Tag Archives: Cortisol

Stress Can Be Your Friend

Stress Can Be Your Friend
Stress Can Be Your Friend

People who feel that they control the events in their lives and believe that they can learn fast and perform well end up doing better on nearly every important measure of work performance, according to the team led by University of Florida psychologist Tim Judge.

When you can persuade yourself that you are in control, and you are confident in your ability to adapt quickly to life changes, you can be a top performer.

Ever noticed how you wait until the last minute to start a creative project? Our brains are hard-wired to need anxiety to get started. The chart they developed show that performance peaks and “flow” conditions are created with moderate, managed levels of anxiety.

Convert Anxiety into Excitement

The better you get at managing the anxiety, the better you will perform when facing uncertain or challengine situations. Some techniques”

  • What are the foreseeable pitfalls? Plan the action you will take.
  • Focus on positive actions you can take, turnout the fears of failure.
  • Re-write your script. We live our lives according to what we believe.

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D tells us in this TED Talk that people who view stress as an opportunity for courage or a chance at joy bypass the damaging cardiovascular effects caused by a flood of cortisol.

So, what can you do to regain your center and make stress your friend? How do you turn nervousness into excitement?

Book: Playing Pygmalion

Book: Playing Pygmalion

galateaBarbara Hayes lent me her copy of Playing Pygmalion: How People Create One Another by Ruthellen Josselson. I finally finished it the weekend I went camping by myself.  It was hard to read because the writing was terrible (see excerpt below) and because the copy I had was heavily marked up in black pen with underlines, circles and stars by the previous owner of the book, not by Barbara.  This excerpt from page 137 is footnoted (12) which indicates that this theory is also found in Dicks (1962) Scharff (1991) and Sander (2004).

People are bonded through their mutual creations, each carrying a part of the other that the other either can’t recognize (in terms of positive aspects) or can’t bear (negative ones) in the self.

To me, this meant that I could consider taking back the parts of myself that I have been projecting onto another. For example, I used to believe that I could not go camping by myself. That is was unsafe and that if anything went wrong, I would be blamed for it (“she was asking for it”). How interesting that I was camping by myself, successfully, when I finished the book.

The copy on the back cover was much better written. “Psychoanalytic theory offers a wealth of understanding of how people unconsciously create what they both need and dread. Too often, therapists join their patients in overlooking their own role in creating the relationship in their lives, such that it seems that the patients were simply unfortunate to “have” an ungiving mother or to “find” an unloving spouse.” [image: Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, Vésoul 1824–1904 Paris) Metropolitan Museum of Art, used with permission]

The Chemistry of Conversation

The Chemistry of Conversation

Why do negative comments and conversations stick with us so much longer than positive ones?
Chemistry plays a big role in this phenomenon. When we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgment and negativity than actually exists. And these effects can last for 26 hours or more, imprinting the interaction on our memories and magnifying the impact it has on our future behavior. Cortisol functions like a sustained-release tablet – the more we ruminate about our fear, the longer the impact.

Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting.


Katie Couric “Fed Up”

Katie Couric “Fed Up”

Fed-Up-poster-618x400Interesting stuff on “hyperpalatable” food and how our brains are hijacked into Programmed Hypereating with incessant food cues. An expansion of the audiobook “The End of Overeating.” Candy and chips at every checkout stand, including the hardware store and auto parts store. You don’t see that in France!

The movie attempts to do for the food industry what Congressional hearings did for the tobacco industry — reveal the lies, half truths, phony research and misleading statistics. And the elected officials whose careers they have ruined for attempting to resist them. Extortion at international levels.

On-camera interviews with Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Bottom line: avoid being tempted by packaged food by shopping at the farmer’s market, and cook.

Really puts the kibosh on the concept of exercise as the panacea. Went with some friends who love movies after a brisk walk around Spring Lake. They went to lunch afterwards, I had lost my appetite. Went back to work.

Zen, SAMe and Ear Wax

Zen, SAMe and Ear Wax

I have had a bad week. Last Thursday, after a shower, I dried my ear with a twist of toilet paper and plugged up one ear. I ignored it, and on Friday I increased my SAMe intake from two tablets a day to three, shrugging off the warning of increased agitation.

Saturday morning the ear was still plugged up so I went after it with a Qtip, driving the wax so far into my ear that it triggered feelings of claustrophobia. To distract myself, I went to see “Zero Dark Thirty” about brutal interrogation, waterboarding, and a Seal assault leading to death. I was so overwhelmed with the feeling of suffocation I had to leave the theater three times in the first hour. The feeling of being choked was so strong I actually took off my necklace. Yet I took a third SAMe for the day right after the movie.

AKD-sadToddlerSaturday night I felt like I was dying. My mind said, “it’s just earwax. You’re not going to die of earwax.” but my body really ached up the center line from my solar plexus to my heart.
My early-life decision came back: No one would help me. They were going to leave me me die. I had such a strong “felt sense” of being a sick child with plugged ears and a stuffed nose and not being able to breathe. I felt like I was being punished for being bad.

I know that at the age pictured, with two smokers in their early 20s for parents, I had frequent bouts of tonsillitis and upper respiratory congestion. My long hair would get matted when I was sick and I hated having it combed out. In frustration, they may have decided to “just let her cry.”

I kept going outside for walks in the 25-degree night because it was the only time I felt I had enough space or enough air. My mind said, “You don’t breathe through your ears. This is discomfort. You can tolerate it.” I did not wake up my husband because there was nothing he could do to help me. I started to understand what Xanax is for.

Vulnerable means Woundable. Can we try “Receptive”?

I try to fix things myself. I was so frustrated that I could not see into my ear. I knew the Emergency Room on a Sunday in January would be full of people with the flu coughing on me because ear wax would be called last. By mid-morning I realized that a neighbor I sometimes speak to is a retired doctor. I knocked on her door at noon. Nothing.

By mid-afternoon she was back and was happy to rinse out my ear with a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide. She got it unplugged. I was SOO relieved. Went to the store and got her a $20 bottle of French wine. But I didn’t sleep that night. The agitation was almost as bad, except this time I could hear with both ears. I found a pile of leaves on the sidewalk nearby. Crunching though them at midnight calmed me.

Monday morning it took 2 hours to get a doctor appointment, and they wouldn’t give me one on the same day. Another bad night, but I stayed inside. Tuesday the young doctor scraped the wax off my eardrums and it hurt! “I thought you had suction!” I yelped. But I can hear better now.

What I Learned

As toddlers, we really are helpless, but the “learned helplessness” can be crippling in later life and can become part of the foundation of depression. To climb out of the harmful early leaning, I can learn to look for the Helpers, and to ask for help. I now have tools that I did not have as a pre-schooler, including Reiki, Zen Mind, Compassion and other spiritual and mental tools.

I should let my ears drain naturally, not even a hair dryer, because ear wax is supposed to stay pliable so it doesn’t stick to your eardrum. Lateral jaw action and an occasional, single drop of mineral oil in the ear will help keep it pliable.

I should have started the search for an ear doctor right away. The feeling of dying can be very scary. Three SAMe tablets is too many.

Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain

Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain

Author Elaine Fox tells us that Optimism is more than feeling good’ it’s about being engaged with a meaningful life,developing resilience, and feeling in control. Optimistic realists, she says, don’t believe that good things will come if they simply thing happy thoughts. Instead, they believe at a very deep level that they have some control over their destinies.

Often, the control is imaginary, and mildly depressed people have a more accurate understanding that the control is an illusion. But optimistic people seem to attract good luck and good fortune. Is optimism hard-wired or can we create a healthy brain?

“Look on the bright side. I always do,” says Magic Johnson. This is a powerful technique for brain health. Research shows that people who “flourish” experience about 3 good feelings for every bad one. If you want your marriage to be happy, crank it up to 5 good feelings for every negative one.

Other techniques are mindfulness meditation, especially Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques. This balances and calms the brain. The Buddhist practice labeling our feelings and treating them as nothing more objects of attention can encourage a sense of detachment.

When there is more activity on the right side of the brain (right-sided asymmetry) there is more of an experienced of stress and fearfulness which produces more cortisol. More activity in the left half of the brain, relative to the right, is related to a tendency to approach good things, while more relative activity in the right half is associated with avoidance of bad things. Brain scans of withdrawn or depressed people typically show higher activity on the right side side. This presents a challenge for left-handed people because the right side of the brain is dominant.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR), developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts, is described in Wikipedia as:

… having a variety of very powerful benefits including an increase in the body’s immune system’s ability to ward off disease, a shift from the right prefrontal cortex (associated with anxiety, depression, and aversion) to the left prefrontal cortex (associated with happiness, flow, and enjoyment). Other benefits include a reduction in stress hormones such as cortisol, and an improvement in one’s overall happiness and well-being in life.

Author Elaine Fox also explains the physiology of people who maintain their composure in the face of stress. They have more and better connections between the prefrontal cortex which moderates and tamps down a jangling amygdala which enables them to have a “very long fuse.” They are slow to anger and they calm down quickly after they are upset. They also tend to have a wider circle of friends, enjoy higher status and earn more money.

In contrast, people with an overactive amygdala and limited connections to the more thoughtful prefrontal cortex behave more like Donald Duck. They appear over-reactive and coworkers and others tend to avoid them or “walk on eggshells” around them. They have fewer friends and earn less.

Overall, the book was optimistic that people can choose to think good thoughts and shift their outlook to a positive one in which they feel they have control over their lives and the outcomes of their actions. Recommended

Waking The Tiger – Healing Trauma

Waking The Tiger – Healing Trauma
Waking The Tiger – Healing Trauma

This 1997 book subtitled “The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences” is by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. I read this book quickly over three days and agree that it is ground-breaking. I now have a better understanding that effects of unresolved trauma include constant hyper-vigilance and the gnawing expectation of the worst possible outcome. This produces a constant flow of adrenaline (epinephrine) which leads to the clean-up hitter cortisol, two stress hormones chronically generated by the remnants of unresolved trauma.

Dr. Levine points out that there are THREE things on the menu: fight, flight and freeze. Many trauma-sufferers are frozen in “freeze,” never completely coming out of the unresolved trauma. This unresolved trauma might be an underlying factor in depression which is associated with chronic over-production of cortisol. Movement, particularly shaking, shivering, quaking, are ways to blow off the trauma. Dr. Levine says,

“Post-traumatic symptoms are, fundamentally, incomplete physiological responses suspended in fear. Reactions to life-threatening situations remain symptomatic until they are completed. Post-Traumatic stress is one example.”

In his TED talk below, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman says that what defines memories/stories are:

  1. changes
  2. emotionally significant moments
  3. endings

with endings being the most important factor in what constitutes memory. Happy endings typically yield happy memories, even if the event was difficult leading up to the happy ending. In “Waking the Tiger,” Dr. Levine’s therapy leverages this in his therapeutic practice which involves re-enacting the traumatic memory with the patient but changing the ending to a better outcome. You might notice in Dr. Kahneman’s TED talk about the difference between the left-brain “remembering self” and the right-brain “experiencing self.” This is the fundamental distinction made by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s in her “Stroke of Insight.”

PTSD Breakthrough – Dr. Frank Lawlis

PTSD Breakthrough – Dr. Frank Lawlis

This 2011 book is a quick read and a timely update to PTSD recovery research. Dr. Lawlis describes PTSD well, and with great sympathy he outlines his strategy to recovery. Not surprisingly, it parallels Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s path to recovery from the traumatic brain injury of her stroke.

  1. Surround yourself with loving people who cheer your every positive step toward healing
  2. Get LOTS of sleep
  3. Get clean physically. Fresh food, clean water, no toxins. De-tox if necessary (directions included)
  4. Get clean mentally. Interrupt rumination. Learn to choose positive thoughts.
  5. Actively learn how to cope with terrifying memories. (Dr. Lawlis has a “machine”)
  6. and healthy goals

Dr. Lawlis is a fan of supplements, blue lights and his auditory invention (BAUDenergetics.com) that uses sound waves to break the fear cycle. I’m not sure about the machines, but I think he is right about how to heal a damaged brain.