An Ancient Technique Can Improve Your Attention Span

Does this sound familiar? You can’t focus. You’re bored one minute, overwhelmed the next, and stressed either way. You make mistakes you shouldn’t and then dwell on them for hours. When you try to be productive, you can’t go five minutes without checking your texts, dreading some future engagement, or walking into another room to check on … something. (What was it again?)

Neuroscientist Amishi Jha opens her book, Peak Mind, with this vignette to illustrate an important truth: You’re not alone. Most people can’t go three minutes at work without being interrupted by a chatty colleague, and students cite the allure of social media and other digital distractions as a major disruptor to their studies.

“I’ve seen certain universal patterns in the way all of our brains function — both how powerfully they can focus, and how extraordinarily vulnerable they are to distraction — no matter who you are or what you do,” Jha writes.

At the heart of this predicament, Jha argues, is attention — specifically, the many ways we can disconnect from it. Depleted attention creates a mental fog. Hijacked attention manifests as anxiety and worry. Fragmented attention shatters our ability to focus. Disconnected attention keeps us detached from others. Each attentional affliction causes you to grow out of sync with what’s happening around you, affecting what you think, how you feel, what you learn, how you react, and your relationships with others.

In short, attention isn’t just a matter of where your focus happens to be. It’s the internal force that shapes how you encounter and experience your life in its entirety.

Attention: A cognitive currency

In her book, Jha compares attention to a currency. You can pay it to others, and they can give theirs to you. You can request it in the spirit of charity — “Will you give me your attention, please?” And as any parent whose child is within earshot of an ice cream truck can attest, attention can be stolen outright.

This connection is more than metaphorical. Attention is a scarce economic resource; you only have so much to give in your lifetime. When you focus on a person, tweet, daydream, or TV show, you are spending a moment of attention. You can never get it back, and you can’t provide it elsewhere. The same is true for any $10 bill that’s left your wallet.

But like that ten-spot, attention is also a means of exchange. In exchange for yours, you may receive love, knowledge, entertainment, self-understanding, and much more. “Given how powerful attention is, we need to really respect where we place this precious brain resource,” Jha said in an interview.

Evolutionary life insurance

This cognitive currency is traded through your brain’s attention system. This system filters out unnecessary noises, sights, and sounds from the environment alongside distracting thoughts and mental chatter. Without it, you couldn’t focus at all. Your conscious mind would stall from the vast amounts of information bombarding it — like a computer with overloaded RAM.

This attention system isn’t foolproof, though. It becomes easily distracted when it encounters novel, exciting, threatening, or self-related information in the environment. And this backdoor hack isn’t a flaw; it’s a feature of evolutionary design.

For example, imagine you’re an ancient human who is spearfishing in an African river. You’re focused intently on the glittering water, trying to aim your thrust to account for the bending light. Suddenly, your eye catches something in its periphery. It’s long, brown, and moving half-submerged through the water.

Your attention system will break its focus and snap toward that potential threat. If it’s a log, you’ve paid a pittance of attention and can return to fishing. But if it’s a Nile crocodile, then your attentional insurance paid out big. Distraction just saved your life.

Living in the Attentional Red

While distraction has its uses, today it’s an ever-present quality of our lives, wrenching us from our attention when we need it most. That’s because, Jha writes, while attention is powerful, it’s also fragile. It can be easily broken by stress, threats, and negative moods. And the prevalence of these forces is causing our crisis of attention.

Don’t get the wrong idea. Much like distraction, these three forces can be advantageous. Stress has a positive side called eustress. It’s the low-to-medium levels of stress that motivate you to accomplish something. Without it, you’d have no drive, and every day would be a listless lull in the doldrums.

Similarly, a negative mood can signal that something is wrong. That unease can propel you to solve the problem and lift the emotional pall.

But the modern world has hyper-charged these forces beyond the tipping point of usefulness. Stress has become distress, negative moods have become chronic melancholy, and threats are overrepresented. There are many reasons for this hyper-charging, but a prominent one is the attention economy.

Technology companies, news media, and political players now recognize attention as the resource it is and, in some ways, regard it as more valuable than money. “[M]oney follows attention, whereas the reverse is not necessarily true. As our economy becomes more dependent on attention, the medium of exchange flows from the holders of the old to the holders of the new,” writes the Berkeley Economic Review.

Given attention’s value, it’s little wonder enterprises have built products and services to target the attentional back doors left open by evolution. 

News organizations, for example, favor headlines that drip with threat and tragedy — the so-called “if it bleeds, it leads” standard. That’s because we’re hardwired to assess threats and determine what can be done. Essentially, we need to find out if the story represents a log or a crocodile. The more people compelled to perform that assessment, the more newspapers sold.

These threats don’t have to be physical. As Jha writes, “Our reputation, financial well-being, or sense of justice can all be under threat.”

People used to pay some of their daily attention to the news, either a morning read of the paper or an hour watching the evening broadcast. But in the era of 24/7 news coverage — the era of the attention economy — we’re paying that attentional cost throughout the day. Over time, it becomes a sizable withdraw of our mental energy, yet we continue to check our news feeds for threats even when we should be focused on something else.

Train your attention

Is the answer then to wall yourself off from stressors, disconnect from social media, and choose not to engage with news coverage? “My answer is a resounding no,” Jha writes. “Many stressors are unavoidable, while others are part of our journey to fulfillment and success — if we remove them, we would be limiting ourselves.”

While attention is both powerful and fragile, it has a third feature: It’s trainable through mindfulness. Just as exercise trains the body, mindfulness trains the mind by strengthening your meta-awareness — that is, your ability to be aware of where you’re placing your awareness.

The stronger your meta-awareness becomes, the more control you have over your attention system. That control then helps you keep your attention on the present moment, enriching how you encounter and experience your life.

Through her research, Jha discovered what she calls the “minimum effective dose” of mindfulness. Her team found that lab participants who practiced mindfulness for 12 minutes or more a day saw benefits in objective measures of attention and mood. Those who practiced for less did not.

In Peak Mind, Jha lays out a four-week regimen to help readers build their mindfulness habits. But in her interview, Jha shared an exercise you can do right now to exercise your attentional system. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Start by settling into your body.
  2. Notice yourself sitting and breathing.
  3. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes.
  4. Ask: What’s most vividly tied to my breath? Is it the coolness of air moving in and out of my nostrils? Or are my shoulders moving up and down?
  5. Direct your focus on this sensation.
  6. If you notice your attention has wandered, redirect it back to your breath.

On the page, the exercise seems painfully easy. Maybe even a little boring. But you’ll likely find your mind often drifts away from the sensation of your breathing. You’ll become lost in reliving a childhood memory, worrying over an unfinished project, or delighting in a favorite fantasy. Whatever the case, it’s not a failure on your part. Redirecting your focus back to the breath is the whole point. That’s the key to strengthening your attention span.

“Minds wander. It’s a natural thing that the brain does. When our mind moves away, gently return it back. Simply begin again,” Jha reminds you.

By: Kevin Dickinson

Source: The evolutionary reason you can’t pay attention

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How To Manage Life When You Have Poor Executive Function

Even if you’ve never heard the term “executive function,” you may be painfully aware of how important it is for everyday life. Executive functioning is often described as the management system of the brain: This is the portion responsible for planning, prioritizing and executing tasks.

“Executive function is the CEO of the brain,” said Jessica McCabe, host of the YouTube channel How To ADHD. “Executive function is a set of cognitive processes that help us self-regulate so that we can effectively plan, prioritize, and sustain effort for our long-term goals.”

What does executive functioning control?

Carrying out tasks to completion requires a significant number of mental skills, including the ability to accurately predict what is needed, the ability to problem-solve when issues arise, and the emotional self-control to follow through, even if the task turns out to be harder than anticipated. It is the bedrock of many different skills, including the ability to focus, make and execute plans, identify priorities, follow tasks to completion, understand multiple points of view, regulate emotions, and keep track of what you are doing.

“We’re talking about converting intentions into action,” said Ari Tuckman, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating ADHD. Going from intending to do something to actually finishing it requires a combination of working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control.

In real life, issues with executive function can look like losing your keys on a daily basis, missing appointments because you keep forgetting about them, struggling to finish projects at work, getting slammed with late fees because you forgot to pay your credit card bill on time, or being unable to stay organized. “That affects every aspect of our lives,” McCabe said.

Executive functioning can be impacted by depression, anxiety, and disorders like ADHD. Stress and sleep deprivation can also lead to short-term impairments.

Strategies for dealing with executive function issues

The biggest challenge when it comes to dealing with executive functioning issues is that all of the solutions also require executive function to carry out. “As lovely as it is to suggest making lists to someone with ADHD, they’ve probably made lists. They’ve lost them. Or they weren’t sure how to prioritize them,” said McCabe, who was diagnosed with ADHD when she was younger.

It’s for this reason that dealing with executive function issues is so challenging—it’s needed for pretty much everything you do, and impacts just about every facet of your life. For conditions like ADHD, the most effective way to improve executive functioning is to seek treatment—the main strategy is often medication. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, which is thought to be due to a shortage in the neurotransmitter dopamine. However, as McCabe points out, although medication can help improve the underlying cause, “pills don’t teach skills.”

Medication can help address the underlying neurobiological cause, but it won’t teach you the life skills needed to reach your goals. For that reason, the most effective course of treatment is generally medication combined with therapy, which can help develop the necessary skills.

Limit (further) impairments to executive function

If you have executive function issues, it helps to support it in any way you can, which includes lifestyle. Stress and sleep deprivation can lead to short-term impairments of your executive function, while diet and exercise can help it perform at its best.

“It doesn’t make you Superman, it doesn’t make you better than you are, but it at least enables you to bring the best of what you got,” Tuckman said. Of course, as with so many of these strategies, the double whammy is that when you are overwhelmed, prioritizing sleep, diet, and exercise requires significant executive function. “This kind of makes a bad situation worse,” Tuckman said.

Introduce strategies one at a time

There are going to be a hundred different strategies and tricks that can potentially help with your executive function issues. However, as McCabe notes, “a lot of the support we need is in implementing these strategies. Every time we add something new to our plate, to support our executive function, that throws things off for us.”

Instead, McCabe suggests being selective about introducing new strategies, and allow a period of time to get used to it. She also strongly recommends thinking about what has worked in the past and using that as a guide for what can help now. “Don’t start from scratch,” she said. “That’s hard on executive function.”

One of the most important things you can do to support your executive function is to make sure that you are spending your time on what matters, rather than trying to do everything. “Staying on top of everything isn’t realistic for most people, let alone those with executive function challenges,” McCabe said.

Potential strategies can include minimalism, automating things, or picking your battles wisely. “If you want to do more, do less, because the more we’re trying to do, the more we have to keep track of, the harder it is for executive function to stay on top of all that,” McCabe said.

Understand this is a work in progress

Improving and supporting your executive function is a lifelong process. What helps today may not work a year from now when circumstances may have changed—and there are going to be good days and bad days.

“Focus on the long game,” Tuckman said. “Focus on finding better systems and strategies, and then just keep showing up and applying them. If today was a bad day, show up again tomorrow and start over.”

By: Rachel Fairbank

Source: How to Manage Life When You Have Poor Executive Function

Critics by : Marisa Sanfilippo Business News Daily Contributing Writer

What is work-life balance, and why is it important?

In short, work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life. Some of the common reasons that lead to a poor work-life balance include:

  • Increased responsibilities at work
  • Working longer hours
  • Increased responsibilities at home
  • Having children

A good work-life balance, said Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, has numerous positive effects, including less stress, a lower risk of burnout and a greater sense of well-being. This not only benefits employees but employers, too. 

“Employers who are committed to providing environments that support work-life balance for their employees can save on costs, experience fewer cases of absenteeism, and enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce,” said Chancey. Employers that offer options as telecommuting or flexible work schedules can help employees have a better work-life balance.

When creating a schedule that works for you, think about the best way to achieve balance at work and in your personal life. Chancey said that work-life balance is less about dividing the hours in your day evenly between work and personal life and, instead, is more about having the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to enjoy your personal life. There may be some days where you work longer hours so you have time later in the week to enjoy other activities. 

Here are eight ways to create a better work-life balance, as well as how to be a supportive manager.

1. Accept that there is no ‘perfect’ work-life balance.

When you hear “work-life balance,” you probably imagine having an extremely productive day at work, and leaving early to spend the other half of the day with friends and family. While this may seem ideal, it is not always possible. 

Don’t strive for the perfect schedule; strive for a realistic one. Some days, you might focus more on work, while other days you might have more time and energy to pursue your hobbies or spend time with your loved ones. Balance is achieved over time, not each day. 

“It is important to remain fluid and constantly assess where you are [versus] your goals and priorities,” said Heather Monahan, founder of the career mentoring group, #BossinHeels. “At times, your children may need you, and other times, you may need to travel for work, but allowing yourself to remain open to redirecting and assessing your needs on any day is key in finding balance.” 

2. Find a job that you love.

Although work is an expected societal norm, your career shouldn’t be restraining. If you hate what you do, you aren’t going to be happy, plain and simple. You don’t need to love every aspect of your job, but it needs to be exciting enough that you don’t dread getting out of bed every morning. 

Monahan recommended finding a job that you are so passionate about you would do it for free. “If your job is draining you, and you are finding it difficult to do the things you love outside of work, something is wrong,” said Monahan. “You may be working in a toxic environment, for a toxic person, or doing a job that you truly don’t love. If this is the case, it is time to find a new job.”

3. Prioritize your health.

Your overall physical, emotional and mental health should be your main concern. If you struggle with anxiety or depression and think therapy would benefit you, fit those sessions into your schedule, even if you have to leave work early or ditch your evening spin class. If you are battling a chronic illness, don’t be afraid to call in sick on rough days. Overworking yourself prevents you from getting better, possibly causing you to take more days off in the future. 

“Prioritizing your health first and foremost will make you a better employee and person,” said Monahan. “You will miss less work, and when you are there, you will be happier and more productive.” 

Prioritizing your health doesn’t have to consist of radical or extreme activities. It can be as simple as daily meditation or exercise. 

4. Don’t be afraid to unplug.

Cutting ties with the outside world from time to time allows us to recover from weekly stress and gives us space for other thoughts and ideas to emerge. Unplugging can mean something simple like practicing transit meditation on your daily commute, instead of checking work emails. 

Monahan said when she used to travel with her boss for work, she’d look over to find him reading a novel while she would be doing something work-related. 

“I didn’t understand at the time that he was giving himself a break and decompressing while I was leading myself to a potential burnout,” said Monahan. 

Now, Monahan practices the same tactics. She reiterated that taking that time to unwind is critical to success and will help you feel more energized when you’re on the clock.

5. Take a vacation.

Sometimes, truly unplugging means taking vacation time and shutting work completely off for a while. Whether your vacation consists of a one-day staycation or a two-week trip to Bali, it’s important to take time off to physically and mentally recharge. 

According to the State of American Vacation 2018 study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, 52% of employees reported having unused vacation days left over at the end of the year. Employees are often worried that taking time off will disrupt the workflow, and they will be met with a backlog of work when they return. This fear should not restrict you from taking a much-needed break. 

“The truth is, there is no nobility in not taking well-deserved time away from work; the benefits of taking a day off far outweigh the downsides,” said Chancey. “With proper planning, you can take time away without worrying about burdening your colleagues or contending with a huge workload when you return.” 

6. Make time for yourself and your loved ones.

While your job is important, it shouldn’t be your entire life. You were an individual before taking this position, and you should prioritize the activities or hobbies that make you happy. Chancey said that achieving work-life balance requires deliberate action. 

“If you do not firmly plan for personal time, you will never have time to do other things outside of work,” said Chancey. “No matter how hectic your schedule might be, you ultimately have control of your time and life.” 

When planning time with your loved ones, create a calendar for romantic and family dates. It may seem weird to plan one-on-one time with someone you live with, but it will ensure that you spend quality time with them without work-life conflict. Just because work keeps you busy doesn’t mean you should neglect personal relationships. 

“Realize that no one at your company is going to love you or appreciate you the way your loved ones do,” said Monahan. “Also [remember] that everyone is replaceable at work, and no matter how important you think your job is, the company will not miss a beat tomorrow if you are gone.”

7. Set boundaries and work hours.

Set boundaries for yourself and your colleagues, to avoid burnout. When you leave the office, avoid thinking about upcoming projects or answering company emails. Consider having a separate computer or phone for work, so you can shut it off when you clock out. If that isn’t possible, use separate browsers, emails or filters for your work and personal platforms.

Additionally, Chancey recommended setting specific work hours. “Whether you work away from home or at home, it is important to determine when you will work and when you will stop working; otherwise, you might find yourself answering work-related emails late at night, during vacations or on weekends off,” said Chancey. 

Chancey advised notifying team members and your manager about boundaries beyond which you cannot be accessible because you are engaged in personal activities. This will help to ensure that they understand and respect your workplace limits and expectations.

8. Set goals and priorities (and stick to them).

Set achievable goals by implementing time-management strategies, analyzing your to-do list, and cutting out tasks that have little to no value. 

Pay attention to when you are most productive at work and block that time off for your most important work-related activities. Avoid checking your emails and phone every few minutes, as those are major time-wasting tasks that derail your attention and productivity. Structuring your day can increase productivity at work, which can result in more free time to relax outside of work.

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What’s stopping us from having a better work life balance? Building Design

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How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

If you’ve been stressed out and ignoring it—isn’t everyone stressed right now?— it could be time to do something about it. That’s because even though you may be basically healthy, tension is doing its stealthy damage. The latest evidence? Researchers have linked high levels of the stress hormone cortisol to brain shrinkage and impaired memory in healthy middle-aged adults. And get this: The effect was more pronounced in women than in men.

This research underscores an important point. Though stress affects your whole body, ground zero is your brain. It’s not just the effects of cortisol—it’s that teeth-grinders like traffic jams, personal snubs, and financial worries are perceived and interpreted by your gray matter. Fortunately, research focused on the brain is pointing to new, more effective ways to reduce your tension.

But first, let’s drill down and see how and why your brain’s natural reactions make you more vulnerable to the zings and arrows of tension.

How Stress Affects Your Brain

Aspects of the brain’s design that served us well thousands of years ago now make us susceptible to negative emotions and mental fatigue, both of which ratchet up our stress, says Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and founder of the Mayo Clinic Resilience Program. Although our brains have evolved over time, “the speed of life today is the main stressor—it’s much faster than our brain’s ability to adapt,” he says.

And that means we often end up with too little time and too few resources to address what life throws at us each day, which adds to a diminishing sense of control over our lives. Perceived lack of control has been shown to be a huge source of stress.

In his book Mindfulness Redesigned for the Twenty-First Century, Dr. Sood describes a number of traps that frequently ensnare our brains. Three of the most challenging:

Focus Problems

When giant predators roamed Earth, a scanning, outward-
directed focus served us well—but today that focus is directed inward. Now, 80 percent of the time, our minds are wandering, stuck in an unfocused state even if we’re not aware of it.

Studies have found that this state makes us less happy, and the unhappier we are, the more our attention wanders and our thoughts pile up. It’s like having a huge set of open files on your computer, Dr. Sood says, only they’re in your brain, distracting you and demanding attention. Our tech dependence, a source of constant distraction, adds to our inability to focus.

Fear

Our survival depends on the ability of the brain (mostly the amygdala) to detect physical and emotional threats. Moments or events that elicit fear raise our heart rate, which the brain stores as information that might protect us from future danger. This so-called negativity bias makes us prone to paying more attention to bad news than to good. We readily remember bad things that happen to us because our brains also release hormones that strengthen those specific memories, and this further embeds them in our minds. The result? More stress.

Fatigue

While a number of body organs (e.g., the heart and the kidneys) can keep going like the Energizer bunny, the brain is not one of them. After working hard, it needs rest. The more boring and intense an activity is, the faster your brain will grow tired—and that can happen in as little as four minutes or as much as an hour or two.

You can tell when your brain is fatigued (it has to signal this indirectly, since it has no pain receptors) because your eyes feel tired and stuff happens—you start making errors, become inefficient, lose your willpower, or see a dip in your mood. Brain fatigue leads to stress, and stress leads to fatigue, in a continuous closed loop.

Why Stress Hits Women Harder Than Men

Stress almost seems to have it out for women. In an annual survey by the American Psychological Association, women have repeatedly reported higher levels of tension than men and sometimes even more stress-related physical and emotional symptoms, including headache, upset stomach, fatigue, irritability, and sadness.

What’s more, midlife women have been found to experience more stressful events than both men and women of any other age, reports an ongoing study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Institute on Aging. Stress overload may even lead to chronic disease: Long-term pressures at home and work plus stress from traumatic events almost doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes in older women, according to a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco. Women are also more prone to stress-induced mental health problems such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Here’s the why of it: A triple whammy makes women uniquely vulnerable to strain and pressure, says Dr. Sood. First, women’s brains make them more sensitive than men to stressors and a perceived lack of control. The limbic areas of women’s brains, which help control emotions and memories, are highly active, making them remember hurts and slights more readily. Stewing over these and having difficulty letting them go strengthens the brain circuits of those negative emotions—another example of the negativity bias at work—which also increases women’s stress.

In addition, the multiple demands of parenting and being in charge of the well-being of the household mean that women’s focus tends to be more diffuse. And an unfocused brain, as noted earlier, is another source of stress. A mom’s protective radar is always up for her kids too, which makes her sense a threat more quickly, and she’s more likely than her husband to get stuck and dwell on it, says Dr. Sood.

What Men Don’t Always Get

The differences in how men and women experience tension don’t play out in isolation, of course. They affect how husbands and wives, friends, and work colleagues experience and interpret the world—and yes, often the result is conflict. If you’re a woman, think of a time you had an upsetting disagreement with your boss.

When you vented to your husband about it—how your boss looked at you, what she said, how you responded, how you felt, what she said next—maybe you saw his eyes glaze over, and maybe he said, “It’s over now; why don’t you just let it go and talk to her tomorrow?” Which made you feel hurt, angry, and dismissed—and depending on which feeling was uppermost, you either escalated the conversation into an argument or retreated to mull it over.

New studies are looking at how the genders process stress in the moment and coming up with reasons for the disconnect. Recently, using fMRI to measure brain activity, researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that while imagining a personalized, highly stressful event, the action- and planning-oriented parts of men’s brains were actively engaged, while women’s brains were busy visualizing and also cognitively and emotionally processing the experience.

In the second part of the study, when men and women were experiencing intense anxiety, brain regions that were active in women were inactive in men. This suggests that women tend to get caught up in processing their stress, turning it over and over in their minds and reimagining it, says Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center.

“Women cope by talking about being anxious and describing their emotions and stressors,” she says. This could put them at risk for ruminating about the issues. Men seem not to access that cognitive-processing part of their brains and “are more likely to quickly think about doing something, taking an action, as opposed to expressing their distress verbally. It’s just the difference in the way we’re wired.”

That might explain why women tend to provide emotional support to someone who is stressed, whereas men might offer advice or something tangible like money or physical help. Ironically, what both genders want is emotional support when they’re tense, says Jennifer Priem, Ph.D., associate professor of communication at Wake Forest University. So men and women who are stressed out prefer to get support from women.

Bridging the Gender Stress Gap

Priem has found that problems arise between couples when each person has a different perception of what’s stressful. The result: When people are really tense, their partners aren’t necessarily motivated to offer support if they think, If I were in this situation, I wouldn’t consider it that big a deal. So how do you get the response you want when you need it?

Ask your partner to just listen

“That’s number one—listening to and validating the other person’s feelings,” says Sinha. “So even just saying ‘You’re really frustrated by this’ in a nonjudgmental way is validating and will ease someone’s anxiety.”

Explain that you feel defensive when he dismisses your experience

“When a partner downplays the significance of something, the person who’s stressed may hold on to it more or feel they have to convince the other person it’s true and that they have a right to feel that way,” says Priem. “You might say, ‘I’m really upset right now, and I feel frustrated when it seems you’re making light of my feelings. It would make me feel better if you’d be more responsive to the fact that I’m upset, even if you don’t understand it.’”

Treat yourself with compassion

“Women tend to be more self-critical about not being able to control their emotions,” says Sinha. So they may see a partner’s comment as judgmental even when he didn’t mean it that way. If that’s the case, forgive yourself and let it go—and hug it out, which can reduce tension and boost positive feelings.

Learning to negotiate conflicts is a big step in easing pressures. Also important: figuring out strategies to deal with the distractions, fears, and fatigue your brain naturally accumulates (see below for four smart ones). These can help you take stress in stride, with a terrific payoff: better health and greater happiness, plus a more resilient brain.

How to Control Stress and Calm Your Brain

To keep stress in check, you should of course be eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep to improve your mood, emotions, and cognition. But those are just the basics—and they’re not always easy to accomplish, especially when life is throwing lots of tension your way. Dr. Sood has advice that can up your stress-reducing game, based on the successful resilience program he runs at the Mayo Clinic. Here, four of his brain-focused, research-based strategies that work in just minutes a day.

Give your brain some RUM

That stands for Rest, Uplifting emotions, and Motivation. You need all three to help energize your brain and head off fatigue. So when you’re engaged in a task, take three to five minutes every couple of hours (or sooner, if you start getting fidgety) and pause for RUM.

How-to: Get up from your computer, or stop what you’re doing, and look at photos of your kids or of your favorite vacation spot, read inspiring quotes, text or call a friend, or watch a happy short video. Choose an activity that makes you feel good and is motivating.

Begin a morning gratitude practice

Take control of your brain before it gets hijacked by the day’s concerns and greet the morning in a happier, more connected frame of mind. (Check out these simple ways to practice gratitude.)

How-to: When you first wake up, before you get out of bed, spend a few minutes thinking of some people who care about you and silently send them your gratitude. Another reason it’s a good idea: A recent study found that anticipating a stressful day when you first wake up affects your working memory later that day—even if nothing stressful actually happens. (Working memory is what helps you learn things and retain them even when you’re distracted.)

Be mindfully present

Meditation is a great stress reliever, but not everyone can sit still, looking inward, for 20-plus minutes. Good news for the fidgety: Research has shown that focusing your attention outward engages the same brain network, so you can get similar stress-easing benefits by consciously giving the world your attention.

How-to: Challenge yourself to be curious and notice details—the color of the barista’s eyes at the coffee shop, the pattern of your boss’s necktie, which flowers are blooming in your neighborhood. Curiosity feeds the brain’s reward network, which makes you feel good; it also augments memory and learning.

Focus on kindness

Even the nicest among us are quick to judge others, especially if they’re different from us (thank the amygdala, a region of the brain that interprets difference as a threat).

How-to: To calm the amygdala, focus on two things when you’re feeling judgy about someone: that every person is special, and that everyone has struggles. Start a practice of sending silent good wishes to people you pass on the street or in the halls at work. The benefits for you: Your oxy­tocin, the hormone of connectedness, rises; your heart rate slows; and you feel more benevolent. All of which makes you healthier and happier.

By: Jenny Cook

Source: How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder—and Why Men Don’t Always Get It

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What Is Prosopagnosia, Brad Pitt’s Face Blindness Condition?

Brad Pitt fears he has created a false image of himself: one that is aloof, remote, inaccessible, and self-absorbed, he recently told GQ. But the reality is, he believes he struggles with undiagnosed prosopagnosia, also known as “face blindness.”

The problem is especially present when Pitt attends parties or social gatherings. “Nobody believes me!” he said. “I wanna meet another.” And he’s experienced the symptoms for years—in 2013, he told Esquire they discouraged him from leaving the house.

“So many people hate me because they think I’m disrespecting them,” he said at the time. “So I swear to God, I took one year where I just said, this year, I’m just going to cop to it and say to people, ‘Okay, where did we meet?’ But it just got worse. People were more offended.”

He continued: “Every now and then, someone will give me context, and I’ll say, ‘Thank you for helping me.’ But I piss more people off. You get this thing, like, ‘You’re being egotistical. You’re being conceited.’ But it’s a mystery to me, man. I can’t grasp a face and yet I come from such a design/aesthetic point of view. I am going to get it tested.”

He hasn’t been evaluated yet, he told GQ, but diagnosis usually requires a series of face recognition tests conducted by a neurologist.

So, what is prosopagnosia?

The condition, also known as “face blindness,” is characterized by abnormalities, damage, or impairment in the right fusiform gyrus, a fold in the brain that contributes to facial perception and memory, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). It affects a person’s ability to recognize faces. The severity of the condition varies, from not being able to recognize the faces of friends and family members to the inability to distinguish any face at all.

What causes prosopagnosia?

There are two types of prosopagnosia, each with its own cause.

  • Developed prosopagnosia: Some people are born with prosopagnosia without having experienced any brain damage, which is a type also known as developmental prosopagnosia, per the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. This type often runs in families and is believed to be the result of genetic mutation or deletion, per the NINDS.
  • Then there’s acquired prosopagnosia or the onset of it after brain trauma. It can result from stroke, traumatic brain injury, or certain neurodegenerative diseases, per the NINDS.

Prosopagnosia treatments

While there’s no one universal treatment for prosopagnosia, therapy often involves learning compensatory strategies to enact in social situations where facial recognition is needed. Treatment often involves learning strategies to turn to in social situations. The NINDS says adults whose condition followed a stroke or brain trauma, however, can be retrained to use other clues for recognition with the help of various therapies.

By

Source: What Is Prosopagnosia, Brad Pitt’s Face Blindness Condition? – The New York Times

Critics:

Reports of prosopagnosia date back to antiquity, but Bodamer’s report (1947) of two individuals with face recognition deficits was a landmark paper in that he extensively described their symptoms and declared it to be distinct from general visual agnosia. He referred to the condition as prosopagnosia, which he coined by combining the Greek word for face (prosopon) with the medical term for recognition impairment (agnosia).

Prior to the 21st century, almost all cases of prosopagnosia that were documented resulted from brain damage, usually due to head trauma, stroke, or degenerative disease. Cases due to brain damage are called acquired prosopagnosia: these individuals had normal face recognition abilities that were then impaired. Acquired prosopagnosia is often (though not always) apparent to people who suffer from it, because they have experienced normal face recognition in the past and so they notice their deficit.

If you have experienced a noticeable decline in your face recognition abilities, you should contact a neurologist; any sudden decline may indicate the existence of a condition that needs immediate attention. In cases of developmental prosopagnosia (sometimes called congenital prosopagnosia), face recognition problems are present early in life and are caused by neurodevelopmental impairments that impact face processing mechanisms. Face recognition ability varies substantially in people with normal abilities; some people are really good, others are poor, and most people are somewhere between these extremes.

People with developmental prosopagnosia appear to make up the low end of the distribution of face recognition abilities. On the opposite end of the distribution are super recognizers, who have extraordinarily good face recognition. If you think you’re a super recognizer and you’re interested in research participation, please contact us. Developmental prosopagnosics have never recognized faces normally so their impairment is often not readily apparent to them.

As a result, many developmental prosopagnosics are unaware of their prosopagnosia even as adults. Developmental prosopagnosia in children can be especially difficult to identify. For more information on developmental prosopagnosia in kids, please visit this website.

Many people with developmental prosopagnosia report family members with face processing deficits, and several families with multiple developmental prosopagnosics have been documented. A genetic contribution to many cases of developmental prosopagnosia fits with results from twin studies in the normal population that indicate that differences in face recognition ability are primarily due to genetic differences.

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Is Your Smartphone Ruining Your Memory? Rise of Digital Amnesia

‘I can’t remember anything’ is a common complaint these days. But is it because we rely so heavily on our smartphones? And do the endless alerts and distractions stop us forming new memories? Last week, I missed a real-life meeting because I hadn’t set a reminder on my smartphone, leaving someone I’d never met before alone in a café. But on the same day, I remembered the name of the actor who played Will Smith’s aunt in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1991 (Janet Hubert).

Memory is weird, unpredictable and, neuroscientifically, not yet entirely understood. When memory lapses like mine happen (which they do, a lot), it feels both easy and logical to blame the technology we’ve so recently adopted. Does having more memory in our pockets mean there’s less in our heads? Am I losing my ability to remember things – from appointments to what I was about to do next – because I expect my phone to do it for me? Before smartphones, our heads would have held a cache of phone numbers and our memories would contain a cognitive map, built up over time, which would allow us to navigate – for smartphone users, that is no longer true.

Our brains and our smartphones form a complex web of interactions: the smartphonification of life has been rising since the mid 2000s, but was accelerated by the pandemic, as was internet use in general. Prolonged periods of stress, isolation and exhaustion – common themes since March 2020 – are well known for their impact on memory. Of those surveyed by memory researcher Catherine Loveday in 2021, 80% felt that their memories were worse than before the pandemic. We are – still – shattered, not just by Covid-19, but also by the miserable national and global news cycle. Many of us self-soothe with distractions like social media.

Meanwhile, endless scrolling can, at times, create its own distress, and phone notifications and self interrupting to check for them, also seem to affect what, how and if we remember. So what happens when we outsource part of our memory to an external device? Does it enable us to squeeze more and more out of life, because we aren’t as reliant on our fallible brains to cue things up for us? Are we so reliant on smartphones that they will ultimately change how our memories work (sometimes called digital amnesia)? Or do we just occasionally miss stuff when we don’t remember the reminders?

Neuroscientists are divided. Chris Bird is professor of cognitive neuroscience in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex and runs research by the Episodic Memory Group. “We have always offloaded things into external devices, like writing down notes, and that’s enabled us to have more complex lives,” he says. “I don’t have a problem with using external devices to augment our thought processes or memory processes. We’re doing it more, but that frees up time to concentrate, focus on and remember other things.” He thinks that the kind of things we use our phones to remember are, for most human brains, difficult to remember.

“I take a photo of my parking ticket so I know when it runs out, because it’s an arbitrary thing to remember. Our brains aren’t evolved to remember highly specific, one-off things. Before we had devices, you would have to make a quite an effort to remember the time you needed to be back at your car.” Professor Oliver Hardt, who studies the neurobiology of memory and forgetting at McGill University in Montreal, is much more cautious. “Once you stop using your memory it will get worse, which makes you use your devices even more,” he says. “We use them for everything.

If you go to a website for a recipe, you press a button and it sends the ingredient list to your smartphone. It’s very convenient, but convenience has a price. It’s good for you to do certain things in your head.” Hardt is not keen on our reliance on GPS. “We can predict that prolonged use of GPS likely will reduce grey matter density in the hippocampus. Reduced grey matter density in this brain area goes along with a variety of symptoms, such as increased risk for depression and other psychopathologies, but also certain forms of dementia.

GPS-based navigational systems don’t require you to form a complex geographic map. Instead, they just tell you orientations, like ‘Turn left at next light.’ These are very simple behavioural responses (here: turn left) at a certain stimulus (here: traffic light). These kinds of spatial behaviours do not engage the hippocampus very much, unlike those spatial strategies that require the knowledge of a geographic map, in which you can locate any point, coming from any direction and which requires [cognitively] complex computations.

When exploring the spatial capacities of people who have been using GPS for a very long time, they show impairments in spatial memory abilities that require the hippocampus. Map reading is hard and that’s why we give it away to devices so easily. But hard things are good for you, because they engage cognitive processes and brain structures that have other effects on your general cognitive functioning.”

Hardt doesn’t have data yet, but believes, “the cost of this might be an enormous increase in dementia. The less you use that mind of yours, the less you use the systems that are responsible for complicated things like episodic memories, or cognitive flexibility, the more likely it is to develop dementia. There are studies showing that, for example, it is really hard to get dementia when you are a university professor, and the reason is not that these people are smarter – it’s that until old age, they are habitually engaged in tasks that are very mentally demanding.”

(Other scientists disagree – Daniel Schacter, a Harvard psychologist who wrote the seminal Seven Sins Of Memory: How The Mind Forgets and Remembers, thinks effects from things like GPS are “task specific”, only.) While smartphones can obviously open up whole new vistas of knowledge, they can also drag us away from the present moment, like it’s a beautiful day, unexperienced because you’re head down, WhatsApping a meal or a conversation. When we’re not attending to an experience, we are less likely to recall it properly, and fewer recalled experiences could even limit our capacity to have new ideas and being creative.

As the renowned neuroscientist and memory researcher Wendy Suzuki recently put it on the Huberman Lab neuroscience podcast, “If we can’t remember what we’ve done, the information we’ve learned and the events of our lives, it changes us… [The part of the brain which remembers] really defines our personal histories. It defines who we are.” Catherine Price, science writer and author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, concurs. “What we pay attention to in the moment adds up to our life,” she says. “Our brains cannot multitask. We think we can. But any moment where multitasking seems successful, it’s because one of those tasks was not cognitively demanding, like you can fold laundry and listen to the radio.

If you’re paying attention to your phone, you’re not paying attention to anything else. That might seem like a throwaway observation, but it’s actually deeply profound. Because you will only remember the things you pay attention to. If you’re not paying attention, you’re literally not going to have a memory of it to remember.”

The Cambridge neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian has evidence of this, too. “In an experiment in 2010, three different groups had to complete a reading task,” she says. “One group got instant messaging before it started, one got instant messaging during the task, and one got no instant messaging, and then there was a comprehension test. What they found was that the people getting instant messages couldn’t remember what they just read.”

Price is much more worried about what being perpetually distracted by our phones – termed “continual partial attention” by the tech expert Linda Stone – does to our memories than using their simpler functions. “I’m not getting distracted by my address book,” she says. And she doesn’t believe smartphones free us up to do more. “Let’s be real with ourselves: how many of us are using the time afforded us by our banking app to write poetry? We just passively consume crap on Instagram.” Price is from Philadelphia. “What would have happened if Benjamin Franklin had had Twitter?

Would he have been on Twitter all the time? Would he have made his inventions and breakthroughs? “I became really interested in whether the constant distractions caused by our devices might be impacting our ability to actually not just accumulate memories to begin with, but transfer them into long-term storage in a way that might impede our ability to think deep and interesting thoughts,” she says. “One of the things that impedes our brain’s ability to transfer memories from short- to long-term storage is distraction.

If you get distracted in the middle of it” – by a notification, or by the overwhelming urge to pick up your phone – “you’re not actually going to have the physical changes take place that are required to store that memory.” It’s impossible to know for sure, because no one measured our level of intellectual creativity before smartphones took off, but Price thinks smartphone over-use could be harming our ability to be insightful. “An insight is being able to connect two disparate things in your mind. But in order to have an insight and be creative, you have to have a lot of raw material in your brain, like you couldn’t cook a recipe if you didn’t have any ingredients:

You can’t have an insight if you don’t have the material in your brain, which really is long term memories.” (Her theory was backed by the 92-year-old Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist and biochemist Eric Kandel, who has studied how distraction affects memory – Price bumped into him on a train and grilled him about her idea. “I’ve got a selfie of me with a giant grin and Eric looking a bit confused.”) Psychologist professor Larry Rosen, co-author (with neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley) of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, also agrees: “Constant distractions make it difficult to encode information in memory.”

Smartphones are, of course, made to hijack our attention. “The apps that make money by taking our attention are designed to interrupt us,” says Price. “I think of notifications as interruptions because that’s what they’re doing.” For Oliver Hardt, phones exploit our biology. “A human is a very vulnerable animal and the only reason we are not extinct is that we have a superior brain: to avoid predation and find food, we have had to be really good at being attentive to our environment. Our attention can shift rapidly around and when it does, everything else that was being attended to stops, which is why we can’t multitask.

When we focus on something, it’s a survival mechanism: you’re in the savannah or the jungle and you hear a branch cracking, you give your total attention to that – which is useful, it causes a short stress reaction, a slight arousal, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. It optimises your cognitive abilities and sets the body up for fighting or flighting.” But it’s much less useful now. “Now, 30,000 years later, we’re here with that exact brain” and every phone notification we hear is a twig snapping in the forest, “simulating what was important to what we were: a frightened little animal.”

Smartphone use can even change the brain, according to the ongoing ABCD study which is tracking over 10,000 American children through to adulthood. “It started by examining 10-year-olds both with paper and pencil measures and an MRI, and one of their most interesting early results was that there was a relationship between tech use and cortical thinning,” says Larry Rosen, who studies social media, technology and the brain. “Young children who use more tech had a thinner cortex, which is supposed to happen at an older age.”

Cortical thinning is a normal part of growing up and then ageing, and in much later life can be associated with degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as migraines. Obviously, the smartphone genie is out of the bottle and has run over the hills and far away. We need our smartphones to access offices, attend events, pay for travel and to function as tickets, passes and credit cards, as well as for emails, calls and messages. It’s very hard not to have one. If we’re worried about what they – or the apps on them – might be doing to our memories, what should we do?

Rosen discusses a number of tactics in his book. “My favourites are tech breaks,” he says, “where you start by doing whatever on your devices for one minute and then set an alarm for 15 minutes time. Silence your phone and place it upside down, but within your view as a stimulus to tell your brain that you will have another one-minute tech break after the 15-minute alarm. Continue until you adapt to 15 minutes focus time and then increase to 20. If you can get to 60 minutes of focus time with short tech breaks before and after, that’s a success.”

“If you think your memory and focus have got worse and you’re blaming things like your age, your job, or your kids, that might be true, but it’s also very likely due to the way you’re interacting with your devices,” says Price, who founded Screen/Life Balance to help people manage their phone use. As a science writer, she’s “very much into randomly controlled trials, but with phones, it’s actually more of a qualitative question about personally how it’s impacting you. And it’s really easy to do your own experiment and see if it makes a difference. It’s great to have scientific evidence.

But we can also intuitively know: if you practice keeping your phone away more and you notice that you feel calmer and you’re remembering more, then you’ve answered your own question.”

By:

Source: Is your smartphone ruining your memory? A special report on the rise of ‘digital amnesia’ | Memory | The Guardian

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