Keep Calm And Neuroscience On
It’s every student’s favorite time of the semester: midterm week. As you are freaking out about the upcoming exams that you have, you notice that others around you are relatively calm. You envy them and their ability to cope with stress. But here’s the thing: keeping calm under pressure isn’t a character trait or ability, it’s a skill that you can teach yourself in minutes. You’re probably thinking that that sounds ridiculous, but by following a few simple steps one can easily improve one’s ability to manage stress.
The Power of Meditation
When the word meditation comes up, people usually think of Monks or Buddhists first. However, there is a reason they meditate so often; meditation does wonders for your brain, and here is how.
There are two main types of meditation: 1) Focused-attention meditation or 'Mindful meditation' and 2) Open-monitoring meditation. In Mindful meditation, you focus on one specific thing ranging from your breathing, a specific sensation in your body, or a particular object in front of you.The key point is to focus on one thing without consideration to other thoughts or events happening around you. When any distractions occur, you must be quick to recognize it and turn your focus back to your focal point. Open-monitoring meditation is where you pay attention to all the things happening around you but you do not react to them.
Perceived Effort and Actual Effort
Have you ever sat down to write a paper at 10pm the night before it is due? It is like setting out to run a marathon. You have all your necessary snacks lined up on the desk, the perfect playlist is on, breaks are not an option, and it will probably take you around 5 hours (more or less depending how much research and dedication you prepared for this moment). Most people are more likely to encounter this type of marathon than an actual marathon; however, according to a recent research in the field of psychophysiology, marathons require just as much mental effort as the aforementioned paper.
Samuele Marcora, a professor and researcher at the University of Kent, has recently theorized that the perceived mental effort during physical activity is just as important as how strenuous as the activity actually is. Previously, the common idea has relied on the afferent feedback model - "that perception of effort results from the complex integration of sensory signals from the active muscles and other organs" and relies little on what the person actually perceives to be difficult. In the general field of exercise physiology, it has been assumed that once a subject exerts a certain amount of energy, exhaustion is reacted because there are no more stores of energy to draw upon. Marcora's studies are beginning to prove that this previously assumed idea is not the case. Marathon runners are still able to function after a marathon, before refueling, even though they may not have been able to push any harder during the race. This is just one example of how there may be enough glycogen (units of energy) yet the runner is unable to keep pushing harder. According to these new studies, the actual energy available to a person during strenuous exercise, if there is enough glycogen present, relies on the person's 'brain strength' to push past the mental boundaries caused by negative thoughts, boredom, and a build up of neurotransmitters - something that Marcora believes that runners can train to become easier.
The Effects of Stress on Memory Loss
Stressed out? You may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer's disease. You're probably wondering to yourself how that is possible. Highly intelligent people who use their brains all of the time, like scientists, CEOs, and presidents, deal with stress on a day to day basis. The truth is that lack of higher education or brain activity is not the only major cause of dementia.
If keeping your brain active is a good way to prevent cognitive decline, then why did people such as Ronald Reagan and Norman Rockwell develop Alzheimer’s disease? The answer is stress. Recent studies have shown that people who deal with high levels of stress in their career or their family life are more likely to develop dementia. Stress cannot be said to directly cause dementia, but it is a trigger for the degenerative process in the brain.
An Argentine research team examined 118 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 81 healthy individuals whose age, gender, and educational level were comparable to the Alzheimer's patients. Both groups were questioned about the amount of stress that they had faced in the past three years. The researchers reported that 72% of the Alzheimer’s patients admitted to coping with severe emotional stress or grief, such as the death of a loved one or financial problems. This was nearly three times as many as the control group.
Run Crustaceans, Run!
When humans fall ill, we can go to the doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment. We have a form of communication, and our body has good indicators that can help the doctor diagnose the problem. But what happens when we are trying to diagnose organisms that have no way to tell us what is wrong, and no way of knowing how badly they are affected? For instance, in the case of many marine organisms, illness is being caused by humans. We have used our oceans such that they now contain areas with little to no oxygen, where life is barely sustainable. How does this, combined with ongoing pollution and human activities, stress marine life? More