Anger Rooms Make You Dumber & Sicker


Have you seen the new trend in dealing with feelings? Anger rooms. When the gringa first saw these advertised I got a kick out of the thought of unleashing all the destructive forces within me. What a hoot to smash some bottles or tear up a sofa. But then, as so often happens, I had a shower epiphany. The shower is where I do some of my deepest thinking. And as I soaked I began to be sad as to why we even need places like anger rooms. And, according to medical studies of what anger does to the brain, they could be the worst idea ever.

Think about it. We can’t afford to indulge the base instinct of anger. The human body does not indulge disease, giving it a safe place to wreak havoc. Instead, white blood cells gather the troops and wage war until the disease is eradicated. Indulging anger doesn’t just make us sick with all sorts of stress related health problems like high blood pressure. Indulging anger also makes us dumber. And judging by conditions today, the world really can’t afford an influx of dumbness into society.

What exactly happens to the brain when we let ourselves rage and scream and break things and slam doors? First of all, at the root of anger, is a desire to inflict harm upon another person, whether it be through word or deed.  But anger isn’t just a character destroyer. It also destroys your physical and mental health.

  • Anger calls every organ and muscle group into action. This is nature responding to a threat.
  • This heightened state of arousal is draining, exhausting and creates a brain chemistry by-product of depression.
  • Chronic anger is a natural resource depleter that shortens your life span and compromises your immune system as T-cells are destroyed.
  • Heart rate accelerates.
  • Pupils dilate.
  • Digestion comes to a standstill. This can result in vomiting or extremely high acid content in the stomach. This is natural survival mode as the body attempts to empty a stomach because a full stomach impedes fighting for your life.
  • Pain receptors block signals which can result in imprudent behavior that causes severe injury to self and/or others.
  • Throat nerves and muscles are stimulated making it difficult to do anything but scream.
  • Energy surges through your body.
  • As the sympathetic nervous system jumps into high gear, sensitivity heightens which can lead to irrational conclusions of what is going on around you.
  • Brain chemistry changes result in problem-solving skills being suppressed as energy reserves are redirected to muscle groups key to physically fighting.
  • Chronic anger causes damage to brain structure and connectivity due to high levels of cortisol frequently flooding the brain.
  • Elevated levels of cortisol overproduce cells that create myelin rather than functional neurons.
  • Myelin is the brain’s “white matter”. As opposed to the higher functioning gray matter, it is the material that encases axons and controls the communication flow of electrical signals.
  • Too much myelin, in essence, “strangles” the wiring of the brain, impeding the flow of electrical signals.
  • As myelin increases, so do episodes of anger.

So, in a nutshell, giving sway to anger makes you sick, dumb and more prone to be angry again. Give sway to anger habitually and you basically become an anger drone unable to think rationally, get along with others and destined to live a miserable, shorter existence of paranoia. So, no, the gringa is no fan of anger rooms. Rather than be a safe space for people to vent their anger, they are the recruitment centers for the future zombie apocalypse.

People, we need to promote positive thinking and mindful meditation if we want society to evolve as a more civilized people. Humoring angry people will drag us back to a time of dungeons and cave dwelling. Promote positivity and mindful meditation for the well-being and survival of our species and planet.

Don’t get mad. Don’t get even. Don’t worry. Be happy. When concerned, take a deep breath and think your way through. If you find you are getting mad, detach from the person or situation if possible. Meditate until you feel your body relaxing and returning to a state of control. Then begin the process of changing your perspective. Rather than look at the situation from your own point of view, approach it from every angle. How is the other person perceiving things? What might the perspective be of an objective, uninvolved third party? And be open to every perspective. You may discover a truth that is difficult to accept but still true. Accept it. You may also discover that every perspective is legitimate. Life and humanity is almost always complex and extremely nuanced. Don’t let anger keep you focused only through your own lens. And, for heaven’s sakes, stay away from those anger rooms!

 

Sources:

www.psychologytoday.com/stress-damages-brain

www.psychologytoday.com/evolution-of-self

LinkedIn

www.angerroom.com

Image Credit:  www.hdwallpapers.in

 

 

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What Should We Fear? I Forgot!


The gringa is more than happy to cheer on Obama’s goal of getting the U.S. space program to Mars within the next 15 years. I should still be young and vibrant enough to don a space helmet if the call to serve my country arises! In fact, considering the latest news on expected conditions for Mars destined astronauts, someone like me might be the astronaut of choice.

Whereas, before, the gringa always believed that epilepsy would probably be a big disqualifier for space travel, turns out a bit of brain damage is probably just par for the course for a Mars trip. Heck, then, maybe I’ve already been there and didn’t even know it! Could be those alien abduction conspiracy theorists have been right all along!

Doctors are still mystified about what causes epilepsy. Maybe all of us epileptics were abducted by space aliens, taken to Mars in an instant through a wormhole, had all kinds of crazy medical studies performed on us, then returned home in the blink of an eye. All that radical space/time continuum dazzle frazzled our brains!

Or… maybe us epileptics are all originally FROM Mars! Now wouldn’t that be something. The brain damage expected to be experienced in a flight from Earth to Mars may have the same effect in a reverse course from Mars to Earth. Maybe I was switched at birth with a real Earthling by Martians who took my doppleganger to Mars! Wouldn’t THAT be something!

So how does travel between Earth and Mars, regardless of which direction you’re headed, end up casing brain damage? Two words… cosmic rays. It’s a long journey from the Big Blue Marble to the Red Planet and then back again. The effects of being exposed to cosmic rays for about one year would be neurological impairments that would affect an astronaut’s judgment and cognitive abilities. In addition to the space brain effect, prolonged, long-term exposure to radiation is pretty much a guarantee that Mars bound astronauts are going to end up with some form of cancer and a weakened immune system that couldn’t even fend off a bout of sneezing.  But how do researchers know this, or suspect it, if no one has traveled between Mars and Earth (that we know of… the gringa is still musing the possibilities of her origins…)

Studies have been conducted at the Brookhaven Laboratory in New York. Leading the research is a team of scientists from the University of California Irvine. They used the particle accelerator at the laboratory to simulate the Earth-Mars travel condition scenario on rats. What happened is that the rats suffered serious neurological damage. They became dumber… unable to remember which meant unable to learn. Even worse, as far as the gringa’s concerned, they lost their natural ability of “fear extinction”.

“What is “fear extinction?” the dear reader asks. Well, the gringa’s gonna tell you. From the time we are babies all sorts of things happen to us that traumatize us with fear. The human brain is an amazing thing. It has a powerful survival instinct that triggers all sorts of protective measures and responses that are automatic. Sometimes we don’t have to try at all when it comes to saving ourselves. Our brain automatically performs an extinction of the fear reaction to certain stimuli.

You see, when something scary happens, like a mom or dad that jumps out and yells, “Boo!”, scaring the baby, the first time the baby probably cries like the dickens, scared to death. However, as mom and dad continue to do this the baby’s brain learns that nothing really bad happens even though the fear response is automatically triggered when startled. Eventually the baby no longer cries when someone jumps up and says, “Boo!” In fact, the baby may even learn how to laugh.

As we grow and have all sorts of life experiences, this happens all the time. That’s how we are able to actually enjoy fear, like watching scary movies or telling spooky tales at campouts or visiting haunted houses or pranking loved ones. But a trip to Mars destroys this capability.

When the gringa puts together the entire picture of an astronaut’s mental condition upon arriving to Mars, she’s not so sure they will survive. Think about it. A Mars team would be:

  • Physically ill (early stage cancer with little to none immunity)
  • Critical information would be forgotten related to their survival (impaired memory may result in no longer remembering how to operate complex technologies their lives depend on)
  • Even if they are in contact with Mission Control on Earth who could talk them through an important process, they are not able to understand instructions (cognitive abilities impaired)
  • In a strange place so far from Earth, unable to master the necessary skills to survive, the realization of their doom would trigger immense fear that would be uncontrollable (the fear extinction response is destroyed)

If anyone has read “Lord of the Flies” it is no big stretch, then, to surmise what might result from this accumulation of trouble… a mission crew that becomes unreasonably paranoid, dangerous and turns on one another. Until the world’s space programs come up with a way to effectively shield Mars bound astronauts from cosmic rays, the gringa has lost all interest in a manned Mars mission. Although my personal level of brain damage can be frustrating, at least I can enjoy a good helter-skelter horror flick without turning on the caveman with a butcher knife.

Sources:

newatlas.com

news.uci.edu

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Image Credit:  signalvnoise.com

Oh, Just Forget It


The mind is an amazing thing. Having dealt with the effects of epilepsy all of my life, the gringa finds the subject of memory particularly fascinating. Amnesia is a typical side effect of intense seizure activity. Not only have I experienced amnesia, but often I will have some limited recall which is like taking a memory and making  a meal of scrambled eggs. I get it all wrong.  Having a blank space of time may sound frightening but I have learned to live with it. I simply have to shrug and move on. It even comes in handy from time to time if I have behaved particularly bad because I can then always say, “Really? I had no idea. I’m terribly sorry. I was simply not myself at the time.” I’m not sure the caveman is buying that line after all these years but, at the very least, he usually goes along with it.

So, the gringa has experienced the effect of seizure related amnesia as a cause for my creating false memories. Fortunately the caveman is understanding and does not believe that his little wife is a big, fat liar but just sick and confused. I am happy to know that I am not alone. In fact, none of us are. According to research by Shari R. Berkowitz and Jennifer Sumner, both assistant professors at California State University, all humans create false memories. Their studies revealed that it is actually very easy to implant false memories through different suggestive methods:

  • People were given a list of words that had something in common: pillow, sheets, bed, nap. The common link, sleep, was not on the list. Once the list was removed, the word sleep was suggested as being on the list and subjects agreed that they remembered seeing the word sleep on the list.
  • Participants had a dream interpreted. Days later it was suggested that the events of the dream were a real occurrence. The dreamer would recall the event as something that actually happened.
  • Study participants listed 4 interesting events like football games, political speeches, etc. and then read corresponding news stories related to the events. Of the news stories offered, one was bogus yet the participants invariably remembered the event occurring. Having a strong interest in a particular subject actually increased the chances of creating a false memory. Consequently, because the person considers themselves well-versed in the subject, they are also less likely to accept they are believing a false memory.
  • Rich memory events are false memories of something fantastic happening like being possessed or kidnapped.

Now, for the gringa, this rich memory theory is of particular interest. When I was a little girl the earliest memory, or, at least, what I thought was a memory, was of being a toddler and playing on the back porch of our home with our cat. I distinctly remember a group of Native Americans crossing the creek beside our home, entering our backyard and shooting me with an arrow.

As a child I was convinced this was a real memory. It was not until I was a teenager that I would recall this “memory” and realize I was wrong. But what made me believe such a thing? And why did I have no fear or animosity toward Native Americans? In fact, it was quite the opposite. I was fascinated with their history and fantasized of a romantic alternative life as part of a tribe. This would seem contrary to the typical psychology that would have resulted from a trauma. So what the heck happened to the gringa?

I blame my father. He was always making up fantastic stories to drive my sisters and I crazy. For example, I was very freckled as a youngster. He told me they were bird spots. That, because I liked to play outside all the time as a little girl, I was always getting pooped on by birds and those were the stains left behind. He even had a favorite bird species to mention in this explanation of freckles, buzzards. Not very nice, I know, but in my Daddy’s warped mind he thought he was simply hysterical and clever.

So, as for getting shot with an arrow, the gringa’s dear readers must understand that my Daddy grew up in an era of zero political correctness many years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He grew up in an America where white supremacy was the law of the land. So, he thought nothing of it when accusing Native Americans of shooting his little girl to explain why I had a navel. As a lover of old western movies, of course he would tell such a tale. That fantastic story had such an impact on my young, impressionable mind, I actually believed that I had a memory of a Native American Indian tribe raiding the back yard of my family home during the era of the Vietnam War.

And that, my dear readers, is why such research is so very important. Not just to get history correct, but to recognize that eye-witness testimony in criminal cases is often very flawed. Often times young people who undergo therapy to re-capture memories are not remembering actual events. This could result in ruining the lives of not only the falsely accused but by creating a victim who is actually not a victim.  If we can rely on anything when it comes to memory, it is that it is simply not reliable.

Consider that the gringa can remember the telephone number of her childhood home and several childhood friends yet I cannot remember the caveman’s telephone number at work. I can list the titles of the first three novels I read from cover to cover as a little girl but I can’t remember to buy dog food if I leave my shopping list at home. I can recall the words to a song I have never performed and haven’t heard on the radio in over ten years but I can’t keep the birthdates of my children straight. What is up with that? Science says it is because there are different types of memory and they each have their own special mechanism that causes forgetting.

Doorway Memory

If you find that you walk from one room to another, forgetting why you made the trip, this is the problem of doorway memory. Walking through a doorway into another physical setting is like hitting a reset button in your memory bank.

Flashbulb Memory

Emotionally vivid events often cause people to create flashbulb memories. These accounts become so vivid that they believe they will never forget, like remembering where you were when you heard the news of 9/11 or that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. The gringa must inform you that although one would think these memories would be etched forever upon our minds, it simply ain’t so.  Although we will never forget that those events happened, we will, indeed, eventually forget where we were when we got the news. We may recall with effort where we were, but it won’t actually be a memory of the place and conditions surrounding us. It will be the remembrance of a fact we know to be historically true. Unless, of course, we were one of the victims. But traumatic memory is also tricky.

Traumatic Memory

If you were a victim of 9/11, or any other trauma, one of two things might happen with your memory. You will never forget anything, not even the smells or particular sounds. The other option is that you could forget absolutely everything, complete amnesia. If a trauma is so extreme that the brain determines that the person cannot emotionally bear the pain, the brain disposes of the memory with a deep burial process. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may very well be the result with certain events, words, colors, smells, sounds, etc. triggering an anxiety attack of dangerous and epic proportions where the person begins to relive the experience of the trauma.

Mind Erase

Certain activities can cause what is termed “transient global amnesia”.  This doesn’t mean that world travelers forget stuff. No, the gringa breaks it down like this: Transient (temporary) global (affecting a particular part of the brain) amnesia (forgetting). There is no telling who may be affected by this condition or why it happens. Basically, a person can have experience a temporary amnesia event, forgetting the entire previous day for a few hours after certain types of activity like: sex, migraines, mild head trauma, exposure to sudden temperature extremes.

Life After Access

It is not uncommon to have a memory recall event of something you believe never even happened. Something may happen to trigger the memory and suddenly a person remembers something that they didn’t even know that they knew. This can be disturbing and cause some people to believe they have been reincarnated as another person. Consider the case of a woman who suddenly remembered the words to songs she had no memory of learning. No, she was not an opera singer in a previous life. Neurologists explained that at some point in early childhood, before her brain was capable of remembering events (typically before the age of 4), she was exposed to the music and it imprinted on her mind. Later in life, something related to that event triggered the memory of the music.

Brain Injuries & Insults

This cause the gringa knows only too well. Most people think a brain injury is when a person hits their head and injures their brain. Actually, that could also be a brain insult. You see, an insult to the brain is not forgetting things because someone called you stupid. It is an injury that is so traumatic that brain matter is physically displaced.

A physical blow to the head is also not the only thing that can cause a brain to receive an insult. Certain diseases can cause swelling of the brain or fluid to fill the sinus cavities of the brain. Both events can cause physical displacement of brain matter, thus an insult to the brain.

Whereas the electrical storm of a seizure is a brain injury, it does not physically rearrange the structure of the brain like a catastrophic blow to the head. However, both injuries and insults will affect memory. And there can be seizures that have the potential to do just as much brain damage as a traumatic brain insult.

What’s The Point

So, then, what’s the point of knowing that memory cannot be relied upon? For the gringa, I have learned the importance of journaling. Not just to be able to remember the personal details of my life, but it has proven critical in managing important aspects of life, such as getting an insurance claim processed. The most common method of journaling performed today, and most people may not even realize that is what they are doing, is posting status updates to Facebook. The average American probably takes their memory for granted. Not the gringa. I post status updates frequently as well as keep an actual, personal journal.

In matters of law, it is entirely possible that there are people sitting in jail for crimes they did not commit because of flawed eye witness testimony. This is simply a travesty now that we understand the human mind better. Wherever possible, physical evidence should always supersede eyewitness accounts.

As for those poor souls that believe they have been abducted by aliens, the gringa can only point to her navel  and offer  a facial expression of raised eyebrows. Really? Abducted by aliens? If I could believe I had actually been shot by an arrow, a victim of a Native American raid in a small town in Texas in the 1970’s, I can assure alien abductees that they, too, have been duped by their memories. Chances are they had a Daddy like mine who enjoyed titillating their imagination with fantastical stories. Like me, their impressionable minds were imprinted with a fantasy story delivered by someone they absolutely trusted as faithful and true, so, in childlike innocence they never questioned the veracity of the story and grew up believing it to be true. Alien abductee? No. Victim of a fantastic storyteller? Most likely.

Sources:

www.livescience.com

www.csudhnews.com

www.mayoclinic.org

www.neuroskills.com

www.livescience.com

Image Credit: lymeinside.files.wordpress.com

 

NASA And Its Continuing Contribution To Medicine


Often, an off-world mission lasts about six months for an astronaut. The gringa wants to know just what happens to their body out there in micro-gravity. The thought of floating around weightless in space often sounds wonderful to me when I’m tossing and turning in bed trying to get comfortable because, being a side-sleeper, my darn hips are killing me. Also, are these effects just physical or is there any mental side effects, like gravity-mania or something like that?

When astronauts return to Earth after a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS), they often have balance problems associated with muscle weakness, neurological responses to returning to gravity, and cardiovascular issues. Being epileptic, the gringa finds the neurological issues especially interesting. It seems the brain has a bit of a problem readapting to the concept of gravity. When I go up into areas of high altitude, my brain has problems readapting to the effects of atmospheric pressure when I return to the lowlands.

The last trip the caveman and I took up in the Andes, the day we returned to sea level my poor little brain went bananas and the neighborhood doctor had to come give me an anticonvulsant injection in the patootie with a humongous needle. The gringa says to herself, “Thank God doctors in third world countries make housecalls cuz there ain’t no ambulance and there ain’t no ER!” I can only imagine how my brain would react after six months in outer space. I would probably just decide it would be best to never come home. But, I digress, enough of me. I want to know about the other stuff.

Mars has enough gravity that, after traveling for six months to get there in micro-gravity, the crew is going to be in pretty bad shape when they arrive. What’s NASA doing about this problem? When astronauts return home, they often can’t even stand on their own two feet. Just take a look at the above photo. That is Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti needing assistance exiting the Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft after her return to Earth June 11, 2015. How, then, are physically disabled astronauts going to land a spacecraft then emerge and get down to the hard, dirty work of survival on another planet?

The Functional Task Test (FTT) is being used to determine what mission critical tasks will be affected by the balance problems and impaired eye-hand control coordination that astronauts will be experiencing as they approach the Red Planet. The effects of long-term exposure to micro-gravity can create vision and perception changes that can contribute to things such as motion sickness. Pass the barf bag, please!

What the FTT studies have resulted in is a development of countermeasures that will be practiced before the astronauts even leave Earth and will also be performed while en-route to Mars. These measures are designed to “train the brain to become more adaptable”. I don’t know about you but the gringa knows lots of people who could benefit from a retrained brain!

All sarcasm aside, there actually are civilians who can benefit from what will help the astronauts arrive on Mars with their brain re-trained. People such as the elderly who are bedfast for periods of time after surgical procedures have difficulty getting up and around again. Stints of bedrest for the elderly often result in a loss of stability. Folks like this could use these same procedures to help them regain their mobility.

The gringa wonders if I could benefit from these same measures? Could I possibly retrain my brain so that I could enjoy Himalayan heights without fear of a seizure when ready to resume my beach-blanket bingo festivities at sea-level? It could happen! Just one more reason NASA needs to let me be the first gringa in outer space! So they can study my warped little brain for the benefit of epileptics all over the world!