NEURAL STRESS & YOUR BRAIN
One normally realises that you are stressed only when the physical symptoms of stress – sweaty hands, palpitations, dizziness, headache and similar symptoms – begin to appear. By this time one has been under the influence of neural stress – a very subtle forerunner of physical stress – for some time. The detrimental effect of neural stress is not well known, although it plays a crucial role in scholastic underachievement (on all levels), corporate unproductiveness, various relationship and management style problems, as well as a myriad other problems in virtually every functional area of our lives for which brain activity is a prerequisite!
Neural stress develops when the neural system (brain & senses) is overloaded. The overload can be caused by a variety of factors. One of the most common causes involves the overloading of the left brain hemisphere’s processing channels, which can be explained as follows: the left and right hemispheres process information in different ways. The right hemisphere can absorb an estimated 30 000 bits of information per second and feed these into the subconscious memory, whereas the left hemisphere has only 5 – 9 channels through which it processes information to the conscious memory.
If this capacity of the left hemisphere is continually overloaded, the brain experiences the situation as threatening. The body reacts by releasing adrenalin and endorphines in order to prepare itself for a fight, or flight response.
The adrenalin prepares us to take more out of our muscles than would normally be the case, while the endorphines will help the body cope with pain until it has fled out of the immediate danger. Other changes in the body are the strengthening of our peripheral vision so that we can identify sources of danger around us, as well as the scaling down of non-essential brain functions.
The loss of brain functions occur on 3 dimensions, each of which exerts an influence on our information processing abilities. The first type involves the scaling down of communication between the front brain and the hind brain, which relates to our ability to recall information. A typical example of this is the so-called “blank” experienced during interviews or examinations. This phenomenon occurs because information is stored in the hind brain, but has to be retrieved through the front brain. Because these two parts of the brain can not communicate due to the adrenalin and endorphine deposits in between, retrieval of information can not take place. As soon as one has left the stressful situation the levels of adrenalin and endorphine subside, with the result that one can recall the information that was not accessible minutes ago!
The brain also scales down some of the functions of its systems under neural stress. Looking at a cross-section of the brain, one can distinguish 3 systems. The inner part is called the reptilian brain. This system controls survival functions, while the intermediate layer (called the limbic system) controls emotions (and is also the seat of our long term memory). The outer layer is known as the neocortex. This system controls rational thought.
The scaling down of the functions of these systems take place progressively from the outside layers to the inside. An example is an executive that arrives at his office in a balanced, rational state. He then discovers that he is due for a VAT inspection in two weeks’ time, and knowing that he has skimmed off some of these funds in order to supplement his faltering cash flow, he is under immediate stress. His neocortex (outer layer) scales down some of its functions, with the result that rational thought (a function of the outer layer) is out of the question. As his thoughts are now dominated by his limbic system (intermediate layer), he starts to display emotional behaviour (a function of the intermediate layer) such as aggressive outbursts with his colleagues. He does not manage to find solutions for the predicament he is in, and as a result his stress levels continue to rise. His limbic system also scales down its functions, causing his behaviour to be determined by his reptilian system (inner layer) – which governs basic physiological functions such as heartbeat, but also governs the fight and flight response. As a consequence, he fights (kills his family) and flees (commits suicide). Numerous variations of this type of switching off occur during the course of a normal day of our lives, with (avoidable) consequences that range from the not so serious to extremely serious.
1-Deliberation and rationalization
2-Hearing and speech
3-Recognition of body image & individuality
5-Organization of thought
Five senses were thought to be man’s equipment for experiencing the world: sight, hearing and balance, taste, smell, and touch which includes the perception of heat and cold. It is now thought that we have more than five, including senses of time, direction and motion. Other senses, such as the ability to respond to magnetic and electric waves, may lie undeveloped. Shown here are skills tentatively associated with various brain areas.
The parts of the brain that are responsible for sending and decoding the electro-magnetic energies such as telepathy, intuition and the other abilities generally called physic powers have not yet been discovered.
The last type of scaling down is known as lateral scaling down. Here the functions of the genetically non-dominant brain hemisphere scales down (one is born with dominance of one brain hemisphere – approximately 50% of any given population is left hemisphere dominant, while the remaining 50% are right hemisphere dominant) . The implications of this type of switching off are considerable, as it forces us into a genetic profile which has a detrimental effect on all areas of our existence for which using our brains is a pre-requisite.
The genetic profile (there are 32 different ones) is the combination of our genetically dominant senses (eye, ear and hand) with our genetically dominant brain hemisphere. A typical example would be left brain + left hand + right eye + left ear. Contrary to popular belief, any combination can occur, and if a person is right handed it does not necessarily follow that he/she is left brain dominant. (Round about 3 – 4 decades ago it was discovered that the right hemisphere controls the left part of the body, and vice versa. Although this is still true, it only means that the senses on the left side of the body take their information to the right hemisphere, and vice versa. It does not determine at all, however, which senses will combine with which hemisphere).
The first influence of the profile involves a loss of function. Because the functions of our eyes differ from one another (the same is true of our ears, hands and brain hemispheres), it means that the specialised functions of each of our genetically non-dominant senses, as well as that of our genetically non-dominant brain hemisphere scale down under neural (and the more severe physical) stress.
The effects of this loss of functions can be enormous, because our sensory pairs and brain hemispheres have been designed to supplement each other’s functions. The left ear, for example, listens to “how” things are said, as opposed to the right ear that listens to “what” is said. The left eye again, is far sighted, it focuses on the whole picture, is more intent on colour and shape, and tracks from right to left. The right eye, in order to supplement the left eye, is near sighted, looks for detail and order, and has a decoding function (where the left eye is encoding). The right eye also tracks from left to right. The influence of the loss of sensory functions is extremely important in the training situation.
A lot is known about the specialised functions of the brain hemispheres, but let us focus on how each hemisphere supplements the other in terms of cognition. The most basic cognitive process involves facts & detail & simple knowledge. This is a left brain function. The next process is insight & understanding, which is a function of the right hemisphere. The next process in the hierarchy is application (right), followed by analysis & logical thinking (left), synthesis (right), and evaluation (left).
It stands to reason that the left brain dominant person under neural stress will focus stronger on facts, be more analytical and argue more logical, and become somewhat inclined to criticise. Because these people (the majority of managers in most organisations are left brain dominant) under stress have to operate without the functions of their non-dominant right hemisphere, they tend to become weaker on insight, fail to see possible applications for existing ideas, and struggle to turn a stumbling stone into a stepping stone (synthesis). Of course the genetically dominant right brain also has its advantages and disadvantages.
The second inhibiting influence of the genetic profile is the way in which it restrains communication between our senses, and our brain. This phenomenon is called sensory hindrances. It occurs when a dominant sensory organ is situated on the same side of the body as is the dominant brain hemisphere. Because senses communicate with the brain hemisphere on the opposite side of the body (i.e. left senses with right hemisphere and vice versa), it means that a right brained person, for example, will have a sensory hindrance if her dominant ear is also on the right hand side of her body. In other words, her dominant ear tries to communicate with her non-dominant, ‘switched off’, left brain hemisphere. Obviously the information is not processed, and this person will not be able to recall that which she has heard under neural stress.
Against this background it becomes clear that many persons who complain about deficient memories do not have a memory problem, but a genetic profile with a sensory hindrance that prevents them from processing information in the first place! Please note that we are talking about neural stress; by the time you experience fully blown physical stress you have been in a switched off state of some kind for at least some time.
The realisation that stress is not only a psychological phenomenon, but should also be treated on a physiological level explains why contemporary stress management programmes do not yield outstanding results (the psychological approach is ineffectual because the seriously stressed person has a neuro-physiological inability to comprehend – on a rational level – what the treatment is all about). Also, until recently it was not even realised by some experts that neural stress existed, let alone the fact that it permeates our entire performance via the genetic profile, leaving us utilising only a fraction of our true brain potential.
The most successful new approaches take cognisance of these facts. To this end, Brain Integration (also known as Neurokinesthetics, Kinesiology, or Brain Gym – depending on where in the world it is practised) aims at preventing neural stress from culminating into physical stress. In addition to this, the approach recognises the widespread consequences of neural stress on all functional areas of our lives that require brain activity: from our private endeavours to productivity in the corporate world.
By: Dr Dawie Fourie