Gayatri Devi , M.D.
1. Constant attentiveness is one reason we are increasingly powerless to self-soothe and relax. Our core brain, as well as our sophisticated frontal lobes, is programmed by evolution to dread the “threat of disconnection.” In our ancestors’ time, when danger lurked all around, separating from the protection of family or tribe could mean sudden death.
2. Electronic technology itself is a culprit in the struggle to stay calm.
3. Contemporary society mounts still another assault on our capacity for calm. We are expected to have infinite knowledge about a multitude of things, much of it abstract and conceptual.
4. Michael Gazzaniga, a leading neuroscientist says : “we’re not built to remember the kinds of things we must learn in the modern world…the brain is built for organic things, such as remembering where real harm can come to you in real physical space.”
5. Another potent source of stress is the dazzling variety of choices we face every day. When you have too many choices—whether you’re picking a spouse or selecting a salad dressing—the frontal lobes become less efficient.
6. The more mobility we have, the more career possibilities available, the larger the pool of life partners and sneaker brands we can choose from, the more anxious we become.
7. The complex, nuanced decision-making process that is frontal-lobe choice gets in the way of the simple, instinctual decision making of the core brain.
8. The human brain is built to react not just to itself and the environment but to other people.
9. Even as modern society values altruism, a frontal-lobe value, it rewards self-interest, a core-brain characteristic.
10. Self-interest is a s hardwired in our core brains as in our genes, and overriding this basic need is a deterrent to calm, for the core brain perceives such measures as threats.
11. Loss of intimacy is another modern hurdle, another deterrent to calm, as true intimacy, with its shared emotions, is a salve that delights the core brain.
12. People in leadership positions are increasingly cut off from “village” connections, knowing who is doing what, when and where.
13. Modern society, while addressing in painful redundancy many of our physical needs, fails to satisfy the core brain by giving short shrift to communal needs.
14. The body and the brain have perfected homeostasis, the painstakingly elegant process of balance, one that goes on from the smallest skin cell in your little finger to the large tortuosities of your colon.
15. Together, the vagus nerve and the core brain hold the key to unlocking the secret of calm.
16. Our core brains crave consistency.
17. Charles Darwin: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
18. The core brain needs to be appropriately adaptive to stress, as poor adaptability floods the body with constantly high and harmful levels of cortisol.
19. Instead of “How can I stop being stressed?” we should be asking, “How can I reset my defense thermostat so that it doesn’t switch into high gear when faced with a slight threat? How can I turn the stress response off quickly and efficiently when it is no longer needed?”
20. Most stresses in modern life arise not from physical dangers or deficiencies, but from our tendency to commit ourselves to personal goals that are too many and too high.
21. In short, much stress arises, ultimately, not from a mismatch between our abilities and the environment’s demands, but from a mismatch between what we desire and what we can have.
22. A robust body of research suggests that setting aside time for adequate sleep and specific periods of relaxation can actually enhance productivity. In addition, I know of no research that finds that our culture’s near fanatical separation of work and family—and our total devotion to a multitasking lifestyle—are anything but detrimental to our productivity and certainly to our sense of calm.
23. Superstitions impose the illusion of control on events of chance.
24. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that most people avoid risk when they are considering possible gains, but choose risk when they’re faced with possible losses.
25. People generally revert to their baseline level of happiness and calm, regardless of the calamity or the fortune that befalls them. Time evens out the highs and lows, and regardless of our circumstances, our brains return us to our calm set points. It seems, then, that, as taught in many meditation classes, we synthesize calm regardless of the stresses of our lives.
26. By mediating between the basic and instinctual needs of the core brain and the needs of society, the frontal lobes help us achieve calm.
27. In times of extreme stress, we revert to self-soothing skills we learned as children, for those behaviors are associated with a greater level of calm.
28. Self-critical thinking is strongly correlated with a variety of anxiety and mood disorders, while compassion is associated with health and calm.
29. Both bodily and emotional suffering diminish compassion and compromise calm. So does exposure to violence, including watching violent images.
30. …the genuine and spontaneous smiles of little children can have a soothing effect on adults. Their expressions of pleasure and joy invite us to bond with them and thus to experience the emotional connections that lead to calm.
31. Studies have shown that children with autism—who typically find it near imp;ossible to interact socially—are deficient in mirror neurons..The lower the activity in mirror neuron areas, the more severe the autism.
32. Twitter, smartphones, and other technological advances—with their instant updates and constant feedback—accentuate the sense of the inexorable passage of time.
33. In Western culture and in urban environments, there is a sense of time running out. The frontal lobes create urgency when none is needed, alarming us and propelling us into a state of anxiety.
34. Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice, notes that too much choice has two negative effects: It can cause paralysis and it can bring on discomfiture. We are less satisfied with our decisions than if we had fewer choices.
35. The frontal-lobes are the masters of the second guess. Indeed, for the frontal lobes, choosing means losing other options. You can never, ever, be truly content, truly calm, with a choice, simply because there’s always the possibility of a better choice.
36. There are several important gatekeepers. There are the amygdala (fear center), the insula (gut-feeling center), the subgenual anterior cingulated cortex (sadness center), and the nucleus accumbens (happiness center).
37. Taken together, the above structures, and several other brain regions that deal with emotion and memory, are referred to as the limbic system.
38. Smell is the most primitive and evolutionarily oldest of our senses and is tightly woven into the fabric of the amygdala.
39. The insula answers the question: How do you feel?”
40. For calm to reign within your brain there has to be bottom-up calm from your body, which is carried out by the vagus.
41. …overactivity of the right side of the brain causes depression and anxiety, while overactivity of the left side of the brain causes mania.
42. Today, sleep disorders and outright sleep deprivation plague us more than at any other time in history, leaving us with “hurt minds” and wounded bodies.
43. Few activities are as productive and interactive as sleep. It is a time when your brain interacts with itself, fine-tunes what it has learned, plays back daytime experiences to help you remember them, and lives out dreams—and you awaken renewed, refreshed
44. It is no surprise that sleep and calm are inextricably connected. Consider: Over 90 percent of depressed persons complain of some type of sleep disturbance; Insomniacs may be up to ten times more likely to be depressed and up to seventeen times more anxious than people who sleep well: Sleep deprivation is associated with obesity. Certain nerve cells in your brain’s hypothalamus get excited when you are stressed. This makes you stop sleeping and overeat at the same time.
45. The amount of time one sleeps is largely inherited and the day-to-day variations in sleep are generally small.
46. Just like the amount of time you sleep, all yo0u other sleep traits, including ther amount of time you dream and the length of your sleep cycle, are inherited and, interestingly, inherited independently.
47. The consensus among experts is that women are anywhere from two to six times more at risk for anxiety disorders than men.
48. Men are more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart disease, and drug and alchohol abuse. Woman are more vulnerable to what I call the slow-burn diseases: autoimmune problems, chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
49. Brain neurochemistry may in fact predispose women to emotional disorders. Low levels of the brain chemical serotonin are seen in patients with both anxiety and depression, and serotonin production is higher in men.
50. Antidepressants like Prozac act by increasing serotonin function, and 16 percent of American women use these drugs, nearly three times more than men.
51. Sometimes known as the “cuddle hormone”, Oxytocin increases sociability and bonding not only in women but also in men and promotes calm through a combination of increased vagal tone and reduced critical thinking and fear.
52. Oxytocin increases generosity and empathy, allowing us to look at a situation from another person’s perspective, in the process reducing anxiety.
53. In a study of twenty-two women aged eighteen to forty-five who had endured childhood abuse, the greater the degree of abuse, the lower the level of Oxytocin in these adult women.
54. One study found that after a few minutes of petting a dog, the levels of Oxytocin was higher in both the dog and her admirer.
55. It appears that males learn better under stress, while females learn more in nurturing environments.
56. In the real world, anxious parents are more likely to raise anxious children. And modern children, thanks to rampant media exposure, are more anxious than ever, with eight and nine-year-olds fretting about the state of the world.
57. Researchers found strong correlation between cortisol levels, with a higher stress-derived cortisol in the mother translating into higher cortisol levels in her fetus.
58. The researchers found that the mother’s anxiety level during pregnancy, particularly between twelve and twenty-two weeks, was a predictor of anxiety in her children.
59. Parents need to talk to their kids about crisis and even about everyday problems in concrete and simple ways, suited to the child’s age.
60. Denying or ignoring a problem does not help children because they have fantastic imaginations and will invent scenarios far worse than the reality.
61. How common is anxiety in children? It turns out that its more prevalent than all other childhood mental illnesses clumped together. A staggering 17 percent of eleven-year-old boys and girls are classified as clinically anxious.
62. More than half the adults being treated for anxiety report feeling anxious as children, suggesting that anxious children are likely to grow up to be anxious parents.
63. Looking at children’s behavior at age two, Jerome Kagan has been able to predict which children will turn out to be anxious and which ones will grow up to be calm.
64. Toddlers who are shy and anxious to begin with and who have overprotective and intrusive parents are even more likely to be withdrawn as they grow up.
65. …achieving better through better vagal tone is more effective than trying to reason with these irritable or fearful children.
66. The overwhelming number of choices available today—from breakfast cereals to TV channels—places a burden on our brains. Now imagine the same choices when your frontal lobes, the final arbiters of choice, are not even close to mature, In fact, they don’t develop fully until your mid-twenties.
67. Children who pick-up chess at five or six play the game almost intuitively, aware of the rules without any conscious thinking, for their brains have been “molded” by the rules of chess.
68. Grounding your out-of-control daughter by sending her to her room, where she can continue on Facebook, AIM, and texting her friends, does not calm her brain. Putting your tantrum-throwing son into “time-out’ in a room full of computer of games is not time out at all. It does not calm the vagus or the core-brain—and you can count on another tantrum before long.
69. Researchers have in fact found that the more activities that Are schedules for children, the more likely they are to suffer from stress and anxiety. In fact, the rates of diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, and depression are skyrocketing in urban children. And we know anxious children become anxious adults.
70. Related to overvigilance and lack of community is the proliferation of technology, which further handicaps children in their quest for calm.
71. Computer games (especially the handheld ones found in every child’s backpack these days), with their beeping and flashing and demand for tight electronic focus, further compromises community and core-brain calm. As does children’s texting.
72. Texting impairs the honing of core-brain people skills. As a boy who flirts through texting with a girl he adores said to me in despair, I don’t know if she likes me in real life!”
73. It is difficult to be calm when you haven’t developed the skill to deal with you fellow human beings.
74. The truth is that exposure to a reasonable number of environmental pathogens at a young age is helpful in developing immunity to a host of illnesses adulthood.
75. Although it may sound silly for a group of people to get together and laugh themselves silly, there is a powerful core-brain rationale for this exercise. It activates our sense of community and our mirror neurons and insula, leaving us invigorated.
76. Laughter is an easy way to enhance vagal tone: making an intentional effort to laugh every day has be scientifically shown to promote relaxation, increase happiness and improve help