Sunday, February 5, 2012 1 Comment
What’s Going On Here?
by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Excerpted from Chapter Five of my upcoming Boggle Book ©-all rights reserved.
A Little Background
I work with ADD (my own included) as I would work with *physical* rehabilitation — even though, with ADD’s “hidden” nature, it is more difficult to see what’s working effectively, what’s not, and in what combinations.
No one would insist that rehabilitation strategies be the same for two accident victims, even if the accidents were identical and the “body damage” similar, and even if both were “textbook” cases.
You would have to START with the individuals themselves: their general fitness level, weight, complicating realities, and many other considerations. An easy task for one patient might be well beyond the other: overt when dealing with physical realities, subtler with neurological ones. You have to be attentive to the clues.
The most dramatic reactions are the clearest indicators because they are easiest to identify. Just as patient feedback (ouch!) leads the physical therapist, client reports of Boggle responses are dramatic starting places that suggest ways to turn “can’t” into “can” in the neurological arena.
So Let’s Start with YOU
What have you been doing to date? When you are about to Boggle – what have you been doing so far?
Before we go into the ways to deal with Boggle effectively,
think about how you have been attempting to deal with it already.
If you are anything like my clients (and like I was myself before I figured out what would work) you are doing exactly the wrong thing when you sense oncoming Boggle.
You are trying harder.
It won’t work.
In fact, it will make things worse.
What’s going on here?
Evolution teaches us that human beings have adapted in ways that favor the survival of the species. Those who don’t survive don’t continue to contribute to the gene pool.
I like to think of those survival adaptations as being hard wired:
part of the working structure of our “machine” rather than an added function that is optional.
- We eventually experience hunger when we have not eaten.
- We automatically salivate in the presence of food when we are hungry.
There is very little we can do to keep those realities at bay,
no matter how much we would like to.
And we automatically produce adrenalin in
response to the perception of a threat to our being.
Adrenalin is the mobilizing neurotransmitter that produces the “fight-or-flight” response in reaction to danger. There is a third result produced by adrenalin, so you may have heard “fight-flight-or freeze,” but for the following explanation, lets pretend there are only two. We’ll get to the “freeze” part later.
Adrenalin has some fairly predictable results. The pupils dilate, the heart beats faster, and the breathing passages become wider as our bodies become ready to run for our lives or to stay and fight for them.
Our adrenalin response is “hard wired” genetically.
Way back in cave days, whether they chose to run away or stay to fight, ONLY those individuals who managed to survive the saber-tooth tiger stayed alive long enough to pass their adrenalin response down through the human race.
Over time, we have added cultural and personal reactions to adrenalin, based on how we have been conditioned. It is sometimes difficult to determine what is nature (“hard wired”) from what is nurture (environmental/cultural). When flooded with adrenalin some people cry, some get angry, some are eager to take flight, and others are more inclined to fight.
We don’t have to enter the nature/nurture debate to agree that each of us responds without conscious thought to the presence of those symptoms produced by the production of adrenalin.
A bit of brain science
There are over 50 known substances that act as neurotransmitters — chemical messengers synthesized within our brains that our nerve cells use to communicate specific information to each other. Each neurotransmitter regulates physical functioning or mental functioning (cognitive and mood) in a specific way or combination of ways we have yet to understand in more than a theoretical manner.
However, we do know one important fact:
most neurotransmitters function in primarily one of two basic ways:
1. They excite (stimulate)
– or –
2. They inhibit (slow down).
If only stimulating neurotransmitters existed in the brain, it would become self-stimulating.
To go back to the example of our cave-ancestors, without the presence of an inhibitory neurotransmitter to signal the “all clear” they would have dropped dead from the sheer exhaustion of ceaseless fighting or flighting.
Nobody at ALL would have been left alive to pass any response what-so-ever down the genetic conga-line.
Counteracting the effects of adrenalin production depends on one factor only:
The inhibitory neurotransmitter must be present in as great a supply as the stimulating one.
- We can either reduce adrenalin production, or
- Balance it with the production of an inhibitory neurotransmitter.
The ideal is a combination of both approaches.
Let’s take the example of a cave ancestor we’ll call Og.
Og hears a roar.
His system mobilizes for his survival by producing adrenalin.
His senses become acute — “over sensitized,” relative to the norm.
Og needs information that is vital to his survival and his body is producing a flood of chemical messengers to make sure he gets it!
He sees a saber-tooth tiger on the horizon — more adrenalin.
He sees a second one.
He’s outa’ there!!!!
Before Og can even begin to think about whether what he is doing is rational, he needs to be able to slow down the “flight” response. At this very moment Og isn’t even willing to slow down long enough to take a look to see if further running is warranted.
Og Had a Brother
Og’s brother Moog was far more “rational” in his approach.
Moog took the time to check things out before he reacted.
Unfortunately, the tigers ate young Moog for dinner, so he did not pass this particular trait on to us.
Once our adrenalin production reaches a certain level, we are “hard-wired” to react first and think second.
The Runner’s High
We’ve all heard about or experienced the “second wind” that comes after running for a while. Some of us know that, after a certain time in the presence of adrenalin (or after a certain amount of physical exercise), the body responds with a release of endorphins.
Endorphins are chemically similar to morphine: they ease pain. They also produce a “euphoria” that feels good. That endorphin production also inhibits the effects of adrenalin, leaving a clearer mind capable of making some decisions that are impossible from the blast of the gun at the starting line — hard-wired.
They are also addictive, those endorphins.
Those of you who live with runners (or happen to be one yourself), know how driven runners are to run. It’s kind of amazing how agitated they can get when life interrupts the running schedule.
It’s incredible, once the adrenalin produced by the threat of a canceled run has been released, what little effect any “logic” that precludes running has on that runner.
They are in the grip of an endorphin jones, and they are bound and determined to get that fix!
Pretty powerful stuff, those endorphins. But then, I guess they’d have to be to take on adrenalin successfully. Hold that thought!
The ADD Brain
In 1970, a scientist named Kornetsky formulated the catecholamine hypothesis — the hypothesis that suspected faulty production or metabolism of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine would explain the ADD response. He postulated this theory based on the effectiveness of stimulants to treat impulsivity, hyperactivity and impaired cognitive performance.
Stimulants increase the bio-availability of both neurotransmitters —
the amount available to the body to communicate brain cell to brain cell.
That’s only part of the story, and there has been a great deal of research since Kornetsy’s that has added to our information base (a new series updating you on THAT coming soon!). The main point here is that the communication between the pre-frontal cortex and the rest of the brain is the scientific rationale behind ADD affect, including Boggle.
Whatever its overall purpose, dopamine production seems necessary for focus and for the recombination of facts and factors in ways that result in clear decisions. One of the places in our brains where there are a a great number of brain cells that require dopamine to function is the prefrontal cortex.
We often speak of the pre-frontal cortex as “responsible for” many of our “higher order” cognitive abilities, including filtering information, sequencing, focusing on relevant stimuli, and the inhibition of impulses.
The jury’s still out on how much that area is primary and how much it functions as sort of a relay station or governor, but we do know it is a major player in the appropriate regulation and control of what we call the executive functions.
As I said in a prior article about executive functioning, executive functions include a long list of cognitive abilities that most adults take for granted as products of intelligence, education and maturity – things like planning, problem solving, concentration, mental flexibility, and controlling short-term behavior to achieve long-term goals.
In more recent years, advances in brain imaging techniques such as PET and SPECT imaging have allowed us to take a “picture” of our brains to help us better determine what is going on By comparing pictures of the brains of non-ADD individuals in various controlled situations with the pictures of the brains of ADDers under the same “stressers,” scientists have noticed frontal global deactivation or under-functioning of the premotor cortex and the superior pre-frontal cortex, sometimes coupled with increased activity in the left frontal and temporal lobes, the area also associated with tic disorder.
In simpler terms, PET scans and SPECT imaging have pinpointed a “metabolic abnormality” resulting in impaired functioning in those areas of the brain which are used when people pay attention or keep still after a cognitive challenge.
Part of the effect of that “metabolic abnormality” which we experience and call ADD is that, instead of our brains ramping up in response to stressors, we shut down. Similar to driving an old car that takes a few seconds to respond when we “floor” the accelerator, ADD brains seem to take a second to respond to intellectual challenge on demand.
So what does that mean to me?
Think about it. When we “stress” (intellectually challenge) our brains with the kinds of tasks that take greater dopamine production to accomplish (deciding, reasoning, answering questions), our brains respond with a temporary shut down.
THEN we get agitated by our inability to accomplish “a simple little task” and produce more adrenalin as a result, adding to the “stress.”
Without a change in chemistry, either by a decrease in stimulation or an increase in the inhibition of adrenalin production, we become self-stimulating — “working ourselves up” to a state where we are unable to function at all.
The harder we try to “keep it together” the more stress we are adding to the equation
— and the more likely we are to Boggle.
If we can intervene in the adrenalin production, ideally before we begin to shut down, we can access our pre-frontal cortex functioning relatively easily, if a bit delayed.
Stay tuned. In the next article in this series we are going to talk about how to drive our ADD brains a bit better.
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IN ANY CASE, DO stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.
Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)
You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.
For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
– and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves –
Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)
- ABOUT Impulsivity
- ABOUT Hyperactivity
- What ARE Executive Functions?
- About Executive Functioning
- Shifting your Come-From
Other related Articles on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
A bit of Related Neuroscience
- Catecholamine influences on dorsolateral prefrontal cortical networks
(comprehensive paper published June, 2011 – Amy Arnsten, Ph.D., Department of Neurobiology, Yale University School of Medicine)