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How 238 Words Sparked a Conversation with 17 Million People

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We had barely posted the Dear Teacher video when people in countries from every continent in the world started viewing and sharing it at lightening speed. There’d be posts from Lebanon, Malaysia, Australia, Bulgaria, Iceland, Panama, Peru, along with countries (I confess) I had to google just to learn where they appeared on the map.

The kids never imagined their Dear Teacher video would resonate with people all over the world.

But it wasn’t only the sheer number of countries or views or shares that threw me off balance. It was the reaction and raw emotions that people kept expressing in their comments—and that no matter where people lived in the world, their posts were remarkably similar.

For example, while the kids in the video were from San Diego, California, people everywhere still somehow “saw” their own son or daughter or sister or brother or student or friend or relative—and many times, themselves—in that footage.

And it didn’t matter from what corner of the world people shared the video. People kept urging—actually often pleading—others to also watch and truly “listen” to what the kids were saying (such posts often ended with a string of exclamation marks!!!!). It also didn’t matter whether a comment was from a teacher, principal, school board member, parent, grandparent, or therapist—male or female, young or old.  Time and time again, people wrote how the video made them tear up, cry, even sob, or how it pulled at their heart, broke their heart, opened their heart, melted their heart, spoke to their heart.

As I was wading through thousands of comments, an undeniable theme started to emerge. And then, suddenly the reason this very short video was resonating with literally millions of people was staring me in the face. Yes, we live in diverse places, speak different languages, and attend many kinds of schools. But we all are the same in that we each just want to be heard, understood, and appreciated. That truly was the “heart” behind the never-ending comments.

But I decided to write this post to share more than just that reflection. Many people also noted that it took true courage for the kids to share their thoughts and thanked them for voicing what they themselves had always wanted to say—but never thought they could.

So, it appeared that a less-than-two-minute video managed to break through the stigma that often prevents us from talking about our “mental” health (noting we can talk about our physical health all day long). Somehow, a small group of kids made it safe for thousands of people to open up and now share their own thoughts and experiences . . . by the way of a Facebook video comment. And that, in itself, was incredible.

But since the Dear Teacher video needed to be short, here’s what wasn’t noted. While each child in that video has his or her own “back” story, with different challenges and struggles, they all have something in common. Each has already learned how the brain works and has applied that knowledge to his or her daily life. And these kids would be the first to tell you it was those specific experiences that then made it easy for them to “go brave” and speak up in the video.

The Dear Teacher video also didn’t mention that it first appeared on a multimedia site that Brain Highways specifically created for the families of CAPS (Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services) at Rady Children’s Hospital. On this site, we wanted to make it possible for not only kids, but also moms, dads, sisters, and brothers to learn how our brains may be wired differently, how every brain responds to stress, how to keep a brain calm and alert, and how to reset the brain once it “thinks” there’s a threat. Such information can be very powerful and then truly makes it easier for all of us to show our innate awesomeness.

And that’s why after reading so many people’s reactions to the Dear Teacher video, I now found myself wanting to give others—beyond just the families at Rady Children’s Hospital—a chance to access those same videos, audios, and handouts.

So, here’s how we can make that happen. Since this is a private site, we do need to ask interested people to first email us at contact@brainhighways.com, using the subject header: Login Info. After we receive that, we’ll send you the url, user name, and password to log onto that site—but that’s it!  You’ll then be able to access everything.

However, there was still another reason I wanted to write this post. Many people commented that they didn’t think the letter should have been addressed to teachers. Rather, such people thought it should have been a Dear Principal, Dear Superintendent, Dear Headmaster, Dear Policy Maker letter.

Many even saw the video’s message as going beyond the field of education, saying the letter could have just as easily started with Dear Parents, Dear Grandparents, Dear Football Coach, Dear Karate Instructor, Dear Therapist, Dear Employer, Dear Clergy, (and my favorite) Dear Actually All of Us.

But why not go with that last suggestion? What if we did each accept a “Dear Actually All of Us” letter? Think how many doors that might open so that everyone could be heard—without judgment—which might then springboard creative solutions that truly honor all of us.

Not realistic, you think?  Well, I don’t agree. Turns out some very young kids have already begun that conversation—among no less than 17 million people, worldwide–with just a single letter of a mere 238 words.

 

 

 

Have We Become Desensitized to Stress?

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It used to be we’d ask, “How are you?” and most people would respond, “Good.”

But today people ask, “How are you?” and the answer often is a long sigh, followed by, “So stressed.”

Have we just come to expect that we're going to be stressed every day?

Somewhere along the line, we’ve become resigned to being stressed—all the time. And adults are no longer the only ones who are stressed. Kids, even very young kids, will now say (and show) that they’re stressed, too.

Now while we all know how it feels to be stressed, we may not be aware of the subtle yet damaging ways chronic stress actually interferes with our daily life. For example, we’re more likely to revert to prior not-so-positive habits whenever we’re stressed. That’s why we can be doing great on our diet—that is until we discover we owe back taxes we hadn’t anticipated. Suddenly we’re reaching for that carton of ice cream.

And while it seems rather cruel, chronic stress actually generates a downward spiral of even more stress!  For example, chronic stress can shrink our hippocampus—the part of our brain that saves memories. So, when we can’t remember something for a test or presentation or anything we need to recall—bam!  We’re totally stressed, once again.

There’s more. If we’re already stressed, we’re much more likely to trigger our amygdala—the part of the brain that acts like a watchdog to ensure we’re safe. But here’s the problem. When we’re continually stressed, our amygdala is easily triggered even when there’s no danger.

Yet, since our brain thinks otherwise, it still sounds the alarm, telling the brain to release all kinds of hormones to prepare to fight or flee from that imagined impending threat. That alarm also signals the entire body to make a myriad of physiological changes to respond in kind.

But remember—there really wasn’t any danger. So now all that released adrenaline may turn into cortisol. However, elevated levels of cortisol can then interfere with sleep (and who isn’t more stressed from being up most of the night) and wreak havoc on our immune system (and who isn’t more stressed when not feeling well)? In other words, there are physiological reasons why we’re also so tired when we’re so stressed.

But the upside is  . . . it’s more than possible to enjoy life without chronic stress.

However, to make that statement a reality, we first have to understand how the brain actually works. Otherwise, we’re probably acting in ways we think are helpful and moving us forward—when, in truth, we’re just continuing to trigger a stress response in our brain—again and again.

Ironically, most of us can go through the entire educational system without ever learning how our brain works, let alone how it’s truly possible for anyone to change his or her current brain’s neurological wiring—at any age. Yet, it turns out we can greatly influence the kind of brain we have. (How cool is that?)

That’s why Brain Highways offers an entertaining, creative way to teach families all about the brain, as well as how to organize it so that it works optimally. When we then apply that information to our daily lives, the changes can be incredible.

For example, such knowledge about the brain makes it possible to remain calm even in the middle of chaos. It makes it possible to feel energized long after others have tired. It makes it possible to do more tasks, with more efficiency, in less time. It makes it possible to have positive interactions with others no matter how they address us.

And, yes, once the brain is working as intended, we also see great improvement in academics, focus, social interactions, coordination, anxiety, and many other areas we may have previously felt stressed about—especially when we didn’t seem to move forward.

But here’s the bottom line: The brain hasn’t changed how it works. It’s the same brain today as it was centuries ago. Yet, we have changed much of how we now spend our days—even though many of those changes are contrary to what our brain needs. Simply put, a brain that doesn’t get what it needs, day after day, is going to be stressed.

So now, more than ever, we need to reject the idea that it’s just “part of life” to be tense and stressed and frazzled and anxious much of our day. Now, more than ever, we need to learn how we can actually create a calm, energized, efficient, well-organized brain.

That’s why learning about the brain is not only fascinating—it can also be life-changing.

Lies about Learning

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Here’s some irony: Much of what we’ve “learned” about learning just isn’t true. So, what fiction is still circulating?

Doing specific movements while learning helps to keep the brain alert.

Lie #1: We learn best when we’re still.

While all of us need to move to keep our brain alert, we absolutely need to move if we have a sluggish vestibular and proprioceptive system.

Lie #2: We can choose to pay attention.

Even though the brain is amazing, we already know it can only focus on so much at any given time.

For example, think how our concentration becomes impaired whenever we have the flu or a pounding headache.

And that’s similar to what’s going on with people who haven’t completed their lower brain development. When the lower centers aren’t fully developed, the brain is intently focused on basic survival needs—morning, noon, and night—which then makes it very challenging to pay attention to just about anything else. In fact, one could make the case that these people actually concentrate more than those who are viewed as attentive. 

Lie #3: IQ does not change.

Suppose we’re given an IQ test after we’ve been up all night and are on a medication with a side effect that makes us dizzy. Do you think our IQ score will be influenced by such variables?
Well, when we administer IQ tests to people who have not completed their lower brain development, we may also not get an accurate score. That’s because such people’s brains are already distracted—only in this case, the cortex is preoccupied by trying to figure out how to compensate for missing automatic brain functions.

Yet, without this understanding, people may believe their IQ scores are etched in stone. For example, at Brain Highways, we’ve worked with many parents who were devastated when they learned their child’s IQ was so low. But when those same kids completed their lower brain development and were re-tested, their IQ scores were now higher—sometimes increasing even as much as 30 points!

Lie #4: Learning thresholds don’t vary among people.

Not only do we have different learning thresholds—where we truly can’t absorb one more piece of information without taking a break—but some of us may hit that wall within minutes of information being presented. Yet, those who do easily concentrate for long blocks of time just can’t seem to fathom how someone could run out of gas so quickly. However, if we’re trying to learn with incomplete lower brain development and retained primitive reflexes, that’s what typically happens.

Lie #5: Learning is linear.

Most curriculums are designed with an assumption that students first learn “A,” then move to “B,” and then to “C,” and so on. Those who do not move forward this way are often viewed as failing.

Yet, in truth, learning is an upward spiral, where we all periodically return to where we’ve been before. This retraceable part of our learning spiral is actually very important. This is where we’re given a chance to either learn previously presented information at an even deeper level, or we’re given an opportunity to absorb something we may have missed altogether at the first pass.

Lie #6: Mistakes are bad.

Whoever initially gave mistakes a bad rap clearly didn’t understand how the brain learns. For example, the brain wraps the most myelin (a fatty substance that covers neurons to help to increase the speed at which information can travel) when it’s actually struggling a bit. And, yes, during that phase of learning, mistakes may appear. But that just means mistakes are an integral part of true learning.

Well, what’s the fallout if we believe one or more of these lies? Plenty. For example, if we think we’re lazy or dumb or unfocused, then we may conclude we’re not capable of great learning—even though we are. In such case, we may stop dreaming of what we might accomplish. And once we stop dreaming, we stop creating. And once we stop creating, we’re no longer able to share our innate gifts with others.

So, maybe it’s time to debunk the lies about learning, and let the world know the truth. Who knows how many brilliant minds may be unleashed?

A Cortex Response to Ebola: Why Panic is Not the Answer

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What’s a cortex response to Ebola?

When our guest blogger, Misha, participated in the Brain Highways online program, she learned how to be her son’s brain facilitator. But for the past 15 years, Misha has also been working in the field of public health. Motivated by what she learned about cortex responses (while in our pons and midbrain courses) and the current reaction of many to Ebola, Misha felt motivated to share her thoughts in this blog. Note that Misha says these opinions are completely her own, lest people try to connect them to an official statement of an organization or group. 

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It’s all over the news right now and has monopolized conversations. Everyone is talking about Ebola.

What should be our response to all of this news? It’s tempting to be filled with worry, anxiety, and fear. Ebola is a deadly virus to be sure. When we don’t know much about a disease or exactly how we can get it, our mind can fill with panic. Then, instead of staying curious (in our cortex), it’s easy to lose perspective and move into our pons (flight or fight/survival mode).

We’ve also sure seen a lot of finger pointing and blame when it comes to Ebola. Assigning blame, however, doesn’t help make the situation any better, nor does it help us all move forward.

Did you know that many health organizations have had to recently shift a great number of their staff away from their research and important everyday public health work in order to field calls from people who are scared, angry, enraged, and completely panicked? So, instead of being available to frontline workers or finding solutions, they have to use their time to calm the frenzy.

This doesn’t seem like the best use of talent or resources. But this is what happens when we allow the sensationalism of the media and our fear of the unknown, cripple us from logic and appropriate responses.

So what should be our response? What can we do to help? There are a number of cortex-based actions we can employ in a time like this:

-Be a source snob

-Practice compassion

-Have a grateful heart

Be a Source Snob

Instead of believing everything you hear, let your brain filter information based on fact, reason, data, and trusted sources. On matters such as an infectious disease, you probably aren’t going to get great answers to your questions through headlines, pictures from social media, or sound bytes. There are, however, some really great articles that do a wonderful job of laying out the facts.

What is the anatomy of a good article? A good article or website about Ebola will define what it is, how it’s transmitted, how to prevent it, how it’s treated, what the major symptoms are, and so on.

For example, I read a great article the other day that explained the R nought or R0 number for various diseases. The article explained how contagious a disease is by the number of people that can catch the disease for every one person who is infected. Spoiler alert in case you are wondering: measles, HIV, influenza (the flu), tuberculosis, hepatitis and other viruses have a much larger R0 number than Ebola.

So, lay aside any conspiracy theories, and stay thirsty for knowledge and facts.  Become source savvy, and please consider limiting your media diet right now.

Practice Compassion

I once heard that compassion is really just passion in action. We know that compassion is an important part of our cortex journey. So where do we start?

Keep those in the front lines working with patients, family members, and health workers in your thoughts and prayers. Learn about ways you can support efforts and give generously. Most West African countries lack basic infrastructure to stop the spread of Ebola. Many non-profits that have a well established presence in these communities are requesting funds to purchase hygiene supplies, protective gear, and other needed materials. Truly learn about organizations before you give as, unfortunately, many scammers try to profit from panic.

Stigma is also a huge issue surrounding Ebola. Many people are being shunned, not even being served food or allowed into places of worship because of the stigma surrounding being on a contact list. People need compassion. Think of practical ways you and your family members can help.

Have a Grateful Heart

Finally, perhaps the best way to stay calm amidst the panic is to have a grateful heart. If you went to turn on your shower and warm water came out, think about how blessed you are. Do you have plenty to eat? What a luxury to not know hunger. If you live in a part of the world with great public health infrastructure, don’t take it for  granted. Thank an EMT, or firefighter, or healthcare provider. Sometimes, we just need to pause and take the time to count all of our blessings.

By changing our perspective, choosing to practice compassion, refraining from finger pointing, and filtering our information, we are poised to be ambassadors of hope. We can be a voice of reason in our conversations with family, coworkers and friends.  We can make a difference and (hopefully) shift the collective energy from panic to peace.

Why Parents May Need Both a “Good” and “Bad” Kid

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We may (subconsciously) encourage the very chaos we want to end.

Here’s what commonly happens among Brain Highways participants.

Parents who have multiple children often enroll just the one they view as problematic. To be clear: These parents definitely love that child.

But the Brain Highways participant is the one they’ve identified as being difficult and challenging. Some of those parents even go as far as to say their child is aggressive, disruptive, manipulative, controlling, and more.

However, once that child starts organizing his or her brain and begins to apply the create-a-positive brain approaches included in the course, suddenly . . . there’s a major shift in the home.

That problematic child now becomes the “good” one, while the sibling who was not enrolled starts acting up and becomes the “bad” one. The siblings have just switched roles.

Of course, there’s still chaos in the home. After all, the only change has been the source of the turmoil.

Can’t even count how many times parents have shared that scenario happened once they started the program.

So, what’s going on here? Well, first we have to ask this question: Why might a parent (subconsciously) want one “bad” and one “good” child? It’s a fair question since that crazy shift more than infers the child is not the variable.

To start answering that question, we need to first remember that the brain doesn’t participate in anything, again and again, if it doesn’t perceive some benefit. Since that’s true, then what might be the upside of having a “bad” kid? I know that sounds strange, but (trust me) a parent’s brain is experiencing some benefit if kids in the home just keep shifting back-and-forth in terms of who is good and who is bad.

Here’s a possibility. When kids create chaos in the home, there’s now a distraction.

And then, when we’re distracted by all that mayhem, we can’t possibly have time to reflect on, let alone do, whatever we may need to address in our own lives, right?

For example, maybe we’re subconsciously worried that our spouse is not as connected to us as when we were first married. Or, maybe we’ve been putting off quitting our job or re-entering the work force we left so many years ago.

It doesn’t matter “what” we’re avoiding. The common thread is . . . there’s some kind of fear attached to whatever we’re avoiding—and that fear is then greater than our desire for peace in the home.

Ouch. But that’s why fear does often disrupt our lives in so many ways.

To note: More times than not, we probably have no conscious awareness that we’re avoiding something. But again, that’s the beauty of keeping a distraction in our home, right?

From a brain’s perspective, living in chaos means that we’re hardly ever in our cortex—which then ensures that we have little or no time to ponder and reflect on whatever we are avoiding.

And since living in chaos requires that we expend lots of extra time and energy, here’s the next question: What could we be doing with that time if the chaos was suddenly gone from our lives? Believe it or not, many of our prior participants could not even envision a life without chaos when they first started the program.

Okay, so then why do we also need a “good” kid? Wouldn’t double or triple the amount of “bad” kids create even more chaos? And then, if the subconscious goal is to avoid focusing on something we don’t want to face, wouldn’t even more chaos be better?

True, but we probably also fear that people judge us. If so, then we’ll still need a “good” kid to validate our parenting skills and to deflect the spotlight from shining right on us. In other words, see? It’s not us. Right here is also our “good” child, and he can (fill in the blank) without any problem, and he never (fill in the blank).

That’s why it doesn’t matter which kid is good and which is not. The avoidance set-up works, regardless.

Now, I acknowledge that some parents may think I’m way off here. They may even be angry with me for suggesting there’s a subconscious message that actually invites siblings in a family to step into the role of “bad” kid.

But here’s what I know and have experienced. When parents ponder and then address whatever they are avoiding, the good kid/bad kid set-up goes away.

I also know this. At Brain Highways, there are never “good” or “bad” kids in any of our classes.

I’m not just saying that. When parents first broach the subject of how their “other” child is now causing problems, I always ask, “Are any of the kids in our classes perceived as better than others?”

And they’re always quick to say, “No.”

To which I agree. Even when siblings are enrolled in the same class, there’s no notable difference in their behavior, no matter if one is perceived “good” and the other “bad” when at home.

That’s because there’s only one role for kids in our classes—and that’s the role of “champion.”

Simply put: If kids are given the role of a champion wherever they go—with zero openings for any other role to fill—then only champions will show up.

 

Why Poor Readers Get Bad Advice

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When we make a connection between reading and incomplete lower brain development, we come up with different solutions.

Many people lose their place when reading.

That’s why it’s become standard to tell such people to place their finger under each word as their eyes move across a line. Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately, no. In fact, when looking at the bigger picture, this compensation only makes matters worse. Ouch. How can that be?

Well, for starters, the underscoring-finger-remedy overlooks this very important question: Why do people even lose their place? Now, when we ask that question, it opens up a whole new way of looking at the problem.

Turns out if we explore how the eyes are intended to work naturally with the brain, we discover many reasons why we may lose our place when reading. And guess what? Those reasons also explain why we may read a whole page, yet have no clue what we just read.

However, the whole point of reading is to comprehend the text, right? That’s why the finger-under-the-word approach is one step forward and three giant steps backwards. In truth, that recommendation totally interferes with our ability to understand whatever we’re reading, while also guaranteeing that we’re always going to be a slow reader.

Here’s why that statement is fact. When we place our finger under each word, we’re only allowing the brain to process one word at a time. Even a well-organized brain is going to have trouble staying focused when spoon-fed words that way.

For example, if we tell our eyes to only look at the word our finger has underscored, we can just process that word—and nothing else. That means if we’re at the beginning of a sentence, our brain will only see the word “The” if that’s the first word.

Yet, when the brain is organized as intended, it’s capable of taking in a whole line or more with one fixation. So, with the very same time it took the finger-under-the-word person to process the word “the,” other people have already read the entire line, “The dog chased the cat down the street.”

Simply, the more words we can process in one glance, we not only read faster, but it’s also easier for the brain to understand what’s written—and stay interested.

Which brings us back to the question: What needs to be in place so that the eyes and brain can work together . . .  so we’re able to read quickly and comprehend text easily—and without ever losing our place?

Well, there are a myriad of natural vision skills that make this possible. When the brain is organized as intended, we use these automatic skills without any conscious awareness as we read.  But that means we also have no awareness if we’re trying to read without some key neural networks in place. We just know we struggle.

So, here are some specific vision skills and how incomplete lower brain development relates to them.

Peripheral Vision

Peripheral vision helps our eyes stay still on a word. Peripheral vision also guides our eyes to track smoothly across the page and enables us to look ahead at upcoming text before our eyes are actually there.

Lower Brain Connection: If the pons is underdeveloped, we will have little or no peripheral vision.

Eye Fixations

Our eyes have to be able to stay still for about a fourth of a second in order for the brain to process whatever they’re looking at. Also, if our eyes move to the next fixation too quickly, then the last image presented will erase the first. That’s because the brain cannot perceive two distinctly different images in each ¼ of a second period.

Lower Brain Connection: If we have poor vestibular processing, our eyes are likely to be “jumpy.” In fact, words may often move around the page while we read.

Eye Saccadic Movement

Efficient eye saccadic movement is when our eyes effortlessly move from one fixation to the next. Here again, we need good peripheral vision (the eyes need to look ahead to know where to land). We also need to make one big, accurate “jump” from the end of one line of text to the start of the next line below it.

However, if we have poor eye saccadic movement, we will skip over words, or our eyes will move forward and then backwards within a line of text, or they’ll often land in the middle (not the beginning) of the next line. We may also skip multiple lines when trying to get to the start of the next line.

Lower Brain Connection: Both pons and midbrain development are related to eye saccadic movement.

Eye Teaming

With natural eye teaming, our two eyes align together. When this doesn’t happen, text often blurs, making it difficult to keep our place. We may also see the ending letter of one word shift into the next word. Or, we missed words while our eyes were trying to get in better alignment.

Lower Brain Connection: Natural eye teaming happens at the very end of midbrain development.

Retained primitive reflexes are yet another reason people lose their place when reading. For example, a retained Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (which is associated with pons development) makes it difficult for the eyes to cross the midline effortlessly.

When this reflex is not integrated, it’s almost as though a wall separates our two brain hemispheres. So, sometimes—it’s as though our eyes then “hit” that wall—bouncing them elsewhere (and once again, we’ve lost our place).

Of course, people have only had the best intention whenever they told others to underscore words with their finger when reading. They simply did not know the above information.

But that’s why we need to share—with as many people as possible–how incomplete lower brain development is directly related to problems with reading. Most of all, since it’s possible to go back and organize the brain at any age, we don’t have to lose our place, read slowly, and keep re-reading text, over and over again, to finally understand what’s written.

And here’s the biggest bonus: When we read with a well-organized brain, we now enjoy reading.

So, maybe . . . there are even lots of people out there who “think” they don’t like to read—but that’s only because they haven’t yet experienced what it’s like to read with all their highways in place.

What’s Not Often Shared About Depression

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Most people have yet to connect the possible link between depression and incomplete lower brain development.

The facts about depression . . . are depressing in themselves:

  • Depression affects more than 21 million Americans annually.
  • It is the leading cause of disability of people ages 15-44.
  • Twenty-one percent of Americans will suffer from a mood disorder, such as depression, in their lifetime.
  • One in five Americans take psychiatric drugs, with antidepressants being the most commonly prescribed.
  • Depression carries a high risk of suicide.
  • In 2009 (the last year for which statistics are available), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. (Note that homicides rank 15th.)
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were nearly 37,000 suicides and one million attempted suicides that year.

Those concerning facts certainly warrant looking at every possible cause of depression, right? Yet, there’s a reason most people have not considered. Namely, incomplete lower brain development may be linked to depression.

So, how is that possible?

Well, what if we’re driving off to work every day—where we have to write reports and answer to our boss whenever he demands an answer? What if, as soon as we get home, we interact with our spouse and kids, and then have to pay the bills and fix that broken toilet right after dinner, and a whole lot more–without ever realizing that we never completed our lower brain development during our first year of life? What if we have no clue that although we’re surely upright, we didn’t finish connecting key highways that give us some of the most fundamental, basic brain functions?

If so, then chances are we struggle with what often seems effortless to others. For example, we may try harder than our colleagues, yet still produce less. We may misinterpret what others say, so we think they’re judging us. We may find it taxing to process whatever we read or to follow what people are saying if there’s a lot of background noise. We may experience what seems like never-ending anxiety. The list goes on. No surprise that such a life then becomes a challenge to stay upbeat and positive.

But here’s where it gets worse. If our brain starts to sense that it won’t make a difference no matter how hard we try, then our brain actually starts to change—and not for the better.

In such case, we begin to experience what scientists have identified as “learned helplessness,” which has been documented through experiments that prove anyone’s brain can learn to be helpless.

For example, in one study, people were taken into a room where they heard a loud noise. These people were shown a panel with buttons and given the task of learning how to turn off the loud noise. However, no matter what button or pattern of buttons they pushed, the noise was unstoppable.

In the second part of the experiment, the same people were now asked to place their hand inside a shuttle box. The shuttle box was designed so that if a person put his or her hand to one side of it, there was an annoying, whooshing sound. However, if the person moved his or her hand to the opposite side, the noise stopped.

Yet, when this group put their hands in the shuttle box and heard the annoying noise, they just sat there. Their previous repeated failure to turn off the noise in the first experiment “taught” them to believe that they were helpless to turn off noise—even though the time, place, and task had changed.

Note that learned helplessness is not genetic. Rather, it’s caused by previous experiences that teach the brain a person’s efforts yield nothing positive and to then expect that same kind of negative outcome in future situations.

Hmm . . . that sure sounds similar to what happens to people trying to get through the day without basic brain functions in place. Simply, when lower brain development is incomplete, it doesn’t often matter how hard a person tries.

Yet, that experience of trying and trying without change ever coming about absolutely conflicts with what we’ve been told. How many times have we heard: If you try—and try again, you will succeed.

The only problem is . . . that’s a lie if we have incomplete lower brain development. Namely, all the effort in the world can’t change what isn’t neurologically in place. So, when we come up empty-handed, time and time again, what’s the probability we’ll remain positive and our brain won’t learn helplessness?

Of course, the brain is going to try to adapt in such situations. However, as it does so, the brain chemistry now changes. And ironically, it’s those changes that then make us even more vulnerable to be depressed.

So how does that happen? Well, since our incomplete lower brain development puts us in survival mode much of our daily life, and our brain has now “learned” helplessness, our body’s innate stress response is being activated all the time. That stress response then triggers a chemical reaction that affects our neurotransmitters . . . which then directly affects our mood.

For example, cortisol, which is part of this stress response, lowers dopamine production. Keep in mind that dopamine helps us experience pleasure.

This stress response also reduces serotonin, which just happens to be most important neurotransmitter in regards to ensuring we’re in a positive, happy mood. But guess what? When serotonin drops, now norepinephrine levels additionally drop.

Yet, we need certain levels of norepinephrine to be present since one of its primary mechanisms is arousal. Therefore, if we don’t have enough norepinephrine, we may feel less alert and experience low energy—both symptoms that are often associated with feeling depressed. And if that weren’t enough, GABA, a neurotransmitter linked to anxiety, is also lowered.

So, when we understand how this stress response affects us chemically, suddenly, it makes a whole lot of sense as to why we’re not upbeat and optimistic!

If that weren’t enough, this downward spiral continues. Turns out the more negative our mood and the longer such depression lasts, the more this stress response flips on and stays on. When that happens, we’re now more vulnerable for gastrointestinal disorders, infections, heart disease, cancer, endocrine disorders and more.

Wow. That’s quite a price to pay for maybe just not finishing our lower brain development the first year of life.

Yet, there is good news (thank goodness!). If incomplete lower brain development is a variable or even the main cause of our depression, we can do something about that. That’s because it’s never too late to go back and develop those highways, at any age.

Then, once those neural connections are in place, and we have those basic brain functions—we can now experience life with an organized brain. That’s truly very different life than one where the brain is not working as intended.

So, here’s the question: How many people are suffering and feeling depressed . . . unnecessarily? In other words, depression may not have to be a lifetime sentence, and drugs may not be the only answer.

Not surprisingly, sometimes just knowing that there is a plausible explanation for why everything seems so difficult—along with knowing it’s possible to go back and finish that early development—is enough for some people to start to feel encouraged.

That’s why if we do feel depressed, we owe it to ourselves to, at least, take a lower brain assessment to explore whether this connection may be applicable to us. That’s why if we know someone who is depressed, we owe it to them to share this same lower brain assessment.

After all, we never know. A little knowledge may end up completely changing our own life  . . .  or changing the life of someone else.

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