Monday, October 31, 2016

The Power of Neurotransmitters

In the case described last week, we saw how releases of dopamine, epinephrine and cortisol among other neurotransmitters could result in the fight or flight response.
But something very similar, albeit much milder also happens when you experience chronic stress. Chronic stress is the kind of stress that ‘doesn’t go away’. This is not a lion but rather an impending deadline at work, wedding planning, property investment, debt, relationship problems, etc.
This triggers a very similar stress response, which results in continued changes in your body such as suppressed immune function and digestion, a certain amount of tunnel vision, dread and anxiety etc. So when you’re stressed for long periods, this negatively affects your ability to relax and to enjoy any experiences – but it also impacts negatively on your health in more ways than you might immediately expect.
Dopamine makes us more driven and focused for instance but only on the thing that is causing the stress. This reduces activity across our brain so that we are more tightly focused on specific thoughts, emotions, ideas and inputs. That’s why ‘eustress’ can actually be a good thing and make you more likely to revise for an exam. But it has also been shown in studies to make us less creative because we’re less able to let our mind explore different, diverse ideas. Likewise, stress also makes it hard for us to focus on anything other than that thing that has our attention.
What’s more, is that stress can seriously undermine your ability to impress or influence others. That’s because stress is a sign that you’re nervous or afraid. If you give of these signs in front of a competitor, then it makes you appear to be less confident and thereby sends the signal that they must be the alpha to your beta. Likewise, if you are anxious when approaching a potential mate, it suggests on an unconscious level that they must be a better potential mate than you – that they are out of your league or at least that you perceive that to be the case!
As you can see then the ability to control your stress response can be a fantastic asset and help you to focus more when you need to, to run faster and to fight harder – or just to appear completely confident and in control in stressful situations.

More Neurotransmitters and What They Do

Conversely, other neurotransmitters can be released in response to pleasure, exercise, sunlight, tiredness, darkness, excitement and more. And these all affect our mood and our ability to focus in other ways.

  • Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that we think of as the ‘happiness hormone’. This is what makes us feel content and happy and it also has a range of other roles such as suppressing pain and decreasing appetite by stimulating the production of leptin. 
  • Melatonin is the neurotransmitter that makes us sleepy! 
  • GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that reduces activity in the brain and can thereby suppress stress and further encourage sleep. 
  • Dopamine is essentially a neurotransmitter that is related to goal-oriented behavior. It makes us more focussed and increases memory among other things. 
  • Acetylcholine is one of the principle excitatory neurotransmitters and also plays an important role in memory. 
  • Nitric Oxide is a vasodilator and helps get more blood to the brain and muscles. It also activates neurons that aren’t directly connected and thus has an important role in helping us to wake up. 
  • Testosterone is the ‘male hormone’ that is linked to aggressive thoughts and behaviors as well as drive and confidence. 
  • Estrogen is the female hormone and can have a big impact on mood. 
  • Cortisol is the ‘stress hormone’ and makes us more alert while creating feelings of dread. It’s also linked with appetite, this time making us hungrier via another hormone/neurotransmitter called ghrelin. 
  • Substance P is the neurotransmitter related to the transmission of pain. It also happens to be linked to anger according to some recent research. 
  • Oxytocin, often called the ‘love hormone’, makes us more agreeable and creates feelings of loving protection and bonding. 
  • Glutamate is another of the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitters and exists in vast quantities compared to any other neurotransmitter. 
  • Anandamide is the ‘bliss’ neurotransmitter and also appears to stimulate creative thinking.
Once again, these neurotransmitters are released in response to our experiences and thoughts. When a mother sees her child, her brain floods with oxytocin which makes her more likely to bond with the child and feel the need to connect.
When you go on a rollercoaster, your body produces epinephrine and anandamide. When you have just had a great day out, you will be filled with serotonin and feel happy and positive.
In short, your happiness, productivity, creativity, attractiveness, relationships and much more are all responsible for different quantities of these various neurotransmitters.

Neurotransmitters for Incredible Abilities

Certain ‘states’ can be triggered via the release of specific neurotransmitters and this can be incredibly desirable/positive in some cases.

One example is the much-studied ‘flow state’. A flow state is a term for that moment when everything seems to fall into place and you are able to perform at your very best. This results in absolute focus, heightened reactions, improved problem solving and more. It happens when you’re snowboarding for instance and the world seems to suddenly slow down, allowing you to pull off incredible moves with expert timing. It also happens when you’re so lost in your work that you forget to the toilet or even look up from the computer. And it happens when you talk to a friend all night without realizing how long the conversation has been going.
In short, this experience is what total, creative focus feels like. And chemically, it is very similar to the fight or flight response but minus the sensation of fear or dread that normally comes from that. Instead, there seems to be a release of anandamide, which enhances creative problem solving while creating that sense of exhilaration that is so addictive to adrenaline junkies. At the same time, brain scans show that the prefrontal cortex – the part associated with planning and self-doubt – appears to shut down. This is what removes our sense of time passing and allows us to stay completely fixed on the moment. It’s known as ‘temporo-hypofrontality’.
It is thought that all major athletic records were set by flow states and that most highly successful start-ups get to where they get to thanks to flow states. So imagine if you could trigger a flow state at will and thereby achieve complete focus and perfect problem solving!

The opposite of this state is what’s known as the ‘default mode network’. This is a network of brain structures that light up when we are completely lost in thought, often while our bodies carry out mundane tasks like showering. This is what allows us to explore diverse regions of our brains and find new connections between ideas – and it’s what is believed to have helped Einstein dream up special relativity while working at the patent office.
The ‘flashbulb memory’ meanwhile shows us how our brains can be capable of laying down much clearer memories during times of extreme shock, such as the moment you heard about 9/11. Likewise, ‘hysterical strength’ shows how a strong enough fight or flight response can actually increase muscle fiber recruitment to the point where women have been able to lift cars off of their children trapped underneath.
One underground movement that is interested in the idea of using neurotransmitters to accomplish more is the ‘nootropics’ movement. Nootropics are ‘smart drugs’ which tend to work by blocking certain neurotransmitters and encouraging the production of others. These can work like the film ‘Limitless’ but on a much less powerful scale – slightly increasing memory, focus or even confidence.
The problem with nootropics is that they often come with side effects, haven’t been tested in the long term and generally make it harder for us to switch mental state as we need to. It’s no good being highly focused if it means your creativity will be suppressed!
Luckily, there are other ways to encourage the production of the correct neurotransmitters to invite the mental states we want.

Next week we'll look at how healthy eating and sleep help to improve our mental health.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Recovering from a Traumatic Event

I want to start off by saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my mom, Vanessa King!  To honor her this year I decided to turn my blog over to her, having her write about a topic close to her heart.  She's experienced several traumatic events over her 57 years on this earth such as violent personal assaults and being diagnosed with heart failure.  So today she's talking about how you can recover from trauma or how you can help someone cope.

Before we begin I wanted to announce that next week we're hosting an online Damsel in Defense party on Facebook.  Damsel equips, empowers, and educates women on self defense products to protect themselves and their families when they feel their safety is threatened.  (I actually have a pink Sock It To Me Kubotan that I hope I never have to use.)  A portion of the party's proceeds will benefit Battered Not Broken, a non-profit organization that helps victims of domestic abuse.  I hope you'll be able to join us at some point over the week!

On to the main event...

A sudden illness, an accident or an assault, or a natural disaster - these are all traumatic experiences which can upset and distress us. They arouse powerful and disturbing feelings in us which usually settle in time, without any professional help.

This post may be useful if:

  • you have been through a traumatic experience and want to understand more about how you are feeling
  • you know someone who has been through a traumatic experience, and want to get a better idea of how they might be feeling.

It describes the kind of feelings that people have after a trauma, what to expect as time goes on, and mentions some ways of coping and coming to terms with what has happened.

A traumatic event occurs when a person is in a situation where there is a risk of harm or danger to themselves or other people. Situations like this are usually frightening or cause a lot of stress. In such situations, people feel helpless.

What is a traumatic event?

Examples of traumatic events include:
  • serious accidents
  • being told you have a life-threatening illness
  • bereavement
  • violent personal assault, such as a physical attack, sexual assault, robbery, or mugging
  • military combat
  • natural or man-made disasters
  • terrorist attack
  • being taken hostage
  • being a prisoner of war.

What happens immediately after a trauma?

Immediately after a traumatic event, it is common for people to feel shocked, or numb, or unable to accept what has happened.

Shock  - when in shock you feel:
  • stunned or dazed or numb
  • cut off from your feelings, or from what is going on around you.
  • Denial -  when in denial, you can't accept that it has happened, so you behave as though it hasn't. Other people may think that you are being strong or that you don't care about what has happened.
Over several hours or days, the feelings of shock and denial gradually fade, and other thoughts and feelings take their place.

What happens next?

People react differently and take different amounts of time to come to terms with what has happened. Even so, you may be surprised by the strength of your feelings. It is normal to experience a mix of feelings. You may feel:

  • Frightened … that the same thing will happen again, or that you might lose control of your feelings and break down.
  • Helpless … that something really bad happened and you could do nothing about it. You feel helpless, vulnerable and overwhelmed.
  • Angry … about what has happened and with whoever was responsible.
  • Guilty … that you have survived when others have suffered or died. You may feel that you could have done something to prevent it.
  • Sad … particularly if people were injured or killed, especially someone you knew.
  • Ashamed or embarrassed … that you have these strong feelings you can't control, especially if you need others to support you.
  • Relieved … that the danger is over and that the danger has gone.
  • Hopeful … that your life will return to normal. People can start to feel more positive about things quite soon after a trauma.

What else might I notice?

Strong feelings affect your physical health. In the weeks after a trauma, you may find that you:
  • cannot sleep
  • feel very tired
  • dream a lot and have nightmares
  • have poor concentration
  • have memory problems
  • have difficulty thinking clearly
  • suffer from headaches
  • experience changes in appetite
  • experience changes in sex-drive or libido
  • have aches and pains
  • feel that your heart is beating faster.

What should I do?


Give yourself time

It takes time - weeks or months - to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it. You may need to grieve for what (or who) you have lost.


Find out what happened

It is better to face the reality of what happened rather than wondering about what might have happened.


Be involved with other survivors

If you go to funerals or memorial services, this may help you to come to terms with what has happened. It can help to spend time with others who have been through the same experience as you.


Ask for support

It can be a relief to talk about what happened. You may need to ask your friends and family for the time to do this - at first they will probably not know what to say or do.


Take some time for yourself

At times you may want to be alone or just with those close to you.


Talk it over

Bit by bit, let yourself think about the trauma and talk about it with others. Don't worry if you cry when you talk, it's natural and usually helpful. Take things at a pace that you feel comfortable with.


Get into a routine

Even if you don't feel much like eating, try to have regular meals and to eat a balanced diet. Taking some exercise can help - but start gently.


Do some 'normal' things with other people

Sometimes you will want to be with other people, but not to talk about what has happened. This can also be part of the healing process.


Take care

After a trauma, people are more likely to have accidents. Be careful around the home and when you are driving.

What should I NOT do?


Don't bottle up your feelings

Strong feelings are natural. Don't feel embarrassed about them. Bottling them up can make you feel worse and can damage your health. Let yourself talk about what has happened and how you feel, and don't worry if you cry.


Don't take on too much

Being active can take your mind off what has happened, but you need time to think to go over what happened so you can come to terms with it. Take some time to get back to your old routine.


Don't drink or use drugs

Alcohol or drugs can blot out painful memories for a while, but they will stop you from coming to terms with what has happened. They can also cause depression and other health problems.


Don't make any major life changes

Try to put off any big decisions. Your judgement may not be at its best and you may make choices you later regret. Take advice from people you trust.

When should I get professional help?

Family and friends will probably be able to see you through this difficult time. Many people find that the feelings that they experience after a traumatic event gradually reduce after about a month. However, you may need to see a professional if your feelings are too much for you, or go on for too long.

You should probably ask your GP for help if:
  • you have no one to share your feelings with
  • you can't handle your feelings and feel overwhelmed by sadness, anxiety, or nervousness
  • you feel that you are not returning to normal after six weeks
  • you have nightmares and cannot sleep
  • you are getting on badly with those close to you
  • you stay away from other people more and more
  • your work is suffering
  • those around you suggest you seek help
  • you have accidents
  • you are drinking or smoking too much, or using drugs to cope with your feelings. 

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

Following a traumatic event, some people experience a particular condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms that are most commonly experienced by people with PTSD include:
  • re-experiencing the trauma through vivid and distressing memories or dreams
  • avoiding situations that remind them of the traumatic event
  • feeling numb, as though they don't have the same range of feelings as normal
  • being in a state of 'alertness' - watching out for danger.

If you are experiencing problems that might be PTSD, you should seek professional help.

What professional help is available?

Your GP might suggest that you talk with someone who specializes in helping people cope with traumas. They will usually use a talking treatment, such as counseling or psychotherapy. For example, a talking treatment called cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be helpful.

You may find that there is a support group for people who have been through a similar trauma to yourself. It can be helpful to hear that others have had similar feelings and experiences.

Can my doctor prescribe any medication to help me cope?

Medication can sometimes be helpful following a trauma, but it is still important to see your doctor regularly to check how you are doing.



There are drugs that can help to reduce the anxiety that can follow a trauma. They can also help you to get off to sleep. They are often called 'tranquilizers'. Common ones include diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan) and temazepam.

In the short term, tranquilizers can help you to feel less anxious and to sleep. However, if they are used for longer than a couple of weeks:
  • your body gets used to their effect and they stop working
  • you have to take more and more to get the same effect
  • you may get addicted to them.



You can become ill with depression following a trauma. Depression is different form normal sadness - it is worse as it affects your physical health and it goes on for longer. Depression can be treated with either antidepressant medication, or with talking treatments such as counseling or psychotherapy.

How can I help someone after a traumatic event?


Be there

It can be helpful just to spend time with someone, even if they don't want to talk about what happened. Let them know you are available to listen and offer to visit again.



They may find it helpful to talk about what happened. Don't pressure them - let them take things at their own pace.


Offer practical help

They may find it more of a struggle to look after themselves and keep to a daily routine. Offer some help, such as cleaning or preparing a meal.

About Vanessa King

Vanessa King is the Owner, Founder & Executive Director of Queen Nefertiti Productions, LLC, which produces the Ubuntu Pageants International, Hope Pageants USA & Canada and the Ohio American Royal Miss & Master Pageants.  Vanessa has been involved in the pageant industry since 2000 as a competitor, director and judge.  She began working in the entertainment industry as a model in the late 70's.  Vanessa has held several pageant titles on the local, state and national levels.

Vanessa is one of the first recipients of the Jewel Award, presented by the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Columbus Chapter and appeared in the 7th, 9th  and 10th Anniversary Editions of Who's Who in Black Columbus for her exemplary work in the community in the area of performing arts through her work in pageantry.  In addition, she is also recognized as an Entrepreneur in the 11th, 12th and 13th Editions of Who’s Who in Black Columbus, “carving her way into the business of the city.”   Vanessa has also received recognition for community service from Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, Former Mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Michael Coleman and the Ohio Senate.   She was nominee for the 2015 International Women’s Day Award for women making a difference in Ohio and for the 2015 NAACP Hometown Champion Award for Columbus, Ohio.

Vanessa holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Organizational Management from Oakland City University.  She is a native of Columbus, Ohio and is the proud mother of Cassandra and grandmother of Austin.  She is also an Independent Damsel Pro with Damsel in Defense, an Independent Distributor with Makeup Eraser and an Affiliate with Buskins Legendary Leggings.

You can find more about Vanessa and her businesses/events at the following:


Follow on Twitter: 
@VanessaJewel |@ubuntupageantsintl |@hopeusa_canada | @oharmpageant 

Follow on Facebook: 
@vanessa.j.king | @QueenNefertitiProductions | @HopePageantsUSA | @HopePageantsCanada |@DamselProVanessaKing | @QueenVanessaMakeupEraser | @QueenVeesLeggings

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Listening to Your Body

I was trying to have this post ready last week but Canva was refusing to download the pictures, skewing my posting schedule.  Then came Friday's massive outage.  So frustrated by it all I gave up on completing this post last week.  Technology...can't live with it, can't live without it.

For many of us, better health does not come naturally. It is something we all must work on in order to lead healthy lives and have overall excellent health. This means listening to your body and understanding what it's telling you about what's going on inside the body. Here are four ways you can listen to your body so you can have a life that is sustained by good health.

You can listen to your body every time you put on your clothes or when stepping on the scale.  Do your clothes fit right?  Are they becoming too loose on you or are they fitting snugly?  Is the scale tipping one way or another in the wrong direction?  If you find that you are losing too much weight or packing on the pounds, it may be that you are being affected by stress and are not eating in ways that promote good health. Good health comes from eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. This is in lieu of eating processed foods such as cookies, cakes, processed meals, and candies—all of which have excess calories and preservatives that are generally unhealthy for you. 

Eating too little can affect your health as well. (I tell Benny this all the time since the only meal he really eats is the dinner I prepare.) When you eat less than the amount of food you are supposed to eat, you can suffer from lack of proper nutrients. Lacking in proper nutrients, your body does not function properly and you can cause yourself to be sick from lack of the nutrients to support immune health.

Your digestive system is not only the way you get proper nutrients but also it is a main way your body uses to protect itself from pathogens. The digestive system is one big part of the immune system so you need to treat it with the care it deserves. This means paying attention to episodes of diarrhea that can strip the colon of protective bacteria, constipation, and indigestion from being under excess stress or eating the wrong foods. 
You can care for your digestive system by eating healthy foods and by taking probiotics, which can 
replenish the gut with good bacteria. Probiotics can be taken in by eating plain yogurt with live cultures or by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir. 

If you can’t get it in the foods you eat, you can purchase many probiotic supplements at the drug store or online. Some of the best probiotics are those that come in spore form. The spores can survive the acidic environment of your stomach and then release the live bacteria in the intestines, where they take root and drive out the bad bacteria and fungi.

This means following your blood pressure and pulse very carefully. If you are inactive or have a family history of high blood pressure, you may be suffering from high blood pressure and not know it. This means you have to check your blood pressure every time you run across a blood pressure machine at the drug store or grocery store. When you see the doctor, your blood pressure will be taken as well. If it is consistently elevated, you may need to be on an anti-hypertensive medication or modify your diet and exercise program so you can avoid some of the many complications of high blood pressure.

You should check your pulse as well on a periodic basis. A high pulse can mean that you are too inactive or are under a great deal of stress. Exercise can cause your heart to function better and will slow your pulse to normal levels. 

Feel tired, but keep pushing yourself past your limits? Are you fighting fatigue on a regular basis, instead of taking the time to rest and rejuvenate? Fatigue and low energy are both your body talking to you and letting you know that you need to rest and relax, if you don’t listed you will crash and burn.

Are you ignoring anxiety, instead of looking to erase its sources and lower stress levels? Stress kills, and you are the only one that can take care to reduce its load on your body, mind, and spirit. Great ways to fight stress and its impact are Tai Chi, meditation, yoga and taking vacations on a regular basis.

Where do you need to listen to your body more?