Vacations Rebuild the Brain

By Don Goewey

Many of us are not taking our vacation time.  Instead of taking time to renew, the Harris Poll says most of us are working harder than ever, an average 49 hours a week. We are putting in 100-200 more hours per year than our parents.  We sleep less than our parents did; one to two hours less.  Those are averages; you might be working more and sleeping less than that.

Two Million Years of Lost Vacation Time

More than one in three of us forfeit vacation time. We talk about vacations, plan them, dream about them and then fail to take one. As much as a half billion vacation days will go unused this year. That equates to nearly two million years of lost vacation time.  If we do take a vacation, we take work with us.  A survey found that 92% of those away on vacation frequently check in with the office.  If that weren’t not bad enough, the American Dietetic Association found that 35% of us never take a break while at work. We eat lunch at our desk working at our computer, returning emails and phone calls, or organizing our desk.

Believe it or not, breaks are an important element in peak performance. Researchers found that activity in the hippocampus and neocortex increased during periods of wakeful rest, especially after learning something new. The hippocampus and neocortex generate everything we think of as intelligence.  Another way of saying this is: refusing to take a break is a decision to be stupid that day.  Refusing vacation is a decision to grow dumber in the coming year.

Why Do We Skip Vacation?

We skip vaction because we worry that the person next to us will get ahead while we’re gone. Or we’re afraid that the work piling up on our desk will put us so far behind that we’ll never catch up. If we look deeper, we might see a mix of paranoia and obsessive-compulsivity behind these concerns, neurologically generated by stress. As our stress level spills over the top, which is usually a month before vacation time, it floods our brain with stress hormones. These hormones erode the higher brain function that sustains peak performance. Learn More »

Humor Customs

By Jeff Justice, CSP

airport securityNot everybody has a sense of humor. I found this out when I was going through customs in Canada. Customs people up there have no sense of humor at all. You shouldn’t try kidding around with them. I was driving through a border checkpoint with my family when the customs officer asked, “Do you have any drugs?” And I replied, “Sure! What do you need?” I was joking, but he wasn’t. So we stayed for a couple of extra weeks — I felt like the class clown again, staying after school…!

The week of the 9/11 incident, my friends Chris and Cindy were passing through Canadian Customs on their way home from Alaska. It had been a stressful week for everyone, of course, and some travelers responded to the heightened security measures with impatience and anger. Learn More »

Top 7 Secrets to a Stress Free Work Life

By Wendy Hearn

1. Take 5 minute breaks regularly throughout your day. Sit or walk on your own and relax, breathe deeply and feel peaceful. You will feel more relaxed and not so overwhelmed, increasing your level of concentration and ability to achieve more, in less time.

2. Arrive 10 minutes early for every work and personal appointment. You will have time to feel relaxed, prepare yourself and to show respect for the other person’s time.

3. Take responsibility for your actions. Actions that you take are a result of choices that you’ve made. When you take responsibility for your actions you realise that you are able to make different choices.

4. Clean up your work space. Such as, find a way to eliminate the piles of paperwork. Working in an environment that is clean and organised will free up your mind and reduce distractions for you. When our space feels cluttered it leads to our mind feeling cluttered.

5. Manage yourself rather than your time. You cannot change time yet you can make changes to yourself by organising yourself, setting priorities, taking responsibility…. When you manage yourself you will have more time to create the life you really want.

6. Learn to say no. A straight forward “No” is best although if this feels difficult at first try, “No, my time is committed elsewhere.” Saying no is a skill to learn, takes practice and you can do it pleasantly. You will never please everyone and accepting this will reduce the pressure you put on yourself.

7. Reward your achievements. Choose the reward before you start both for small and large achievements and use it to move you forward, particularly when overcoming an obstacle. Rewarding yourself will encourage you to keep persevering and focusing on winning.

Wired to Connect

By Don Goewey

The term cerebral or brainy is often used to describe a person who is remote, living in his or her own analytical world of thought, emotionally unavailable and socially awkward. These characteristics could not be less related to the neural properties of the brain. The human brain is a social organ, and its neural architecture is built for interpersonal connection. Schizophrenia and autism are disorders that make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to connect and feel connected to others. Both disorders appear to be linked to the impairment of neural architecture. The natural inclination of a functional brain is to connect. Separation makes the brain nervous. Expose an infant primate to an unpleasant stressor, place her in a room with primates that are strangers, and the stress reaction will exacerbate. Place the infant in a room with other primates who are her friends and family, and the stress reaction is mitigated.

Robert Sapolsky of Stanford related a story about a boy from a psychologically abusive setting who was hospitalized with zero growth hormone in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down the body’s growth system. Over the next two months he developed a close relationship with the nurse at the hospital—undoubtedly the first normal relationship he had ever had—and soon, amazingly enough, his growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal. However, when the nurse went on vacation, the boy’s levels dropped again and then returned to normal immediately after her return. “Think about it,” Sapolsky commented. “The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.” Learn More »

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