Ahh, the holidays! Time for many to celebrate their faith. Time for others to reflect on the accomplishments of yet another year gone by, and to plan for an even better one ahead. Time to be with family, give thanks, serve others, and enjoy a break from the normal routines of life. Right???
In a perfect world, yes. Although, the stark reality for so many is that the holidays bring on an increasingly high level of undue stress for more reasons than there are days in the holiday season. Financial struggles, health concerns, passing of a loved one, work deadlines, shopping, travel, crowds, and family squabbles are but a few that can spark fear, worry, sadness, anxiety, and depression in just about anyone; if they are not prepared for it.
Add to this the profound increase in calorie intake (particularly sugars), sedentary behavior, late nights and poor sleep, excessive alcohol intake, travel fatigue, decreased physical activity levels, and a general lack of attention to one’s health this time of year, and you have a perfect recipe for both simple and deadly mental and physical health problems.
While suicide increase during the holidays has largely been proven a myth, there are direct correlations between increased mental and physical stress around the holidays leading to exacerbation of depression and other mental health disorders, and a resultant spike in the number of calls to suicide prevention and substance abuse hotlines. It can be theorized that many around the holidays are thankfully unable to act on suicidal thoughts give the increased presence of friends and family, although self-medication through increased drug and alcohol use over the holidays can certainly lead to worse outcomes after the new year for many.
While this is a piece on stress around the holidays, the importance of physical health (which is directly impacted by stress) needs to be considered briefly. As an example, the journal Circulation published research in 2004 showing nationwide trends in heart attacks increasing by 5% during the holidays, with peak incidences occurring on both Christmas and New Year’s Day. Coincidence??? Certainly not. An editorial in the same edition of this journal discussed further the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and the “Happy New Year Heart Attack” phenomenon – related to increased mental and physical stressors this time of year.
With the gloomy realities and statistics behind us, we can now focus on what is most important – what can we do to prevent or minimize the fallout of the holiday season to ensure we may enjoy it to the fullest, and so that we may proceed with peace of mind, good health, and longevity into the year ahead?
Drink responsibly. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink every 2 hours in social situations, with water in between to avoid intoxication and dehydration – your brain will thank you!
Walk away. Don’t feel you must change anyone’s mind about politics, sports, or anything else for that matter. Engage in positive dialogue.
Reach out. If something is deeply upsetting you, sometimes the worst thing to do is hold it in while everyone else is celebrating. Confide in a trusted source.
Don’t stress over shopping. Getting into fist fights over the newest TV or toy is clearly not what the holidays are about and will dramatically increase your stress levels. Is it really about the presents?
It’s OK not to travel. Many are compelled to travel due to family pressures and the like. It is OK to ‘skip a year’ if you are overwhelmed and feel you need a break.
Get to bed. Sleep cycles are impacted enough going into winter with shorter days and longer nights. Be mindful of sleep routines as they have a large impact on buffering chronic stress responses and clearing your brain of toxins.
Stick to your regular eating habits. If they are healthy ones, that is. It is OK to ‘sample the goods’ around the holidays, but overdoing it will be sure to weaken your immune system and allow stress to harm your brain and body.
Move your body. Exercise should be a regular part of your daily routine, especially around the holidays. It minimizes the effects of stress and burns the excess calories you will likely indulge in.
Meditate. Quiet time away from the distractions of the holidays to self-reflect and calm your mind will reduce stress levels.
Turn off the tube. TV usage skyrockets during the holidays for many, leading to less physical activity and social disconnection. Decrease computer and social media use while you’re at it!
Play games, listen to music, tell stories. All activities that will engage your mind and connect you to others around you during the holiday season.
Connect socially. One of the secrets to stress reduction. Social connection produces hormones that reduce stress. If you have little or no family and friends around, volunteer opportunities abound.
Author’s Note: If you or a loved one is experiencing undue stress during the holiday season (or any season) leading to withdrawn, erratic, or dangerous behavior, increased substance use, trouble at home, work, etc., please know there are resources that can help. Brain Training is a highly effective option for dealing with chronic stress outside of acute or emergency situations. In these situations, national helplines are available and should be utilized:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
National Substance Abuse Hotline: 1.800.622.HELP (4357)
Addiction or, more appropriately, substance use disorder (SUD) is defined as one’s recurrent use of drugs and/or alcohol leading to significant clinical and functional impairment. This impairment may be reflected in the areas of physical and mental health, employment, school, relationships, finances, and more.
One thing is for certain – the vast majority of those struggling with SUD also have underlying challenges with learning and behavior, and may have one or more mental health disorders. While the reasons for these underlying challenges are likely as many as the number of challenges themselves, this shifting of perspective away from the genetic view of addiction offers great hope for those seeking progressive therapies that, in many cases, can have a profound impact on the underlying disorders and the problem behaviors and outcomes associated with SUD.
Newer thinking also dictates that addictive tendencies can be due to factors such as concussion and traumatic brain injury, and metabolic imbalances caused by food allergies, environmental toxicities, nutrient deficiencies, and the like. And let’s not forget stress…
In order for progressive brain-based modalities to be delivered effectively, which provide a tremendous complement to standard mental health strategies implemented during both in-patient and out-patient programs alike, one needs to understand that SUD is not a disease as we would normally think of one (e.g. cancer, Parkinson’s, etc.), and it is not a moral failing or a character flaw on the part of the user. SUD can affect anyone… of any class, race, gender, and ethnicity.
SUD is in fact a ‘brain problem’ that, in many respects, can be measured and needs to be approached as such for maximum gains. Let us consider 5 areas of measurement related to brain function that reveal a great deal about learning, behavior, and mental health status; and, more importantly, let us realize that something can be done to improve upon function in any or all of these areas:
Brainwave Activity (EEG) – In our brain we have networks related to attention, vision, sensations, relaxation, emotions, vital functions, and more. How much delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma brainwave activity we have under different circumstances dictates how well various parts of these networks perform. Quantitative EEG (qEEG) is gaining popularity in select mental health circles as an extremely viable diagnostic tool that can enable us to peer into the inner workings of the brain and these brain networks that make us uniquely human.
Cognitive Testing – Executive function, cognitive flexibility, simple and complex attention, and processing speed are just a few of the tests of higher cognitive function that can reveal a great deal about how one’s brain interacts with its environment. They are also excellent diagnostic tools for monitoring progress when treating the various subsets of learning and behavioral issues underlying SUD.
Metabolic Function – Blood sugar, amino acids, urine organic acids, food antibodies, heavy metals, environmental toxins, hormones, neurotransmitters, vital nutrients, genetic variants, and so much more are a mix of both classic and progressive ‘biomarkers’ of brain function. How our bodies handle fuel, utilize nutrients, process hormones, and react to toxins in our environments determines how well our brains handle what is presented to them on a moment to moment basis.
Eye Movements – Generally ignored in the mental health arena from a diagnostic perspective, eye movements of all types are directly related to the brain regions that control them. From primitive abilities of finding visual targets that involve parts of the brainstem and emotional centers like the amygdala (fear response), to fast eye movements controlled by our higher functioning frontal lobes; eye movements deliver a wealth of information related to SUD and its underlying causes. Videonystagmography (VNG) is one type of diagnostic tool used to measure these types of functions.
Balance and Coordination – More and more, addiction based programs are implementing movement based activities such as Tai Chi and yoga. From both balance and relaxation standpoints, there is good reason to do so. Our sense of self is largely influenced by our ability to physically interact with our environment. When one has severe balance or coordination impairment, as is seen in conditions like schizophrenia, mental function and behavior will likely be impaired. Measurement tools such as dynamic posturography and standard tests of movement and coordination can be utilized to measure these abilities.
The inherent beauty of any of these tools, that can reveal a wealth of information about cognitive, behavioral, and mental functions, is that they can in turn be utilized to track progress when one enters into a collaborative treatment program with their mental health specialists and qualified functional neurologist. The blending of the ‘brain’ and the ‘mind’ sciences is long overdue and is proving to be clinically effective with regard to its impact on addiction and SUD, and the underlying disorders that are being shown with greater clarity to be the root cause of them.
At the time of presentation to APEX Brain Centers, Roger was a 70-year-old male struggling with severe balance problems, clumsiness, fatigue, and a general disinterest in life. He used to enjoy life as a family man, successful entrepreneur and golfer. Just over 10 years prior he had undergone radiation therapy for cancer that damaged his 8th cranial nerve (the balance and hearing nerve). He had also undergone prism therapies and surgery for eye position abnormalities, which have caused further insult to his ability to maintain good balance and to learn effectively. Although not listed as a primary complaint, he also suffered from significant cognitive decline in several areas as evidenced by very low to low average scores on standardized cognitive testing.
Roger sought care at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC in May of 2015 and underwent an intensive course of Brain Training. He was admitted into in an individualized program directed by extensive diagnostic testing, and led by clinicians highly experienced in functional neurology. What follows is a sampling of some of the cutting-edge clinical interventions and amazing functional gains Roger experienced during his time at APEX.
Intervention for balance and cognitive decline
Roger underwent comprehensive Brain Training at a frequency of 3 times per day over the course of 15 days (with 2 days off between each for much needed rest and recovery). His brain function was carefully monitored throughout the training process with measurement of EEG brainwaves, vital signs, eye movements, balance, mental and physical timing, and more to ensure he was receiving the proper amount therapy to be effective, but not too much so as to be counter-productive. Modalities implemented included, but were not limited to: neurofeedback (NFB), Interactive Metronome, vestibular rehabilitation, metabolic/nutritional therapies, eye movement and neurological rehabilitation, whole body vibration, electrical stimulation, breathing exercises and home care recommendations.
Outcomes after Brain Training
Subsequent to his Brain Training program, Roger reported subjective improvements in the vast majority of his pre-intensive complaints. More profound than that; his wife was quoted as saying, “it’s like I have my old husband back”. She noted that he used to be the life of the party and had been slowly deteriorating over time to the point of sitting in his chair all day and sleeping more and more often. He was finally plugging back into life, putting an end to his isolation and apathy. As is demonstrated by his balance testing, he is also experiencing a renewed ability to maintain balance, allowing him to be safer and more efficient in navigating his physical environment.
Actual, measurable objective improvements recorded with post-intensive diagnostic testing include:
Cognitive Testing: Increase in his Neurocognition Index of 48%. This is a standardized overall score of cognitive performance. Increases in various aspects of memory, attention, processing speed and more as great as 21%.
Interactive Metronome: 56% improvement in task average with motor timing, and normalization of hyper-anticipatory timing tendency with motor tasks (i.e. responding prematurely to a pre-set reference tone).
Computerized Assessment of Postural Stability (CAPS): 20.5% improvement in balance on an unstable surface with eyes closed – bringing him from severe to mild reduction in balance compared to his peers. Elimination of a posterior center of pressure (CoP); significantly reducing his risk of falling backwards.
Videonystagmography (VNG): Significant improvements in numerous aspects of oculomotor (eye movement) functionality including: gaze holding, slow and fast eye movements, optokinetic responses, and spontaneous/involuntary eye movements.
With an alarming increase in the number of baby boomers and seniors experiencing balance issues and cognitive decline (that are in fact related), it is important to recognize the symptoms of these potentially debilitating disorders and, more importantly, that something can be done about them. Early intervention is key, as the longer one waits and the more function is lost, the more difficult it is to recover and have full engagement with life!
Google defines ‘boot camp’ as: a short, intensive, and rigorous course of training. Aside from the obvious military style boot camp, many are seeking out boot camps in all shapes and sizes to help with everything from fitness to addiction.
Why not boot camp for your brain???
A basic understanding of how the brain works will help you realize that a boot camp is the most effective way to train your brain. From those with neurological issues, to those looking to elevate their level of performance to new heights, a well-trained brain will help ensure you are functioning at your highest possible level (both physically and mentally).
Neuron Theory, 101
Your brain’s sole purpose in life is to receive and transmit information. Sensory information from the environment and your body travels up to your brain to be processed; and thoughts, actions, hormone circulation and more are the end result of that input. The brain receives and transmits information through neurons (nerve cells), more specifically networks of neurons, in the brain and body. The more powerful the information traveling in those networks, or pathways, the stronger they become. In short, from a theory developed in the mid-20th century by the psychologist, Donald Hebb: cells that fire together, wire together!
What determines if cells get ‘wired’ together is the intensity and frequency of the stimulation delivered to them. There can be equal parts frequency and intensity, or more of one or the other. Using the example of learning how to play a guitar; one can play 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week – representing moderate frequency and low intensity – and could expect slow gains in the ability to play guitar. The same individual could participate in a ‘guitar boot camp’ playing for 1-2 hours, 3-5 times per day, for 5 days – very high frequency AND intensity – and expect to make much larger gains in their skills on 6 strings.
Now, About that Brain Boot Camp
Paying respect to the understanding that cells that fire together, wire together, it should now make good sense that training of brain function would yield the greatest outcomes in this high frequency, high intensity boot camp model. Every brain is different and unique, and faced with its own sets of strengths and challenges; and the frequency and intensity of individual aspects of Brain Training can be adapted to fit these unique needs.
Another added benefit of the boot camp training model is that of fitting a great deal of learning into a very short period of time. Moms and dads, sons and daughters, athletes and CEOs, brain injured and infirmed – time is a valuable commodity, and to compress months (if not years) of benefit and improved quality of life into a 5, 10, or 15 day period of time is something most folks could not put a price tag on. Further, the longer we wait (and the longer it takes) to train our brains, the less benefit we will gain from the experience.
To learn more about our Asheville, NC based Brain Boot Camps for learning and behavioral issues, peak performance, concussion and brain injury, and more; contact us at 828.708.5274 for a FREE 15 minute consultation.
Everyone that signs up for a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC, that is! (Unique offer details below).
While technology and all that come with it can cause significant impairment for many, it can also be used to provide an extreme advantage when it comes to Training your Brain. The ever-growing list of hi-tech applications (apps) for mobile devices and tablets is astounding, many of which hold significant promise for re-training brain dysfunction, and for improving upon already strong performance in those looking to reach their peak potential. As with anything, there is a downside – apps used improperly and not under expert guidance can, in some cases, be counter-productive, and even harmful!
The following are the main areas of apps for brain performance:
Memory and Attention: We have all heard of that brain training program that begins with ‘L’ that most folks pronounce incorrectly! While this and many other similar apps are quite useful and largely without side-effects, they may not be providing all they claim in the absence of a comprehensive brain health program.
Eye movements: The secret is out, eye movements are directly related to our higher, more human, cognitive brain functions. A simple Google search of ‘eye movements and cognition’ should get you rolling there! The challenge is that these sensitive windows into higher brain function can very easily be trained incorrectly, leading to further dysfunction or significantly limiting peak performance. User beware: Expert direction is essential with these type of apps!
Neurofeedback/Biofeedback: By far the newest and most concerning area of mobile brain training, app stores are piling up with programs that will help you regulate your brainwaves, heart rate, muscle tension, and more. Common sense should let you know that training your brainwaves in the absence of higher education in neurophysiology and neuroplasticity might not be a very wise choice. Once again, user beware!
Although just a sampling of what’s available in the various app stores in the cyber world, the take home message here is that ANY effort in training your brain should be directed by a qualified health care provider trained in these areas of brain performance for maximum benefit and decreased probability of side-effects.
Enter the iPad…
All clients entering into a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC through May 31, 2015 will receive a FREE iPad Mini with Retina Display (or comparable device) as a valuable aid to your brain training program, and to help you continue progress once discharged. All you would need to do is have an iTunes account to purchase any needed applications (typically less than $35.00), and the desire to make your brain the best possible brain it can be.
This special offer is not to be combined with any offers and you must reference this post at the time of consultation or admission for validation purposes. Let us help you harness the power of technology and put you in the driver’s seat on your journey to Building a Better Brain!
Liz is a 29-year-old female entrepreneur, designer, and athlete who came to APEX Brain Centers with a history of post-concussion syndrome from previous car accidents and sport related head injuries. She reported symptoms that are often seen in cases of mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI) including brain fog, fluctuating and elevated heart rate, fatigue, incoordination, excessive emotionality, sharp head pains, and decreasing ability to think critically and effectively. Liz’s symptoms have been nothing short of debilitating and have taken away her ability to work full time at the career she loves. She was also very concerned that her future plans of having a baby and starting a family would be compromised due to the health risk to both her and a developing fetus.
Liz traveled from Virginia to the APEX Brain Centers office in Asheville, NC to participate in our targeted, high frequency, high intensity Brain Training program. She began a 10-day course of Brain Training in November of 2014 with a goal of alleviating her concussion related symptoms. With her sincere efforts and dedication to recovery, we were able to record significant measurable changes related to her symptomatology.
Intervention for mTBI
Liz underwent Brain Training 3 times per day over the course of the 10-day period. Her brain function was carefully monitored throughout the training process to ensure she was receiving enough treatment to be effective, but not too much so as to be counter-productive. Modalities delivered included, but were not limited to: neurofeedback (NFB) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), Interactive Metronome, vestibular rehabilitation, metabolic/nutritional therapies, eye movement and other aspects of neurological rehabilitation, electrical stimulation, breathing exercises and home care recommendations.
Outcomes after Brain Training
Subsequent to her Brain Training program, Liz reported significant subjective improvements in the vast majority of her post-concussion syndrome symptoms including: fogginess and “wandering” of thought, fluctuating heat rate, ability to control emotions, head pain, sleep, intensity at which she was able to exercise, balance, and levels of energy.
Actual, measurable objective improvements recorded with post-intensive diagnostic testing include:
Cognitive Testing: Improvements in 4 aspects of memory, attention, executive and other cognitive functions ranging from 14% – 800%.
Interactive Metronome: 42% improvement and normalization of hyper-anticipatory timing tendency with motor tasks. 68% improvement in task average with motor skills. 30% improvement in overall response accuracy with motor skills.
Computerized Assessment of Postural Stability (CAPS): Elimination of mild reductions in stability with balance and complete normalization of balance abilities in eyes closed scenarios.
Videonystagmography(VNG): Significant improvements in numerous aspects of oculomotor (eye movement) functionality including: gaze holding, slow and fast eye movements, optokinetic responses, and spontaneous/involuntary eye movements.
Autonomic Testing: Stabilization of heart rate from an erratic range of 90-150 bpm, to 60-90 bpm; saving her over 30 million heartbeats per year!
With an ever-increasing number of individuals experiencing mTBI, it is important to recognize the symptoms of these oftentimes debilitating disorders and, more importantly, that something can be done about them. Borrowing a phrase from the Brain Injury Association of America, “Brain injury is the last thing on your mind, until it is the only thing on your mind”!
More and more folks are looking for options other than medication when it comes to treatment of ADHD. One of the most beneficial alternative means of improving ADHD symptoms is neurofeedback therapy (NFB). Neurofeedback for ADHD and ADD is now being utilized in schools across the country with outstanding results.
At APEX Brain Centers we have regularly seen the improvements that can be achieved by those with ADHD and ADD through neurofeedback. My blog explains the neurofeedback process and examines some of the reasons why we incorporate neurofeedback into Brain Training programs for those with ADHD and ADD.
What does it take to get to the top? Persistence, passion, education, goal setting, accountability, flexibility, intuition, creativity, learning from failure, family influence, even what time of the year you are born (according to author Malcolm Gladwell), have all been cited as reasons as to why some are able to achieve the unlimited level of success they desire in business and beyond.
Training your brain??? While this is often omitted on the countless ‘Top 10’ lists for success that can be uncovered by a quick Google search, it is likely the single most important thing you can do to ensure your brain is functioning at an optimal level and able to generate the much needed motivation, attention, focus, planning, and other cognitive abilities that will allow you to successfully implement these other critical ‘CEO traits’ and propel you to the top!
5 Methods of Training and Supporting your Brain for Peak Performance in the Business World:
1. The eyes have it…
We’ve always been told that ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’. I’d like to refine, or re-define, this old adage for our purposes and tell you that ‘the eyes are the window to the brain’! Fast and slow eye movements, separation of head and eye movements, and starting and stopping of eye movements are directly related to your higher cognitive functions. These abilities can be measured via VNG testing and trained through a host of eye movement exercises specifically tailored to your specific deficits, allowing for a higher level of brain function.
2. Ride the wave…
Training brainwaves for peak performance and business success? Absolutely! The applications of neurofeedback are far-reaching and not just for brain illness anymore. The ability to accurately record and analyze brainwaves through sophisticated qEEG brain mapping will help direct you through a course of brain training that will ensure your brain is more capable of achieving the success it craves.
3. Drop the beat…
I have to have rhythm to achieve success? Not entirely, although training your brain’s timing (temporal processing) through matching body movements to precise sound cues will undoubtedly make your brain function a whole lot better on so many levels. The Interactive Metronome is a brilliant brain training tool that will help you do just that.
4. I think, therefore I am…
Thinking, reasoning, contemplating, and strategizing are a few of your higher executive functions that, if exercised appropriately, will maximize your brain performance and thrust you to new heights. Brain games, meditation, and specific neurological training exercises based on your needs and diagnostic testing will help sharpen your cognitive machine.
5. You are what you eat…
The most obvious, yet the most often overlooked! Our brain requires a steady source of high quality fuel to support the never-ending mental and physical processes it engages in. When eating a diet high in processed and refined foods, your brain, simply put, wastes resources in breaking down these foods to ultimately obtain little benefit as they are stripped of the vast majority of nutrients present in whole foods. Learn more on metabolic and nutritional therapy.
People with memory issues commonly say… “I’m not as sharp as I used to be.” “I used to be able to…” “I keep losing things.” “I get lost all the time.” “I can’t seem to remember anything.”
If any of these sound like you, you may want to ask yourself: What is your memory worth? Would better memory give you a better quality of life? A way to maintain your independence? A higher level of academic achievement? Or perhaps a greater level of confidence and happiness? If you’re looking for ways to improve your memory so that you can retain more information, here are five crucial tips and tools that can help you Build a Better Brain, and boost your memory in the process.
1. Improve Your Sleep Quality
As we get older, our brains undergo structural changes that naturally interfere with sleep quality, and reduced sleep quality interferes with memory. One way to slow memory loss in aging adults is to improve sleep quality with regard to the deep sleep phase associated with slow brain wave activity. At APEX, our state of the art neurofeedback training can help you achieve the optimal brain waves during your waking life that in turn can help facilitate deeper, more quality sleep at night.
2. Consume Healthy Fats
All fats are necessary in certain ratios and various types of unsaturated fats have been shown to have a positive effect on brain health and memory. Organic virgin coconut oil, while a saturated fat, contains fatty acids that supply energy to the brain and can have a therapeutic effect on brain disorders. Another easy thing you can do right away is add more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. The omega-3s in fish oil—particularly EPA and DHA—have been shown to help slow the progression of age-related memory loss.
Moving more isn’t just good for your body, it’s great for your brain as well. Maintaining an active physical lifestyle has been shown to have mental (cognitive) benefits that can actually help improve your memory. Not only does exercise improve oxygen and nutrient delivery to the body, but also it helps create new cells in the hippocampus (through a process known as neurogenesis), which can help improve cognitive function and memory storage.
4. Manage Stress
The brain’s control center for learning and memory is in the hippocampus. When you’re feeling on edge, the stress hormone cortisol increases in the hippocampus, which interferes with the ability to encode memory and retrieve information. Over time, chronic elevated cortisol levels due to stress can even result in a smaller hippocampus. Instead of ignoring what’s stressing you out, at APEX we can deliver tools to help you positively manage your stress, so you can improve your ability to create, store, and retrieve memories more effectively.
5. Learn and Play
Challenging yourself mentally creates fresh connections in your brain, which can help generate new cells in the hippocampus. New cells build cognitive reserves that are important for creating new memories and can help protect against memory loss. Timed games and ‘brain training’ games that improve speed processing can also boost cognitive skills and have a positive effect on memory.
I am excited to announce that I am now a contributing writer to the NaturalNews Network. The NaturalNews Network is a non-profit collection of public education websites covering topics that empower individuals to make positive changes in their health.
Adults and children who have Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder often struggle with an inability to organize thoughts, break the chains of procrastination, or even follow simple conversations. If this sounds familiar, take heart. Brain Training exercises offer hope for anyone suffering from disorders of attention and focus.