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Keeping One’s Cool

It has been quite a while since my last post.  My fellow part-time MBA classmates can certainly identify with the fact that there are good months and bad months when balancing work and graduate school.  This last month was one of those bad months for me.  It was the perfect storm of increasing responsibilities at work and some challenging coursework.  On top of this, I received a special project at work for which I will be presenting to our CEO in June.  Me talking to our CEO!  Talk about added pressure and stress.  I am not sure how it happened, but all the work and stress really caught up with me and it seemed like I was just barely keeping up.

I recently read an article in Scientific American that gave me a new appreciation and understanding of what has actually happened to me over the last month.  The article was titled “This is your brain in meltdown”.  Fitting right?  This last month it felt like I was stuck in one place and it seemed like I couldn’t get ahead of my work.  Day after day, a new challenge would come and I would throw my hands up in frustration.  The universe suddenly turned on me and I couldn’t figure out what was happening.

Recent neuroscience studies on our brains revealed that “stress can cripple our most advanced mental faculties”.  The “research demonstrates that acute, uncontrollable stress sets off a series of chemical events that weaken the influence of the prefrontal cortex while strengthening the dominance of older parts of the brain”.  Basically, the developed, sophisticated part of our brain shuts down and the older, primitive part of the brain regains control.  The prefrontal cortex is sensitive to our everyday anxieties and worries.  The loss of control in our prefrontal cortex leads to us to be consumed by paralyzing anxiety and to lose control of our emotions.  “Quite simply, we lose it”.

Simply being aware that the universe wasn’t against me and that my brain was actually the problem gave me hope I could regain control.  So the next time you find yourself choking, freezing, or checking-out during an exam or speech, just remember that your prefrontal cortex has been overwhelmed and, if you relax, you will be able to regain control.

Arnsten Amy, Mazure Carolyn M. and Sinha Rajita This is your brain in meltdown [Article] // Scientific American. – New York : Nature America Inc., 2012. – 4 : Vol. 306.

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