As of yet, no one has proved a proficient mind-reader. In fact, some of us in later years have trouble reading our own minds!
So, uh, are you one of those people who secretly worry that YOU might be the person stashing your keys in the fridge? Do you find yourself forgetting someone’s name in a pinch when you can’t possibly back-peddle and save yourself embarrassment?
My grandmother’s favorite response to this dilemma was to introduce the person……or an object……..as whatchamacallit.
Yes, I admit the same scenario happened to me, but I couldn’t think of whatchamacallit fast enough!
Some people got worked up enough about their faulty memories to see a doctor. They really DID! This, in spite of the fact that the doctor could very well diagnose them with Alzheimer’s right on the spot!
Hey, not me! But, anyway……
“Patients come in complaining of faulty memory and wonder if they’re beginning to get Alzheimer’s,” says Roberta Lee, MD, vice-chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center and author of The Superstress Solution (Random House, 2010). “Their workups and MRI scans look normal. In the interview, I ask them about their lifestyle and almost invariably they have compounded stress.”
Yes, the brain has a stress-response that causes the hippocampus to shrink. Most of us have heard of neuroplasticity, and how wonderfully the brain can adapt, expand and learn. Not often discussed is that the floods of cortisol evoked by stress cause our brains to curl up in a little ball and wait for everything to be over. Long-term memory is the first to diminish. This may be because when people are highly stressed, they are programmed from ancient times to blast their brains with cortisol and jump into action. This form of brain programming has been observed in children with disruptive behavioral disorders.
Teachers, admit it – there are some kids that, secretly, thrill you with their absence. Call roll and ……..YES! She’s not present. Why?
These are the children who are oppositional and reactive, flipping erasers at studious kids, eating glue, slyly ripping up important papers on your desk. Certainly, the individual is not involved with the joy of learning you wish for all children!
Sometimes such children are born with an enlarged, reactive hind-brain and a smaller hippocampus. Mothers who are very stressed with domestic abuse, violence or severe economic straits can give birth to children with behavioral issues.
So stress does indeed re-structure the brain during fetal development. The brain does not stop reinventing itself after birth or with aging, either. If we are constantly just trying to escape the stress and hunker down, our cognition does indeed become impaired. Eventually, the memory losses of aging accelerate. We can observe this in persons who have been mentally ill for a long time. The mental illness, its delusions and paranoia, causes so much stress that the brain is even more impaired. Many times the mentally-ill, aging adult will exhibit signs of dementia earlier than others.
I can’t help my reactions to stress!
So I thought. But, just as stress disrupts your day, you have the capacity to disrupt stress. How?
Actually, we become what we think about. Often, stress-related scenarios revolve endlessly in the minds of the stressed. This is the brain’s reaction to solving the negative situation. In fact, this reactivity produces more stress, not a solution. The Bible says, “As a man thinks, so is he.”
Stimulating the parts of the brain that handle positive attitudes strengthens those areas, just like regular physical exercise builds muscle. It might help to mentally backspace the negative thought and retype a positive thought. This will take practice, but if diligent, the brain will begin to learn positive imaging. The brain learns by doing!
Surprisingly, the brain is not built to make you ‘happy’. The brain is built to aid the human being in survival. This means that depression, stuffing available food and sleeping kept people alive in primitive situations of lack. Today, positive thoughts and actions keep people alive and integrated within their society.
Dr. Lee suggests a five-minute interval during the day to do and think of nothing at all! Not surprisingly, this rests the brain’s constant revolving and helps cushion it against the premature aging of stress reaction. This will take practice not to let the old hamster-wheel of negative thought start spinning again.
She also suggests a good breakfast of carbs and protein. The brain needs food!
Neuropsychologists claim that meditation has the most effect on positive emotions. Regular meditation serves as a way to recover quickly from negative responses brought on by frightening images or situations. They claim that meditation rewires the circuits in the left prefrontal cortex. This area subdues negative moods, so we don’t get so upset by shame, worry, fear or sadness.
Mindfulness is a word that has, through over-use, almost lost its meaning today. But making a decision to control and change your mindset can actually change your mind!