Random Brain Bits Articles

5 New Theories on the Cause of Depression

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

depression-brainI grew up thinking depression was as simple as one little transmitter getting lost somewhere on his way from one neuron to the other, much like I do when I venture farther than five miles from home. It’s an easy explanation — a chemical imbalance in the brain — one that pharmaceutical companies have adopted to craft creative commercials like the Zoloft egg not chasing the butterfly.

But depression is so much more complex than that.

Depression After You’re Out of the Spotlight

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Depression After You're Out of the SpotlightFor most of my life I aspired to do just one thing: write and publish my memoir.

I had spent more than 15 years networking among editors and literary agents to make this happen. I invested more than a few hours designing a publicity campaign comprised of the media connections that I had virtually stalked over the years. I tried to climb aboard the speaking circuit.

And yet despite all of my hopes and expectations, a few months after hardcopies hit the bookshelves, I felt the familiar pangs of depression. What was going on?

Go Cry to Mom: It May Calm You Down

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Go Cry to Mom: It Calms You DownWhen it comes to internal pain, I have not evolved a whole lot from when I was in fourth grade: I still go running to mom with my tears. Even as I know something in our conversation could very well trigger more anxiety or I question the advice she doles out, I am still comforted by her voice.

There is no real logic — it’s somewhat instinctual.

Understanding Humor Can Lead to New Psychiatric Treatments

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Understanding Humor Can Lead to New Psychiatric TreatmentsResearch led by Swiss neuroscientist Pascal Vrticka and his U.S. colleagues at Stanford University has found that, among other things, humor plays a key role in psychological health. According to the study, recently published in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, adults with psychological disorders such as autism or depression often have a modified humor processing activity and respond less evidently to humor than people who do not have these disorders. Vrticka believes that a better understanding how the brain processes humor could lead to the development of new treatments.

This is not the first study to explore the healing force of humor. In 2006 researchers led by Lee Berk and Stanley A. Tan at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, found that two hormones — beta-endorphins (which alleviate depression) and human growth hormone (HGH, which helps with immunity) — increased by 27 and 87 percent respectively when volunteers anticipated watching a humorous video. Simply anticipating laughter boosted health-protecting hormones and chemicals.

Words Can Change Your Brain

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Words Can Change Your BrainSticks and stones may break your bones, but words can change your brain.

That’s right.

According to Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, words can literally change your brain.

In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write: “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”

Are You Thin or Thick Skinned? Knowing Your Emotional Type

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Are You Thin or Thick Skinned? Knowing Your Emotional TypeI am often told that I should grow a thicker skin. I’m too sensitive. I let things get to me too much. Most people who struggle with depression are the same. We are more transparent and therefore absorb more into the gray matter of our brain than our thicker-skinned counterpoints.

In his book, Your Emotional Type, Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi, Ph.D. examine the interplay of emotions, chronic illness and pain, and treatment success. They discuss how chronic conditions are intrinsically linked to certain emotional types.

I found the boundary concept they explain in the book — first developed by Ernest Hartmann, MD, of Tufts University — especially intriguing.

Mind Over Appendix? I Don’t Think So

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Mind Over Appendix? I Don't Think SoI love it when you get hit over the head with your own words.

Today I read a meaningful email by someone who had read my book. She said it was the passage on page 120 to 121 that provided the epiphany moment she needed to seek help for her mood disorder.

I was curious to see what was on these pages, so I got a copy out and read this…

The Psychology of Occupy Wall Street

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

The Psychology of Occupy Wall StreetSome people will see anything they want to see in any particular movement or demonstration. Movements like Occupy Wall Street are like a Rorschach Inkblot Test — although it’s just ink on a piece of paper, you can see the future and the past in every blot.

Psychologist and psychoanalyst Todd Essig sees what he wants to see in the movement. When contrasting it with the Tea Party, he idealizes the motivations and focus of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, as though they were all joined together in a common cause (other than the cause to agitate for change, something President Obama actually started more than 4 years ago).

What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is to understand how people who have such a deep understanding of psychology and insight can’t see how they turn such demonstrations into their own personal Rorschach test.

3 Fascinating Facts About Our Brilliant Brains

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

3 Fascinating Facts About Our Brilliant BrainsOur brains do a lot of work behind the scenes to help us function and thrive. But we largely know this already.

What might surprise you are the details of this work. For instance, as neuroscientist David Eagleman writes in his book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain:

Your brain is built of cells called neurons and glia—hundreds of billions of them. Each one of these cells is as complicated as a city. And each one contains the entire human genome and traffics billions of molecules in intricate economies. Each cell sends electrical pulses to other cells, up to hundred of times per second. If you represented each of these trillions and trillions of pulses in your brain by a single photon of light, the combined output would be blinding.

The cells are connected to one another in a network of such staggering complexity that it bankrupts human language and necessities new strains of mathematics. A typical neuron makes about ten thousand connections to neighboring neurons. Given the billions of neurons, this means there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue as there are stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.

Below are several other interesting and surprising facts about our brains from Eagleman’s Incognito.

Is it Really Mind Over Matter? The Mind and Body Are One

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

You have probably heard the phrase mind over matter, which implies the mind and matter are separable.  Or maybe you have heard it’s all in your head, or it’s mental.  Both of these phrases imply the separation of mind and brain (or body).

So to explore this issue, I’d like to share some videos that discuss the unity of mind-body.  They can help us better understand how inseparable the mind and brain (body) really are.

Mind vs. Brain: In the above video, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom says, “The mind is a product of the brain.  The mind is what the brain does.”

I Am So NOT Sorry: An Exercise in Exposure Therapy

Monday, July 11th, 2011

I Am So NOT Sorry: An Exercise in Exposure TherapyOne form of cognitive behavioral therapy is exposure therapy, where your brain is supposed to form new connections and rewrite the language of your amygdala (fear center), so that it doesn’t associate every dog with the pit bull who took a bite out of your thigh in the fourth grade. By doing the exact thing that you most fear, you are, essentially, telling the old neurons in your brain to take a hike so that new ones, who don’t know anything about the pit bull, can now live inside your brain and tell you that everything is peachy.

Yeah, well, that’s the theory.

So you jump into a pit bull fight and say, “Here, doggie, doggie, you want a treat?” If he doesn’t take your leg off, you are good to go!

If he does take your leg off, you have much more exposure therapy ahead of you… For which you might want to wear a padded suit.

Ever Had Such an Intense Interest in a Subject That Learning Was Easy?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Ever Had Such an Intense Interest in a Subject That Learning Was Easy?As I’ve noted here before, I’ve recently become obsessed with the sense of smell — which has been an interesting experience, for several reasons.

One reason: this obsession has reminded me about the nature of learning. I’ve been struck by how much I’ve learned in the last few weeks. I went from knowing almost nothing about the scent of smell to knowing… well, quite a bit more. And without any effort, any drilling, any assignments on my part. Quite the contrary. I’m gulping down books, jumping around websites, eager to learn more, more, more.

The same thing happened when I was working on my Churchill biography. In college, I’d taken classes that covered World War II, and I had to force myself to do the reading, and I struggled to memorize the facts. But through the lens of my limitless fascination with Churchill, I couldn’t get enough of these materials, and I remembered facts easily.

And what’s strange — for me, at least — is that this interest clicks in so suddenly.

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