‘Tis the season to be stressed. Everyone I know seems stressed. The holidays have a way of doing that. A little stress is good for your brain, but too much stress causes many problems. One such problem is that stress creates a kind of “trap” for your brain that makes it hard to escape the stress cycle. In other words, where the brain is concerned, stress seems to feed on itself.
Robert Sapolsky, professor of neurology at Stanford University, puts it this way:
“Stress pathways are diverse and involve many regions of the brain in feedback loops that can sometimes greatly amplify a response. The process begins when an actual or perceived threat activates the sensory and higher reasoning centres in the cortex. The cortex then sends a message to the amygdala, the principal mediator that precipitates activity in the amygdala. The amygdala releases corticotropin, which stimulates the brain stem to activate the sympathetic nervous system via the spinal cord.
In response, the adrenal glands produce the stress hormone epinephrine; a different pathway simultaneously triggers the adrenals to release glucocorticoids. The two types of hormones act on the muscle, heart and lungs to prepare the body for “fight or flight”. If the stress becomes chronic, glucocorticoids induce the locus coeruleus to release norepinephrine that communicates with the amygdala, leading to the production of more CRH- and to ongoing reactivation of stress pathways.”
Translated into lay language: NOT GOOD FOR YOU OR YOUR BRAIN.
Why is it that some people manage to be relatively stress-free? It seems to me that they are “otherwise focused”. They spend more time thinking about other people than about themselves. It’s amazing how stress seems to melt away when we stop thinking about ourselves. Here is a story that Dan Clark tells:
“A friend of mine named Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it. “Is this your car, Mister?” he asked.
Paul nodded. “My brother gave it to me for Christmas”. The boy was astounded. “You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn’t cost you nothing? Boy, I wish…” He hesitated.
Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels.
“I wish,” the boy went on, “that I could be a brother like that.”
Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then, impulsively he added, “Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?”
“Oh yes, I’d love that.”
After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, “Mister, would you mind driving in front of my house?”
Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbours that he could catch a ride home in a fancy automobile. But Paul was wrong again. “Will you stop where those two steps are?” the boy asked.
He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his little crippled brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car.
“There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn’t cost him a cent. And some day I’m gonna give you one just like it, then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I’ve been trying to tell you about.”
Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The shining-eyed older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride.
That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when he had said: “It is more blessed to give…”
Merry Christmas everyone!
In the next Brain Bulletin you will learn an amazing secret to triple your reading comprehension.
Terry Small is a brain researcher who believes that everyone is a genius. To interact with Terry, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for more articles.