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Five Tips to Regroup

HiResYou’re frustrated and frazzled. You’ve been nagging at your kids for hours. Snapping. Yelling, even. You’re not happy with how you’re acting, but you can’t seem to stop the momentum, pull a U-turn and get yourself off Witchy Lane and back onto Reasonable Avenue.

Welcome to the club.

Every parent has days when life’s challenges feel… well, challenging. And if you’re the parent of a kid who is struggling, those challenges can feel absolutely overwhelming. Stress (as we all know) can bring out the worst in all of us. And if you’re feeling the stress of herding a resistant child through hours of homework, dealing with angry outbursts, or being stretched too thin, that stress can prompt you to respond in ways you know aren’t helpful.

If the stress of being parent has been turning you into someone you barely recognize, here are five suggestions to make you feel more like yourself again:

Attend to yourself. You may have seen the Snickers Super Bowl commercial in which we get to see what happens to Marcia and Jan when they’re hungry. It’s a hilarious commercial, to say the least. But it makes a good point. When we’re legitimately hungry, we can find ourselves responding badly to stresses or obstacles in our lives.

A self-care acronym taught in many recovery groups is H.A.L.T., which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. It’s a reminder to pay attention to your state of mind, especially when you find yourself making choices that aren’t helpful.

If you feel yourself overreacting to parenting challenges, take a quick assessment. Are you setting yourself up for this kind of overreaction by neglecting some of your most basic needs? Would you (and your kids!) benefit if there were a healthy snack or a quick nap in your immediate future?

Put yourself in time out. Time outs aren’t just for kids. When things start getting too intense, take a break. Go to your room, walk around the block, retreat to the kitchen. Go sit in your car for ten minutes if you need to.

The point is, interrupt the escalation by removing yourself from the situation. Turn your attention away from whatever it is your child is doing that is so frustrating, and pay attention instead to what is happening in your emotions and in your body. Observe yourself almost as if you were a detached third party. How are you feeling? Frustrated? Powerless? Defensive? What’s going on in your body? Are you clenching your teeth? Do you feel tension in your hands? Is your stomach in knots? This kind of mindfulness often diffuses the intensity of what you are experiencing and puts you in greater control.

What’s particularly cool is that research has shown that this kind of mindfulness in educational settings reduces teacher burnout, increases compassion, and improves performance in the classroom. In other words, it helps teachers become better teachers. Can it help you become a better parent? Try it and find out.

Try whispering. Is yelling at your kids working? Probably not. In fact, raised voices can sometimes cause everyone to escalate their intensity and volume. Try lowering your voice instead, speaking in a below-normal volume.

It may take a few minutes for your kids to notice that your mouth is moving, but once they do there’s a chance they’ll be curious enough about whatever it is you’re saying to lower their own volume so they can hear. This may not work every time, but it’s worth a try. It really can de-escalate the chaos and create space for a productive conversation.

Give your family a heads up. One woman explained that, when she’s grumpy or stressed and realizes she’s in danger of overreacting, she lets her family know by wearing a particular piece of “comfort clothing.” It’s her favorite tattered old robe, and her family knows that when that robe shows up, it’s in their best interest to give mom a little extra cooperation and space.

If the tattered robe doesn’t do it for you, try simply explaining, “Okay, gang, I’m feeling stressed and don’t want to say or do anything we’re all going to regret later, so consider yourself warned. I need __________” and you can fill in the blank. No arguing for twenty minutes? Everyone working quietly on homework for a spell? Some space to decompress? Fifteen minutes of everyone picking up toys and straightening the house? Be specific.

The simple act of communicating where you are on the “losing it” continuum—and how your family can help you keep that from happening—can make a big difference in the quality of the rest of your day or evening together.

Realize laughter can be a game changer. Another mom tells the story of being enmeshed in a screaming match with her teenaged daughter when her daughter suddenly glared at her, crossed her arms, and said tauntingly, “Don’t tell me what to do. You’re not my mother.” They stared at each other for a moment and then burst into laughter. The mom explains, “Her accusation was so sassy and ludicrous, it immediately broke the tension. To this day, one of us will say to the other, ‘You’re not my mother’ and we’ll crack up laughing.”

Research shows that laughter lowers blood pressure, decreases stress hormones, and relaxes muscles. Laughter also creates a sense of trust and connection. Bottom line, finding something to laugh about together is a great way to immediately change the atmosphere in any interaction, particularly a tense one.

Everybody “loses it” sometimes, but very of us feel good about the experience after the fact. Put these five tips into practice and you just might find yourself “losing it” a lot less.

To Lower Alzheimer’s Risk, Eat More of These 10 Foods (And Less of These 5)

Steak BiteAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with one in three senior adults being impacted by the disease.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that a new study offers hope for people who want to lower their risk for Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, have developed a diet plan (which they refer to as the MIND diet) that they say may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 53 percent. That’s for people who follow the diet rigorously. But even people who follow the diet “moderately well” see results, decreasing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by about a third.

The MIND diet divides foods into 10 food categories that are healthy, and 5 food categories that are to be avoided or limited.

The foods you should be eating come from these food groups: Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, wine (one glass a day).

The foods you need to limit are the usual suspects. What’s nice about the MIND diet is that that these foods aren’t eliminated, just restricted. That means that juicy steak isn’t out of your life forever.  Here are the five food groups from which you should indulge sparingly: red meat (limit to four servings a week), butter and margarine (limit to less than a tablespoon per day), cheese (limit to one serving a week), pastries and sweets (limit to five servings to week), and fried and fast foods (limit to once a week).

Tempted to Lie or Cheat? Some Scientists Say You’re More Likely to Give in to Temptation in the Afternoon

iStock_000000335618_MediumNot to give anyone an excuse for bad behavior or poor choices, but researchers are saying that “cognitive tiredness” later in the day can play a role in the decision to give in to temptation.

A number of studies seem to reveal similar findings. In one study, folks were far more likely to cheat on a task in the afternoon than in the morning. In another study, they were more likely to cheat after doing other tasks (like memorizing numbers) that left their brains somewhat fatigued.

Other researchers don’t agree. They say the studies that support what some call “morning morality” don’t take into consideration the difference between “morning” and “night” people. Their point is that you can’t really assume someone is more cognitively tired in the afternoon because that person may actually be operating at their peak at that time of day.

Check out these brainy, gooey, and creepy recipes!

Brain Cupcakes

Since we like to talk about the brain, think about the brain, study the brain, and improve the brain, we thought Halloween was the perfect time to MAKE some brains. Take some traditional treats and turn them into a creepy, delicious dish everyone will love. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a zombie to enjoy these brains.

Want to make some scary appetizers for a Halloween party? Try these recipes:

Avocado Salsa Brain Dip
Creamy Chicken Brain Dip
Skeleton and Brain Dip
Shrimp Cocktail Dip
Watermelon Brain


Check out these brainy treats that will satisfy the sweet tooth:

Brain Cake Balls
Brain Blood Clot Cupcakes
Monster Brain Cupcakes
Wormy Jello Brain
Zombie Truffles
Skull Truffles

And, finally, here are some drinks that both kids and adults will love:

Witches’ Brew
Black Halloween Punch
Green Grog

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Fixing Painful Memories While You Sleep


When Todd was five, the neighbor’s cat went ballistic and gave him a really bad scratch. Twenty years later, Todd still steers clear of cats. In fact, areas of his brain involved in emotion and fear light up, and Todd starts to sweat and feel anxious, if someone even mentions cats

Can Todd train his brain to react differently? But now Todd has fallen in love with a woman who owns several cats and can’t imagine her life without her feline friends.

For years, people have sought relief from fearful or painful memories by exploring them in the safety of a psychologist’s office. There’s something about activating the regions of the brain involved in those memories—in settings where the anticipated outcome never materializes—that creates new associations. In other words, if Todd racks up enough scratch-free experiences talking about cats in the safety of a counselor’s office, seeing cats safely from a distance, or petting cats without consequence, the link Todd’s brain makes between cats and scratches will begin to weaken.

Scientists are figuring out a new way to desensitize the brain through these kinds of repeated, pain-free exposures. And they’re doing it during sleep. 

Researchers created fearful memories by delivering mild electric shocks to study participants at the same time the participants were shown pictures of faces and exposed to distinct scents, like lemon or mint. Pretty soon, all it took was seeing the pictures and smelling the scent and participants would break out in a slight sweat, their amygdalas on alert, anticipating the mild shock.

After training the brain to respond fearfully to certain images and smells, could researchers retrain the brain? Could they desensitize those memories? Create pain-free associations that would begin to diffuse the painful associations they had fostered? Even more intriguing, could they create pain-free associations while the participants were asleep?

They managed to do just that, and they accomplished it by having participants nap in the lab with electrodes on their scalps to monitor brain waves. During slow-wave sleep, when recent memories are most active, researchers repeatedly exposed the nappers to the same scents—lemon and mint—this time without any shocks.

At first, even while sleeping, participants responded the same way they had when they were awake, by sweating and with brain activity that indicated the same kind of negative anticipation. Before long, however, with repeated exposures, the volunteers began to show less negative reactions both in their bodies and their brains.

People who slept longer and received more “safe” exposures benefited the most from the treatment.

After waking up, participants continued to show decreased responses to the photos and scents, meaning the desensitization they demonstrated while sleeping stuck with them.

Will nap therapy replace talk therapy in the near future? Probably not. Although if the two approaches are ever combined, time spent on your psychologist’s couch might mean bringing along a pillow, as well.  

Texting Alters Teen Brain Chemistry

texting vid

New data on teen texting is disturbing, to say the least. Over the past three years, teen texting is up 600%, with the average number of texts among teens hitting 3000 texts every month. Increasingly, doctors are treating teens for sleep disorders because one out of five teens wake up at night so they can text.

According to a report aired on ABC, doctors are describing the teen texting phenomenon as a physical addiction that can alter the brain.

Texting is addicting because the instant gratification of getting a text back floods the brain with dopamine, which is linked to pleasure and reward. In fact, the changes in brain chemistry are not unlike the changes that occur in the brain of someone addicted to drugs. Child neurologist Dr. Michael Seyffert explains that “Neuroimaging studies have shown that those kids who are texting have that area of the brain light up the same as an addict using heroin.”

You can watch the ABC report on texting here.  

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Are Learning Styles Determined by Brain Skills or Preference?

Scientific-American Should teachers teach to individual learning styles?

Does research show that teaching to learning styles is effective?

Are learning styles determined by brain skills or preference?

An article in Scientific American explores these and other questions that matter to educators and parents everywhere.

The article begins with the story of Dr. Ken Gibson who, inspired by his own reading challenges, founded LearningRx, a brain training company that strengthens cognitive skills weaknesses.

According to Dr. Gibson, cognitive weaknesses are often at the root of preferred learning styles. That’s because students lean on their particular cognitive strengths as a way of compensating for one or more weaknesses. “We have a natural tendency to use the skills that are strongest,” Gibson adds. “That becomes our learning style.”

He does a great job of explaining why learning preferences develop. The burning question, then, is this: When schools accommodate those preferences by teaching to individual learning styles, does it help? Sophie Guteri, the article’s author, examines several studies, quoting researchers who say there’s no real evidence that accommodating individual learning preferences results in higher grades or better test performance.

In the article, Gibson doesn’t chime in on whether or not accommodations work. His point seems to be, instead, that they shouldn’t be necessary. That is, in fact, the premise behind his company, LearningRx. At LearningRx, students are given a cognitive skills assessment to identify weaknesses in skills including memory, logic, visual processing and auditory processing. Based on the results of that assessment, LearningRx brain trainers customize training exercises to target and strengthen those weaknesses. As weaknesses are strengthened, students find themselves better equipped to process incoming information in a greater variety of formats.

In this fascinating article, Guteri does an excellent job exploring the complexities of the issue, while the studies cited create a compelling case for interventions, such as brain training, that improve students’ ability to learn regardless of how material in the classroom is presented. 

Lies and Their Impact on Your Brain

iStock_000000335618SmallYour grandmother asks how you liked her Spam® burger. Gulp. Choosing your words carefully, you say, “I’ve never eaten anything like it! What unique texture!” Your boss asks why you’re late. Gulp. You tell him about the accident that tied up two lanes of traffic, but you conveniently leave out the fact that you also overslept. 

Oh, the little white lies we tell. If we’re honest, most of us have undoubtedly stretched the truth at times. Call it exaggeration or fibbing, but leading deception expert Pamela Meyer concludes that the average person lies between 10 and 200 times every day. White lies are the seemingly harmless “untruths” we offer to minimize someone’s disappointment or anger, avoid embarrassment or forego an unpleasant outcome. But lies of any degree can affect more than your reputation, your career and your relationships—they can mess with your brain, alter your health and decrease your longevity. Really? Yes really.

“I don’t think that dress makes you look fat.”

When you tell the truth, you honestly state or recall something, but lying takes extra effort because you have to distort the facts and then convince others of your story. Lying increases anxiety and releases stress hormones, which increase heart rate and blood pressure. Stress from telling even little lies also lowers the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in your body, and can contribute to other medical conditions including depression, obesity and cancer. Over time, the cumulative effect of lies and stress can even shorten your life.

Psychology professor Anita Kelly at the University of Notre Dame tracked the effects of lying on the health of 110 adults for 10 weeks. Participants who were instructed to avoid lying at all costs reported improvements in their relationships, as well as fewer problems with tension, insomnia, backaches, headaches and sore throats than participants who were given permission to stretch the truth as needed.

“I’m fine. No, really.”

In research published in Psychology Today, 85 percent of restaurant diners admitted to white lies when asked about their food and dining experience. (“How is the blackened trout?” “Fine, just fine.”) Even omitting the truth over something as “trivial” as a meal can strain—and even shrink!— your brain. Medical researchers have discovered that the brain’s prefrontal cortex is most susceptible to stress and actually contracts when the body is tense and anxious. Perhaps we’d all do better by following mindful Albert Einstein who advised, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

“The check’s in the mail.”

As easy as it is to fudge the truth now and then, it’s important to tell the truth for the health of our relationships, bodies and brains.

So the next time you hear: Do these pants make my butt look fat? Do you like my new haircut? Just how many cookies did you eat? Gulp. Go ahead. Fess up. Your brain and body will thank you.  


Grow Your Own Brain-Healthy Vegetables and Fish!

Aquaponics is a relatively new gardening technology that grows fish and vegetables together.

From a gardening standpoint, aquaponics is sheer genius, creating a symbiotic system in which fish create nutrients for the plants, and plants filter the water for the fish. The outcome? Healthier, happier fish; healthier, happier veggies. No chemicals allowed. Oh, and because the same water is recycled continually through the plants and fish tank, there’s no big water bill, either.

From small backyard systems to big commercial farms, people are using aquaponics to feed their families and even their communities with organic veggies and edible fish such as tilapia, perch, catfish, and even trout.

So what does that have to do with your brain?

Green, leafy veggies are great for your brain because they are often full of vitamins, iron, folic acid and antioxidants, all necessary for cognitive health, In fact, Harvard Medical School researchers discovered that women who ate the most green leafy veggies (compared to women who ate fewer veggies) experienced less cognitive decline as they aged.

Plus, many vegetables are also mostly water, which helps you stay hydrated. When your brain doesn’t get enough water, it can lead to headaches, overall low energy, mental fatigue and eventually memory problems and confusion.

And while aquaponics systems are limited to freshwater fish that don’t contain the levels of brain-healthy Omega-3 oil found in fatty saltwater fish, it’s still a healthy way to eat. In fact, tilapia—which do well in aquaponics systems—are exceptionally low in calories and high in protein, offering benefits related to your overall health, heart health and healthy weight (all important factors to your brain).

Plus, a key way to keep your brain healthy and active is to learn new skills. And for many of us, learning how to grow fish and veggies together definitely falls into that category.

If you’re up for a fun gardening adventure, click on the images in this blog to watch videos, or check out this YouTube search.  Aquaponics gives you healthier veggies, healthier fish, a healthier brain, a healthier heart and maybe even a slimmer waistline.

What’s not to like about that?


How Does the Brain Ignore Self-Tickling?

If someone makes a grab for that ticklish place above your knee, you double over in laughing protest. When you grab your own knee, nothing happens.

You can’t tickle yourself because your brain doesn’t pay as much attention to sensations caused by your own actions. In fact, brain scans show that neurons in the cerebral cortex—the part of the brain responsible for attention, awareness and consciousness—are less active during a self-tickle than when someone else is doing the tickling!

Scientists say the brain distinguishes between expected sensations caused by our own actions (for example, the pressure of the keyboard against our fingertips when we type) and unexpected sensations from our environment (for example, if someone sneaks up from behind and taps us on the shoulder). The reason? Heightened awareness of unexpected contact from our environment helps keep us safe.

And, perhaps, being less aware of our own movements keeps us sane. Imagine if you were constantly aware of the feel of your shirt against your skin, ever mindful of the vibrations of your own vocal chords as you spoke, or acutely aware of the feel of your own hair against your neck. That kind of nonstop mental stimulation would drive you nuts. When you look at it that way, not being able to tickle yourself is a small price to pay for sanity.