Holes in my brain
I am convinced that extreme stress has a swiss cheese effect on the brain. I do believe that there are holes in my brain that cause me all kinds of trouble.*
You see, I am like most other women, especially the type-A women out there. I knew “everything”. I kept up with where everyone’s shoes were, whether Sherri needed her uniform for a game tomorrow, that the dog needed to go to the vet, that we needed milk and toilet paper, that the car needed gas and the right front tire was running low on air. AND the youngest child’s birthday was next month and what were we going to do for her, and hubby was needing to watch his sugar so I need to plan more nutritious food to have in the house. And those things went through my brain before I even made it out of the shower in the morning, if I happened to actually GET a shower.
I saw a commercial once where a middle school aged child asked his mother about something and she said to him, “What do I look like, the keeper of all knowledge?” That is the way that I felt, and I am sure that many of you do as well.
Your brain on stress
While our brains are magnificent things, being made to handle and hold and process tons of information simultaneously (and the female seems to be a little better at the multitasking part, no offense to the male readers out there!) stress has a way of doing a number on our brain if we are not careful.
Our body and brain was meant to be able to handle stress, most of us have heard and read about the fight or flight response that our body has. When presented with a stressful situation, our body is immediately flooded with stress hormones meant to help us either fight the saber tooth tiger or turn and run for our lives. Which was great thousands or even hundreds of years ago.
And those stressors were usually short and quick with time for recovery in between.
Now, we don’t have tigers or bears, and we do happen across some very serious things that can threaten us or our loved ones. For the most part however, our stress is a on a lesser level. An every day level. Which doesn’t really leave time for recovery. Hence the Swiss cheese effect.
When your brain and body stays constantly flooded with those stress hormones, it can do some real damage. I will write another time about the damage on the body, this post is about the brain (and Swiss cheese). With the constant feeling of flight or flight, I believe our body becomes constantly on edge, always on the lookout for the next “tiger”.
This becomes exhausting after only a short time. And I think this mental exhaustion is where the Swiss cheese comes in. In this state, our brain is not able to keep up with all the things we used to keep up with. We try, only to many times forget what we are thinking of or trying to say. It is like there is a hole where that information used to be, even only seconds before.
*By the way, this is not a medical study. This writing comes from my own insight from what happened to me and my brain function my period of extreme stress leading up to and since my meltdown in 2010.
Is there hope for our swiss cheese brains? I’d like to think so. But I also feel that the longer we have abused our brains, the longer the recovery time.
How can we help our brains recover?
By reducing the stress response on our brain and giving it a rest.
7 tips to reduce the stress on our brains
- Make a determination that only a few things in life require that heightened sense of urgency and panic. Leaving your lunch at home is not one of them. Neither is your daughter’s uniform still being dirty.
- Learn to practice slow breathing techniques when you feel the panic rising, and your pulse increasing.
- Plan ahead and be proactive to hopefully avoid less “emergencies”.
- For longer term healing, you need to help your body learn to relax. I am still learning this process even a year after my breakdown. My personality is on HIGH all the time if I don’t keep it in check. Here are some things I am doing to help with that healing.
- Use an intense exercise program to burn off some of those stress hormones. Get your heart rate up and sweat several times a week if possible.
- And on the opposite end of the spectrum, learn to do Yoga or something similar. I am not into the new age part of yoga, but I do know that learning to slow my mind and body down is very helpful.
- Learn to slow your mind down. Find activities that help. Meditation and prayer are very helpful. I also like hiking in the woods, especially by a creek. I have heard that knitting is actually very good for this and I have recently discovered that playing Mahjong on my computer has this effect on me.
- Learn to go more with the flow. Realize that only a few things in life are really important, and the rest just “is”. Once you determine what is important to you, focus your life and activities on those things.
What about you? Do you feel sometimes like you have holes in your brain? What activities do you like to do to relax?
This post was originally published on my other blog, Living the Balanced Life, in July of 2011.