimental — no one knows how well glasses work compared with the LED light or how long you need to wear them.

“I didn’t actually have to worry about whether these studies have been done, because the side effects of giving someone green glasses is almost nil,” he says.

Dr. Mohab Ibrahim enjoys the simplicity of the treatment too.  “In my opinion, the most ideal drug or therapy is something that’s first safe, effective and affordable,” he says.

*Dr. Mohab Ibrahim is an anesthesiologist with a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology., and associate professor at the University of Arizona.

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/12/15/787138928/researchers-explore-a-drug-free-idea-to-relieve-chronic-pain-green-light

Frankly Freddie: My Valentine’s Evidence Linking Chocolate to Heart Health

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I’m not allowed chocolate

Valentine’s day . . .  pooh

Did you know chocolate has been linked to lower rates of heart disease and stroke?  You would think that my humans would want me to have a healthy heart.

Freddie Parker Westerfield, Published Poet

  I sit alone, no valentines, no candy, no cake.  The only thing I get is dog food.

If you are sitting home alone on Valentine’s day with dog food you are not alone.

___________________________________________________

Find out how:

Sugar Increases the “happiness” neurotransmitter serotonin.

Scientific Research: Lose Weight with Sex (parenthetically speaking)

It’s very difficult to design VALID research studies and this one is no exception.  (read on for my scientific reasoning ).

“German researchers gave a group of men a dose of oxytocin thought to be roughly the amount released by the brain after breast-feeding or sex, according to lead author Manfred Hallschmid of the University of Tübingen”. 

“These men and another group who took a placebo then had a chance to eat as much as they wanted at a breakfast buffet, and later the same day they were offered snacks”. (The difficulty with studying sex is it’s often impossible to get a valid measure of as-much-as-WANTED).

“Those who took oxytocin ate fewer snack calories, but the hormone did not change how much the men ate during the main meal, suggesting that oxytocin affected pleasure eating without suppressing normal appetite mechanisms.” 

Scanned Rats_4

Male Mammal

“The researchers hypothesize that the hormone diminished reward-seeking behavior initiated in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, a region found to be highly sensitive to oxytocin in rodent studies” (Rodents and humans are good to compare since both are mammals).

The effect may also be stress-related: subjects who took oxytocin saw a drop in their levels of the stress hormone cortisolaccording to the paper published in 2013 in the journal Diabetes. More work is needed to understand whether oxytocin could be used to treat obesity, but until then the finding at least hints that it may be possible to curb your cravings by having more sex.” (giving you less time to eat)

 (A reasonable conclusion: This study is flawed since male mice & men are naturally picky eaters)

If you don’t believe me read the article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sex-hormone-lessens-snacking/

Originally posted on Curious to the Max

How to Harness your ‘Wild Horses’ Of Emotion

Where once emotions were thought of as wild horses pulling our minds (the metaphorical cart they are attached to) this way and that, we now understand we have far more control over them than was previously supposed.

Horse being wild

Neuroscience demonstrates that such acuity and responsiveness is not an ‘intrinsic’ personality trait, but more of a skill that develops over time and can be worked at. In recent years, fMRI brain scans have shown us what emotional responses look like, how emotions are triggered in the brain and that they can be consciously moderated.

“Emotions arise in the limbic brain’s amygdala, the most primitive part of the brain. Once registered by the amygdala, the brain connects your emotional responses to the current situation to your existing memories, which are stored in the hippocampus. It is then the job of the prefrontal cortex to decide which of these memories are relevant to recall, and what sense to make of your emotions once they have been filtered through the pattern-recognition of your past experience. Based on this, your brain uses a combination of knowledge, and intuitive, emotional wisdom to formulate an interpretation and, when required, devise a course of action and behavior in response to what has happened and been felt.”

The emotional center of our brain can be harnessed by the thinking part.  

Here’s one way to tame your emotional horses:

  1. Restrain – Don’t act on your initial emotion. The first and hardest step is NOT ACTING on the emotion you are experiencing.  We try to teach this to children – don’t hit someone because you’re “angry”, don’t act on “lust”, don’t steal because you “crave” . . . . “think before you act” . . . “count to 10” . . .
  2. Reframe – Learn new point of view.  Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, “What would Jesus say?”, How would _________(someone you admire/respect) respond?
  3. Review – Share new view with others.  When you explain out loud you hear/see more objectively.  Asking for feedback engages the thinking part of your brain.

“Working to develop greater emotional awareness and emotional regulation is hard work. But modern neuroscience proves there is plenty that you can do to get better at emotional regulation.  Approach your aspiration for improvement as a long-term project, akin to learning a new language. This is because emotional intelligence has so many different aspects to it. It’s perfectly possible, with focused effort, to change your ‘internal landscape’ for the better, using the full spectrum of emotions available to you to enhance your experience of life.”

Calmer but still wild horse

“The end result is that rather than feeling overwhelmed by some emotions, and shut off from others, you can learn to tap into an emotional ‘palate’ in a way that is more helpful and within your control. This will take effort and practice to achieve as although the ‘wild horses’ theory of emotions is somewhat outdated, the idea that emotions ‘come upon us’ contains some truth.”

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/taraswart/2019/05/24/why-leaders-must-harness-the-wild-horses-of-emotion/#125614be2768

These Breakthroughs Made the 2010s the Decade of the Brain

By Shelly Fan

(We are offering this article in it’s entirety but for those of you who want just the gist read the colored areas we’ve highlighted.)

“I rarely use the words transformative or breakthrough for neuroscience findings. The brain is complex, noisy, chaotic, and often unpredictable. One intriguing result under one condition may soon fail for a majority of others. What’s more, paradigm-shifting research trends often require revolutionary tools. When we’re lucky, those come once a decade.”

“But I can unabashedly say that the 2010s saw a boom in neuroscience breakthroughs that transformed the field and will resonate long into the upcoming decade.”

“In 2010, the idea that we’d be able to read minds, help paralyzed people walk again, incept memories, or have multi-layered brain atlases was near incomprehensible. Few predicted that deep learning, an AI model loosely inspired by neural processing in the brain, would gain prominence and feed back into decoding the brain. Around 2011, I asked a now-prominent AI researcher if we could automatically detect dying neurons in a microscope image using deep neural nets; we couldn’t get it to work. Today, AI is readily helping read, write, and map the brain.”

“As we cross into the next decade, it pays to reflect on the paradigm shifts that made the 2010s the decade of the brain. Even as a bah humbug skeptic I’m optimistic about the next decade for solving the brain’s mysteries: from genetics and epigenetics to chemical and electrical communications, networks, and cognition, we’ll only get better at understanding and tactfully controlling the supercomputer inside our heads.”

1. Linking Brains to Machines Goes From Fiction to Science

“We’ve covered brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) so many times even my eyes start glazing over. Yet I still remember my jaw dropping as I watched a paralyzed man kick off the 2014 World Cup in a bulky mind-controlled exosuit straight out of Edge of Tomorrow.”

“Flash forward a few years, and scientists have already ditched the exosuit for an implanted neural prosthesis that replaces severed nerves to re-establish communication between the brain’s motor centers and lower limbs.”

“The rise in BCIs owes much to the BrainGate project, which worked tirelessly to decode movement from electrical signals in the motor cortex, allowing paralyzed patients to use a tablet with their minds or operate robotic limbs. Today, prosthetic limbs coated with sensors can feed back into the brain, giving patients mind-controlled movement, sense of touch, and an awareness of where the limb is in space. Similarly, by decoding electrical signals in the auditory or visual cortex, neural implants can synthesize a person’s speech by reconstructing what they’re hearing or re-create images of what they’re seeing—or even of what they’re dreaming.”

“For now, most BCIs—especially those that require surgical implants—are mainly used to give speech or movement back to those with disabilities or decode visual signals. The brain regions that support all these functions are on the surface, making them relatively more accessible and easier to decode.”

“But there’s plenty of interest in using the same technology to target less tangible brain issues, such as depression, OCD, addiction, and other psychiatric disorders that stem from circuits deep within the brain. Several trials using implanted electrodes, for example, have shown dramatic improvement in people suffering from depression that don’t respond to pharmaceutical drugs, but the results vary significantly between individuals.”

“The next decade may see non-invasive ways to manipulate brain activity, such as focused ultrasound, transcranial magnetic or direct current stimulation (TMS/tDCS), and variants of optogenetics. Along with increased understanding of brain networks and dynamics, we may be able to play select neural networks like a piano and realize the dream of treating psychiatric disorders at their root.”

2. The Rise of Massive National Research Programs

“Rarely does one biological research field get such tremendous support from multiple governments. Yet the 2010s saw an explosion in government-backed neuroscience initiatives from the US, EU, and Japan, with China, South Korea, Canada, and Australia in the process of finalizing their plans. These multi-year, multi-million-dollar projects focus on developing new tools to suss out the brain’s inner workings, such as how it learns, how it controls behavior, and how it goes wrong. For some, the final goal is to simulate a working human brain inside a supercomputer, forming an invaluable model for researchers to test out their hypotheses—and maybe act as a blueprint for one day reconstructing all of a person’s neural connections, called the connectome.”

“Even as initial announcements were met with skepticism—what exactly is the project trying to achieve?—the projects allowed something previously unthinkable. The infusion of funding provided a safety blanket to develop new microscopy tools to ever-more-rapidly map the brain, resulting in a toolkit of new fluorescent indicators that track neural activation and map neural circuits. Even rudimentary simulations have generated “virtual epilepsy patients” to help more precisely pinpoint sources of seizures. A visual prosthesis to restore sight, a memory prosthesis to help those with faltering recall, and a push for non-invasive ways to manipulate human brains all stemmed from these megaprojects.”

“Non-profit institutions such as the Allen Institute for Brain Science have also joined the effort, producing map after map at different resolutions of various animal brains. The upcoming years will see individual brain maps pieced together into comprehensive atlases that cover everything from genetics to cognition, transforming our understanding of brain function from paper-based 2D maps into multi-layered Google Maps.”

“In a way, these national programs ushered in the golden age of brain science, bringing talent from other disciplines—engineers, statisticians, physicists, computer scientists—into neuroscience. Early successes will likely drive even more investment in the next decade, especially as findings begin translating into actual therapies for people who don’t respond to traditional mind-targeting drugs. The next decade will likely see innovative new tools that manipulate neural activity more precisely and less-invasively than optogenetics. The rapid rise in the amount of data will also mean that neuroscientists will quickly embrace cloud-storage options for collaborative research and GPUs and more powerful computing cores to process the data.”

3. The Brain-AI-Brain Virtuous Cycle

“First, brain to AI. The physical structure and information flow in the cortex inspired deep learning, the most prominent AI model today. Ideas such as hippocampal replay—the brain’s memory center replays critical events in fast forward during sleep to help consolidate memory—also benefit AI models.”

“In addition, the activation patterns of individual neurons merged with materials science to build “neuromorphic chips,” or processors that function more like the brain, rather than today’s silicon-based chips. Although neuromorphic chips remain mainly an academic curiosity, they have the potential to perform complicated, parallel computations at a fraction of the energy used by processors today. As deep neural nets get ever-more power hungry, neuromorphic chips may present a welcome alternative.”

“In return, AI algorithms that closely model the brain are helping solve long-time mysteries of the brain, such as how the visual cortex processes input. In a way, the complexity and unpredictability of neurobiology is shriveling thanks to these computational advancements.”

“Although crossovers between biomedical research and digital software have long existed—think programs that help with drug design—the match between neuroscience and AI is far stronger and more intimate. As AI becomes more powerful and neuroscientists collaborate outside their field, computational tools will only unveil more intricacies of neural processing, including more intangible aspects such as memory, decision-making, or emotions.”

4. A Mind-Boggling Array of Research Tools

“I talk a bunch about the brain’s electrical activity, but supporting that activity are genes and proteins. Neurons also aren’t a uniform bunch; multiple research groups are piecing together a who’s who of the brain’s neural parts and their individual characteristics.”

“Although invented in the late 2000s, technologies such as optogenetics and single-cell RNA sequencing were widely adopted by the neuroscience community in the 2010s. Optogenetics allows researchers to control neurons with light, even in freely moving animals going about their lives. Add to that a whole list of rainbow-colored proteins to tag active cells, and it’s possible to implant memories. Single-cell RNA sequencing is the queen bee of deciphering a cell’s identity, allowing scientists to understand the genetic expression profile of any given neuron. This tech is instrumental in figuring out the neuron populations that make up a brain at any point in time—infancy, youth, aging.”

“But perhaps the crown in new tools goes to brain organoids, or mini-brains, that remarkably resemble those of preterm babies, making them excellent models of the developing brain. Organoids may be our best chance of figuring out the neurobiology of autism, schizophrenia, and other developmental brain issues that are difficult to model with mice. This decade is when scientists established a cookbook for organoids of different types; the next will see far more studies that tap into their potential for modeling a growing brain. With hard work and luck, we may finally be able to tease out the root causes of these developmental issues.”

MInd-boggling indeed!!!!!

https://singularityhub.com/2020/01/05/these-breakthroughs-made-the-2010s-the-decade-of-the-brain/

Scientists locate brain circuit that curbs overeating – Neuroscience of overindulging

I admit to hedonic, glutonous eating .  Peggy, on the other hand, is a homeostatic eater and that’s why she weighs within 8 pounds of her teen-age years and I don’t.  Put a plate, a bag, a carton of anything that I find tasty and it’s polished off.

  • Homeostatic feeding occurs when an “animal” eats until it has satiated its hunger and restored its energy levels.
  • Hedonic feeding describes an “animal’s” drive to eat more than it needs if the food source is particularly nutrient-dense and delicious.

Humans are not the only mammal with a drive to overeat high-calorie foods.

In evolutionary terms, when an animal finds a food source high in nutrients, it makes sense to eat as much as possible; in the wild, starvation is an ever-present danger.  ( I’m  alert to the ever-present danger of starvation 

My doctors told me to stop eating sugar and gluten (that’s another story) It’s REALLY challenging to find foods that are not packed with sugar and/or fat . . . that I “crave”.  Energy-dense foods are every where I look and I (along with other mammals) have evolved to find these types of food delicious — and food companies know it.

Researchers find a brain circuit in mice that plays a role in overindulging in high-calorie foods.

As new study co-author Prof. Thomas Kash, Ph.D., points out, “There’s just so much calorically dense food available all the time now, and we haven’t yet lost this wiring that influences us to eat as much food as possible.”

Recently, researchers from the University of North Carolina Health Care in Chapel Hill  looked at this phenomenon in rodents’ brains. Researchers investigated the mechanisms involved in homeostatic feeding, but did not find successful interventions. More recently scientists have looked to hedonic feeding for answers.

Nociceptin and overeating

Research has demonstrated that nociceptin receptors (nociceptin is a peptide with 17 amino acids) make little difference to homeostatic feeding, but that they may influence hedonic feeding.

Prof. Kash and team engineered mice to produce  fluorescent nociceptin. This made it easier to see the cells involved in nociceptin circuits.

Many circuits in the brain utilize nociceptin, but the researchers identified one particular circuit in the amygdala that lit up when the mice binged on energy-dense foods. This circuit has projections to other parts of the brain that help regulate feeding. It originates in the central nucleus of the amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a vital role in an animal’s response to emotional stimuli.

Scientists have studied the amygdala for a long time, and they’ve linked it to pain and anxiety and fear, but our findings here highlight that it does other things too, like regulate pathological eating.

The authors believe that “this is the first study to ascribe specific hedonic feeding actions to a subpopulation of [central amygdala] neurons.”

Removing the overeating circuit

In follow-up experiments, the scientists deleted around half of the neurons that produce nociceptin in the circuit. They found that this reduced levels of binge eating.

They gave the mice access to standard chow and high-calorie food, alternatively. With these neurons silenced, the mice significantly reduced their intake of high-calorie food and resisted diet-induced obesity. Their consumption of standard chow remained consistent.

“Our study is one of the first to describe how the brain’s emotional center contributes to eating for pleasure,” explains first study author J. Andrew Hardaway, Ph.D.

“It adds support to the idea that everything mammals eat is being dynamically categorized along a spectrum of good/tasty to bad/disgusting, and this may be physically represented in subsets of neurons in the amygdala.”

The next step for me is to instruct my amygdala to love vegetables.  (jw)