Your Stressed Brain and Learning

Rule #8 of John Medina’s Brain Rules: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.


Emotional stress causes us to lack focus and inhibits our ability to retain information. This impacts kids’ school work and employee’s productivity.

The body’s defense system releases adrenaline and cortisol in immediate response to a serious but passing danger, such as a oncoming car in your lane. If you are facing hostility at home or work on a regular basis or YOU are the one with raging anger daily – your body deregulates a system which was created to deal with short-term responses.  This becomes dangerous to your health.

Chronic stress produces adrenaline which creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember information that may be crucial to your success.


Brain Byte: Parents Beware of Brain Abuse

Baby Brain Litho

It’s not an overstatement to say putting too much stress on children is a form of child abuse. – Dr. Caroline Leaf, Neuroscientist

A child’s brain is still developing and is therefore more vulnerable to stress, especially since it damages them all the way to the cellular level.

All good parents want the very best for their child.  We desire the best education, friends, skills, home life; and as they grow the best future.  Our zealousness for our children can breed ambitions that are not always best.  I remember sitting in the waiting room for a toddler well check and the dad across from me was doing his very best to ensure all of the adults in the waiting area took note of how adept his little girl was at putting the wooden puzzle back together.  He declared loudly how smart she was and how he could not believe someone her age could ‘do that!’  He seemed to go one forever bragging to his mother-in-law about all the ways his daughter was better than others and it made me quite uneasy.  However, it also challenged me to ask myself, “Do I do that?”  I know that I had-on more than one occasion-thought to myself that my boy was advanced in ‘this or that’.  I hoped that I was not boasting and turning others off, like I had just experienced. 🙂 My point is this:  we as parents WANT to have smart kids.  We want our child to be the one excelling at critical thinking, Tball/dance, reading, math, and spelling.

Having a desire for our children to succeed, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing.  However, when we want it so bad that we lose sight of what is best, we risk hurting his precious young brain.  Scientists at Harvard Medical School found that children pushed too soon to excel at school, on stage, or sports field: show fatigue, reduced appetite, lowered effectiveness  in tests and psychosomatic illnesses.  And noteworthy is the fact that these children also show a decreased interest in learning, declining ability to judge their own progress, an increase in worry, performance anxiety, and creativity blocks.

Science also shows that early childhood stressors significantly change neural circuitry and brain chemistry, this sets the child up to be an emotionally and physically sick adult.  Children exposed to excessive levels of stress before age 12, are shown to have 30% higher chance of developing cancer as an adult.

According to Dr. Leaf, stress is fear-based.  When a child is faced with a person or situation that scares her or makes her feel like she has lost all control, the brain reacts and there is a neural reshuffling taking place.  Fear changes a child’s personality.  Fear is a reason children fail to achieve at school or in relationships.

The pattern of your physical and emotional health is laid down in childhood. – Dr. Leaf

According to Dr. Leaf, research shows that young children use their amygdala, a region that guides instinct and gut reaction, while adults rely more on their frontal cortex, which guides deep analytical thinking and introspection during times of stress.  The young brain tends to jump from sensation directly to reactive emotion.  This is how the damage happens.  The younger the brain, the higher the risk of potential damage.

It you notice your child is anxious, take time to slow down and assess the environment.  Depending on the child’s age and ability you may have a conversation to see if he/she is able to express the cause of fear.  And if nothing else: pray the verses at the end of this post over your child.

So what is a parent to do or not to do?  I suggest we become in tune with our child’s unique personality and learning style.  When we care enough to get to know his/her strengths and weaknesses we will be sensitive enough not to push beyond the S-T-R-E-T-C-H zone and into the S-T-R-E-S-S zone.  Both encourage and challenge your child and at times take a pulse and see that you do not go too far.  It is all about balance, folks.  Brain Balance.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NIV

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt 11:28-29 NIV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 4:6-7 NIV

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” Col 3:15 NIV

Brain Byte: Allergies and Stress


According to Dr. Archibald D. Hart, author of Adrenaline and Stress, if you suffer from allergies you should pay special attention to the stress in your life.

Allergies can produce headaches, along with many other reactions such as hay fever, asthma, gastrointestinal troubles, hives, and even behavior problems.  Anything that alters the reaction tissues is an allergic substance.  Allergens only affect some people, if it affected everyone the same it would be called a “poison.”

Scientists do not yet  have proof that an allergic reaction is stress-related; however there is abundant anecdotal evidence that when someone is highly stressed, any allergic predisposition may be greatly aggravated.

So while stress may not be the cause of allergies, it could certainly be a trigger.  Therefore, Dr. Hart prescribes that you pay special attention to the stress in your life.  First identify the triggers and then do your best to minimize stress.

Wise-up Wednesday: Laughter is Good Brain Fuel

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22 ESV

Surely you have heard the old saying (dates back to the 1700s), “every Tom, Dick or Harry” referring to ‘everyone.’  Well, that is my dad’s name. Yep, you read that right: my father is Thomas Richard Harry.  When he was born there were two teenage boys at home itching to name their little brother.  Thankfully, my dad has a great sense of humor!  Perhaps it is developed with a name like Tom, Dick and Harry you either embrace it and have fun with it or you live a life being offended. 😉

Research has shown that laughing is more than just a person’s voice and movement. Laughter requires the coordination of many muscles throughout the body. Some (not all inclusive) Effects of Laughter*:

  1. increases blood pressure
  2. increases heart rate
  3. changes breathing
  4. reduces levels of certain neurochemicals
  5. provides a boost to the immune system

Laughter reduces levels of certain stress hormones. In doing this, laughter provides a safety valve that shuts off the flow of stress hormones and the fight-or-flight compounds that swing into action in our bodies when we experience stress, anger or hostility. When we’re laughing, natural killer cells that destroy tumors and viruses increase, as do Gamma-interferon (a disease-fighting protein), T-cells, which are a major part of the immune response, and B-cells, which make disease-destroying antibodies.**

Laughter may lead to hiccuping and coughing, which clears the respiratory tract by dislodging mucous plugs. Laughter also increases the concentration of salivary immunoglobulin A, which defends against infectious organisms entering through the respiratory tract.**

Think about it, would you rather be with a gloomy ‘ho-hum’ person or a person who is always smiling and laughing?  Laughter feels good and it is contagious.

So you don’t have a funny man or woman at your disposal?

Here are a few suggestions to add laughter to your life:

1) Rent clips of a good clean-humored comedian, sitcom or comedy movie

2) Figure out what makes your family laugh and do your best to get them rolling with laughter [funny faces, dancing, talking funny]

3) Remember that if you put one person down in order to make another laugh you are defeating the overall good intentions, i.e., sarcasm does not always equate to good humor.

4) Lighten up: laugh at yourself when you make mistakes, trust me, it is very freeing as it is physically and emotionally cleansing

5) Be with groups of cheerful people.

[sources: * and **How Stuff Works

Wise-Up Wednesday: Mind-Body Link 2

Wise-Up Wednesday Brain Byte

The Mind-Body Link 2


According to YOU Staying Young: The Owner’s manual for Extending Your Warranty by Drs. Roizen and Oz:  your belly is your stress barometer.

They profess that when we face chronic stress we tend to eat more food than we need and it is stored in our omentum for quick access to energy.  The steroids released by the HPA axis are also sucked up by the omentum and help grow it as big as the muscles on a weight lifter.  The toxins from our omentum fat are pumped directly into surrounding organs, causing us to have larger stomachs.

The Doctors write, “the bigger our bellies, the bigger our burden.”

Certainly there are a variety of factors that may increase stomach size, but it is certainly wise to consider reducing your stress level for a multitude of other reasons besides your pant size.

Wise Up Wednesday Brain Byte: The Bodily Effects of Your Thoughts

Mind over Matter: the saying is true, proven again and again by science.

Negative thinking in response to our environment, co-workers, spouses/children, circumstances – you name it – has a negative effect on our body.  Our immune system is compromised.  Our body’s ability to fight off infection of many forms, including cancer, is at risk.

Neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf shares these important facts:

When you think toxic thoughts your immune system can turn on you and harm your heart because you increase plaque formation in the arteries of your heart, making a heart attack more likely.

Research shows that fear triggers over 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones and neurotransmitters.

For more information on the effects of toxic thinking and how to reverse this process for a healthy mind/brain connection read Dr. Leaf’s book, Who Switched off My Brain?

Next Wednesday I will discuss some positive thought strategies here!  In the meantime, think POSITIVE, as much as possible.

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