Reactive vs Reflective: Tots and Tantrums

Kids from 18 months to 4 years old are hardwired to have tantrums.  Their prefrontal cortex is a gray mushy mess that is still developing and that is important because it is the logical, rational, and behavioral control part of the brain.  Just like mom and dad, or more so, the more they use this part of the brain the more it will develop.  At this point in their young lives, they are learning first and foremost by imitating mom and dad.  Children and young babies respond to mom and dad’s actions more than their instruction.  Make no mistake they are taking every little thing in.  So, if mom and dad get frustrated, disappointed, anxious when life goes awry the child is going to internalize these responses.  When our worlds start falling apart (flight gets delayed, child bit someone in the playground again, someone jumped in front of you and took more than their share of samples at Costco) it’s time to activate our prefrontal cortex through raising our self-awareness by acknowledging and accepting our emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and sensations in a practice what we like to call mindfulness.  This process of self-reflection can promote calmness which is a worthy response for our children to learn and adapt. 

We have a choice in stressful situations to be reflective, or reactive.  Reactive is the unmediated response to stimuli.  Reactive stems from the limbic system.  The limbic system is the more primal part of our brain that evolved many thousands of years ago wired to react to pain and pleasure, initiate fight or flight, control anger, induce fear, promote violent or aggressive behavior.  These strong primal instincts permit lifesaving reactions free of the constraints of rational thought.  This is sometimes called our lizard, or reptilian brain because a similar system is found on a T-Rex and her kin. Interestingly, when the limbic system is activated it can block the other control centers of our brain to directly control our behavior.  To review, our children have a lot of limbic activity and limited but growing prefrontal cortex activity.

A couple great tips for becoming more mindful and less T-Rex are to understand that activating the prefrontal cortex has an inhibiting effect on the limbic system.  Therefore, by using self-reflection to scan your emotions and acknowledge them not only are you exercising your prefrontal cortex, but you are diminishing the limbic response.  Additionally, the old idea of counting to 10 when you are angry begins by acknowledging your emotional state plus activates the logic center of the brain to further inhibit the limbic system.  Try to practice mindfulness and be the calm that we all desire in the world.  

A picture of actor, Justin Baldoni, recently went viral when his daughter had an outburst at a Wholefoods.  Justin and his father calmly waited for the meltdown to subside while his wife captured the moment.  Clearly, the young tot was having a limbic reaction to some painful event, and Justin handled it expertly.  See his description of the event below.  

“I tried to stay off social media yesterday to connect with my family without distraction so I’m posting this today. Emily took this in Whole Foods. It’s now one of my favorite photos ever of me and my dad.

Two men, standing together in silence, forever bonded by an unconditional love for both each other and this brand new, raw and pure soul who we would both go to the ends of the earth for. I can only imagine how many times I did this when I was her age. My dad taught me so much about what it means to be a man, but this post is about one thing and one thing only. Being comfortable in the uncomfortable. Something I grew up watching him do with me over and over again. There are no perfect parents, but one thing my dad taught me is to not parent based on what anyone else thinks. My dad always let me feel what I needed to feel, even if it was in public and embarrassing. I don’t remember him ever saying ‘You’re embarrassing me!’ or ‘Dont cry!’ It wasn’t until recently that I realized how paramount that was for my own emotional development. Our children are learning and processing so much information and they don’t know what to do with all of these new feelings that come up. I try to remember to make sure my daughter knows it’s OK that she feels deeply. It’s not embarrassing to me when she throw tantrums in the grocery store, or screams on a plane. I’m her dad…not yours. Let’s not be embarrassed for our children. It doesn’t reflect on you. In fact.. we should probably be a little more kind and patient with ourselves too. If we got out everything we were feeling and allowed ourselves to throw tantrums and cry when we felt the need to then maybe we’d could also let ourselves feel more joy and happiness. And that is something this world could definitely use a little more of. #fathersday #redifinemasculinity #daddy #dearmaiya”

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Preserves Brain Cell Integrity

Researchers uncovered real brain benefits from E-VOO (extra-virgin olive oil) infused diets inspired by the Mediterranean Diet rich in plant-based foods and healthy fats.  Highlights from the study showed that mice having cornerstone characteristics of dementia and Alzheimer’s given the E-VOO diet performed better in tests designed to evaluate working memory, spatial memory, and learning abilities.  Studies of the brain tissues revealed dramatic differences in nerve cell appearance and function.  “One thing that stood out immediately was synaptic integrity,” Dr. Pratico said.  The integrity of the connections between neurons, known as synapses, were preserved in animals on the E-VOO diet.  In addition, compared to mice on a regular diet, brain cells from animals in the olive oil group showed a dramatic increase in nerve cell autophagy activation, which ultimately is responsible for a reduction in levels of amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau.  Animals destined for Alzheimer’s had significant wiggle room to dodge their biological fate.  

Researchers from Temple University Medical School published their findings on June 21 in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

When Meeting a Friend, Wash Your Eyes

 

In Confucian tradition, when a friend has journeyed to see you it is dignified to wash your eyes before receiving him, or her. Don’t get it, neither did I when I first heard it. Yet I do it every day now.

Washing our eyes symbolizes the importance of cleansing our prejudices and preconceptions in order to stand ready to see someone anew. We can then allow a person to change more freely and continue on their own journey of growth. We can also prevent static thinking that locks down the relationship while encouraging true listening and attentiveness.

I was searching for an angle on a human needs article as I pondered the importance of honoring another person on their journey in life when a friend who is a professional therapist stopped by to chat. I asked for her suggestions. Apparently, I needed to wash my eyes to see myself anew. I had writer’s block.

We talked of the ever growing understanding of emotional capacity as portrayed by a recent BBC documentary, “A Spy in the Wild.”  The producers planted life-like animatronic animals within groups of the same species in their natural habitat. I’ll cut straight to the highlight of the show. A troop of monkeys welcomed their new robotic kin into the social group with customary grooming and playfulness, but when a mischievous young member dropped the robot from a great height something unbelievable happened. The entire tribe fell silent, showed a sense of respect for the loss of a member, and grieved for the fallen.

Connection, mutuality and physical and emotional safety are fundamental needs of all people. We need one another. We want one another. The question is how can we make life wonderful for others and ourselves and not proverbially drop a companion off a tree?

The therapist friend and I spoke of the innate emotional depth of humans. Our similarities and differences and how to bridge the gap to a loving connection.

She pointed out that though we are 7 billion unique realities unfolding we have some fundamental similarities like grief and loss, joy and happiness. She attributed patience, tolerance, and empathy as evolutionary values to overcome our differences. We use feelings to help tell us if our needs are being met and collectively use needs to express the beauty of the human experience.

She recounted a story of her son when he was his former 5yr old self. He came home from kindergarten engaged to a little girl. The young son was as happy and joyous as any man who belonged to someone. He felt “belonged.” A day later this “little harlotte” (her words, not mine) was engaged to a new boy. Her son felt a depth of loss and grief previously unimagined.

The young therapist learned two things that have remained with her throughout her career. First, she could not believe emotions like these could be experienced by one so young. Second, the little harlotte was trying to satisfy her need for connection with others like anyone else. Though, her strategy may have been unique.

This is when we circled back to this concept of washing our eyes.  She said that we need to wash our eyes every day when we see our children because we just don’t know when it’s been the worst day of their lives, if they lost a friend, were abused, or have looked into the abyss of human sorrow. The same goes for partners, parents, siblings, and friends. When we do not wash our eyes we either miss the change that is occurring in them, or we are not giving them the room they need to grow. So, I encourage you to look at your loved ones from fresh eyes with a clean slate, engage them in some friendly argument, challenge them, but in the end allow them to express who they are for the first time, each time.

Five Reasons to Stop at SPF 50

1. Diminishing Marginal Sunblock Utility:  SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays; SPF 100 blocks 99%.  SPF 30 to 50 will offer adequate sunburn protection, even for people most sensitive to sunburn.

2. Lackluster UVA Protection:  UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin, cause free radical damage, suppresses the immune system, and is associated with higher risk of developing melanoma.  Most US sunscreens are designed and oriented to block UVB rays which cause sunburn.  Because of the ingredients used to focus on blocking UVB rays, higher SPF sunscreens may actually block UVA rays less effectively.

3. SPF Labs Are Not Real World:  Sunscreens are tested in labs under unreal and various conditions.  What one company calculates to be 100 SPF another company may calculate to be 30 SPF with only the slightest changes to thickness applied, or light intensity.  P&G asked the h FDA to cap SPF at 50+ because it is misleading and inappropriately influences purchase decisions.

4. False Security Leads to Bad Behavior:  When sunbathers apply high SPF sunscreen it was found that they stayed in the sun longer.  The effect is increased sun exposure, and sun worshippers tend not to apply sunscreen regularly because of perceived protection.  In both cases, there is increased risk of skin damage.

5. Toxic Ingredients:  Sun-filtering chemicals required for high SPF sunscreen can penetrate the skin causing tissue damage, hormone disruption, and allergic reaction.  Without posting gains in the area of proven extra protection from skin damage, it is not worth the additional risk of such ingredients. 

 

Thirteen Sheep To Fantastic Sleep

INTRODUCTION: HUNGRY, EAT.  TIRED, SLEEP.

Two young disciples sat under a tree meditating in hopes of learning the secrets of the universe. One was interested in harmony and the other in power.

The first disciple opened an eye to look at the other and began to brag of the greatness of his master.

Disciple 1: “My master can perform all manner of incredible feats. He can place characters on paper with gestures from a hundred paces away. What about your master?”

Disciple 2: “Yes, mine too. He does all manner of fantastic things. When he is hungry, he fills his stomach with rice. When he is tired, he closes his eyes.”

IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP

Sleep is as biologically essential as food or water and affects nearly all systems and functions of our body. This includes metabolism, immune function, mood, cognitive performance, self-awareness, and disease resistance, among others. Research shows that chronic lack of sleep and poor quality sleep increases disorders including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity. In fact, healthy adults limited to six hours a night of sleep had cognitive abilities fall sharply compared to those with eight hours of sleep.  After only 4 hours of sleep, your ability to operate a motor vehicle is the same as driving with double the legal alcohol limit.  

SLEEP REQUIREMENTS

Different people require different amounts of sleep. Here are some general sleeping recommendations:

SLEEP STAGES

We should have 5-6 sleep cycles in a night. Each sleep cycle lasts about 90-minutes and consists of non-REM followed by REM sleep.

Non-REM sleep allows the body to repair muscles and tissues, stimulate growth and development, boost immune function, and build up energy for the next day.

REM sleep is dream time. Our brain experiences wakeful-like brainwave activity so that we can process new memories into long-term memory and consolidate new learning.

REM sleep occurs progressively longer towards the morning so multiple cycles are needed to optimize learning.

MECHANISMS OF SLEEP

Sleep can be as elusive as a dream, or as inescapable as a tsunami.

There are two key processes underlying the need to sleep.

The first is a homeostatic system that builds pressure to sleep over time awake. The more we are awake the greater the pressure is to sleep. Sleep reduces that pressure and thus promotes a propensity for wakefulness. Of course, we can interfere with the homeostatic system with such things as a coffee, allowing anxiety to take hold of us, or being carried away with excitement.

The second biological process is our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a group of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour pattern responding primarily to light and darkness. Physiological markers like melatonin, cortisol, and body temperature, reflect are different at each stage.

Health and wellness depend on us not interfering with these natural processes through our environmental stimuli or lifestyle choices.

HEALTHY SLEEPING LIFESTYLE HABITS

While many of us look to improve our waking life, the answer may not be in our waking rituals.

1. Expose yourself to adequate natural lighting. We are evolved in such a way to be in rhythm with the sun.

2. De-stress. Diffuse lavender oil. Meditate for a few minutes to invite serenity, peace, and calm. Say a prayer of gratitude. Cortisol, the stress hormone, will fall and reduce alertness.

3. Avoid chemicals that interfere with sleep like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.

4. Take a warm bath. The increase and decrease in body temperature help signal the circadian rhythm and stimulate sleep neurochemicals.

5. Turn off the TV, put away the gadgets, and turn on white noise.

HEALTHY SLEEPING NUTRITIONAL APPROACHES

Vitamin A: Studies suggest vitamin A deficiency alters brains waves in non-REM sleep causing sleep to be less restorative.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): In clinical trials, supplementation of healthy individuals that had marginal B1 deficiency improved their sleep.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Increases REM sleep and improves both quality and quantity of sleep by converting tryptophan to serotonin.

Folate & Vitamin B6: Both are cofactors for several neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin and dopamine, many of which regulate sleep patterns.

Vitamin B12: Normalizes circadian rhythms.

Magnesium: Improving magnesium status is associated with better quality sleep, mimics the action of melatonin, and alleviates insomnia due to restless leg syndrome.

Zinc & Copper: Both interact with NMDA (sleep-regulating) receptors in the brain and a higher Zn/Cu ratio is linked to longer sleep duration.

Oleic Acid: This fatty acid is a precursor of oleamide, which regulates our drive for sleep and tends to accumulate in the spinal fluid of sleep-deprived animals. Oleic acid also facilitates the absorption of vitamin A.

CONCLUSION

Live in harmony with your environment. Paying attention to your personalizing factors on how you choose to live your life, from hydration, to sensory input, to relaxation, to supplements. Sleep when you are tired and eats when you are hungry. Unclutter your life so you can more easily identify your needs.

CURRENT ISSUES IN ADOLESCENT SLEEP

Adolescents are undergoing incredible changes in their bodies and minds.  They are under intensifying academic pressures and escalating social pressures.  Depression tendency spikes as kids become teenagers.  A great deal of money, time, and energy are poured into addressing adolescent violence, suicide, substance abuse, and unsafe sex with little to show for it.  Scientists have shown that lack of sleep causes problems with mood, behavior, increases a proclivity for risky behavior, and even engenders cheating.  Therefore, researchers are asking the fair question of what role can adequate sleep have in finding a solution to greater well-being for adolescents.  Read more on this issue in the New York Times.