Tag Archives: depression

Brain Gym: 16 Activities That Will Help Your Brain Stay Younger

Brain Gym for a healthy mind. A few years ago, we started to learn about the importance of training our brains. Today we know that in order to enjoy life to the fullest, our brain needs to be in shape as well. Find out the 16 brain gym exercises that will help your brain health.

Life expectancy has risen, and as we age, our brain starts deteriorating. A few good habits can help slow down cognitive aging and help keep the human brain in shape. In this article, we’ll talk to you about different brain gym strategies that will help you build new neural connections and boost your cognitive reserve. Lifestyle and our habits play an important role in the physical changes that our brains undergo. The sooner you start training your brain, the longer it will stay in shape. Sign up for your brain gym!

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Is it really possible to improve a specific cognitive skill by training with a brain gym routine? Sometimes you may find yourself wondering if a brain gym routine will actually make it possible to improve our memory, planning, spatial orientation, processing speed, reasoning, creativity, etc. While there isn’t any magic recipe to keep cognitive aging at bay, you can start some exercises to slow it down and improve cognitive reserve. Take your brain seriously and try some of the brain gym exercises that we have below.

Brain Gym can your brain plasticity. The brain has the amazing ability to adapt and change depending on our experiences. Brain plasticity is what makes this adaptation easy, and is what allows us to help mold and adapt our brains to different circumstances or surroundings.

There is one notable type of brain plasticity, called functional compensatory plasticity, that causes a small group of elderly people to achieve almost the same amount or higher cognitive activity than their younger counterparts, despite their age. If we think of the average aging individual, we can expect their cognition to slowly decline as they age. However, in the case of functional compensatory plasticity, the brain actually compensates for the lack of cognitive activity, ultimately activating more brain parts than others of their own age or supposed cognitive state.

Brain gyms help the brain adapt, which we have shown is an essential part to brain health, especially as we age. Changing some simple habits and practicing mentally stimulating activities can help keep the brain active which makes it easier for the brain to create neurons and connections. Take a look at our suggestions and put them into action.

Brain Gym: 10 ways to keep your brain sharp

Exercising these powerful cognitive skills helps regenerate neural connections. Brain gyms can help slow down cognitive decline, which can delay the effects of neurodegenerative effects.

1. Brain gym while you Travel

Travelling stimulates our brains, exposes to new cultures and languages, and helps us learn about the history of a new place. According to a study, having contact with different cultures gives us the ability to learn about different cultures, which helps improve creativity and has important cognitive benefits.

Brain Gym: If you have the resources to travel, do it! Visit new places, emerge yourself in the culture, and learn from the natives. If you can’t travel, make an effort to surround yourself with different cultures and people, and visit new places right in your own city.

2. Brain gym while you Listen to music

Listening to music can be a great activity because music is a powerful stimulus for our brains. Certain studies have shown how listening to music activates the transmission of information between neurons, our ability to learn, and our memory. Listening to music can also slow neurodegenerative processes (this effect was only present in those who were familiar with music).

Listening to music can also positively affect our mood and activate almost all of our brain, which makes it a great way to stimulate the brain.

Brain Gym: You can add music to so many parts of your day. Turn on the radio when you’re cooking or driving in the car. Play your favorite “cardio” or “pump-up” playlist when you’re at the gym… and remember, it’s never too late to learn how to play an instrument! There are tons of video tutorials on YouTube that can help you get started.

3. Brain gym while enjoying nature

The best gym is being in nature. It helps us disconnect from our daily routines and obligations, and reduces stress and anxiety. According to this study, being in nature, whether it be out at a park or seeing trees from the window, helps reduce attentional fatigue. Living in areas with gardens or trees improves attention and inhibits our impulses. Being in nature also gets us moving and helps us increase the amount of physical exercise we do.

Brain Gym: Being in nature is good for our health and well-being. You don’t need to go live in the countryside to get these benefits- talking away in green areas, or even hanging some pictures of nature, can give us some of these benefits. Try to get away on the weekend and go to the mountain or beach. Find a great hiking route and make it a weekend activity. You’ll get some exercise and it’s a great brain gym!

4. Write things by hand and train your brain

Take handwritten notes rather than typing on a computer or tablet. Writing by hand is a brain gym exercise because it helps boost memory and learning, according to this study. Writing also helps us process and integrate learned information.

Brain Gym: Leave your laptop at home and get yourself a notebook. You can also think about getting a tablet that allows you to write and later turns your words into text.

5. Brain gym: Physical exercise

According to many studies like this one, doing and enjoying exercise created new neurons within our brain, improves learning, cognitive performance, and boosts neuroplasticity. A recent study established that starting physical exercise when there are already signs of dementia might not be that a beneficiary as starting while being completely healthy. Therefore, you should start exercising as soon as possible.

Brain Gym: According to studies, aerobic exercise is the best for us. Get out and run, dance, swim, skate, or even just walk around. Getting started can be difficult, but just think about the pay-off!

Brain gym and exercise

6. Brain gym: Keep your work area clean and organized

A recent study has shown that doing work that doesn’t challenge your brain, as well as working in an untidy environment, can actually cause damage to your brain health in the long-run.

Brain Gym: A clean work environment makes us feel calm, which allows our brain to work better. Throw out papers and things that you don’t need. Clean up your desk and the space around you.

7. Learn a language and exercise your brain

According to a study, speaking two or more languages helps protect from cognitive deterioration. The study discovered that bilingual people had a higher IQ and received higher points in the cognitive tests compared to others in their age group. This can happen even after learning a language as an adult.

Brain Gym: Sign up for a class in French or Spanish or Portuguese or any other language you’ve ever thought about learning! Try to watch movies in their original languages (with or without subtitles), you’ll start to pick up the sounds and your brain will get a great workout. Today, we have access to great resources online, all it takes is a little searching!

8. Brain gym: Sleep

According to a study, sleeping too much or too little is associated with cognitive aging. As an adult, it has been shown that less than 6 or more than 8 hours of sleep leads to worse cognitive scores as a consequence of premature aging in the brain.

The right amount of sleep is vital for the proper function of our bodies, as well as our well-being. Both sleeping too little and sleeping too much can have negative effects on cognitive performance, response time, recognizing errors, and attention.

Brain Gym: Try to keep an adequate sleep schedule by creating a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up everyday at the same time. If your one of those people who tends to sleep too little, try going to bed a little earlier over time. Put your phone, TV, computer, etc. away at least 30 minutes before bedtime to reduce any symptoms of technological insomnia. Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, there’s not too much light or sound coming in, and that your room is clean and ready to be slept in. Doing this can even help you become a morning person!

9. Brain Gym: Read

People who don’t read a lot have been shown to have lower cognitive performance compared to avid readers, according to a study. Those who don’t read often receive lower scores in processing speed, attention, language, and abstract processing.

According to researchers, this low performance in subjects who read little affects their brain’s ability to adapt after suffering from brain damage. More highly educated people use their brain’s resources to compensate for the cognitive deterioration due to aging. In others words, they have a higher level of functional compensatory plasticity, as we mentioned before. This can be applied the same was for people who read often.

Brain Gym: If you like to read, you’ve got it pretty easy. If you don’t like reading and it doesn’t appeal to do, don’t worry! There are tons of different genres to try out. You’ll find that some things are easier to read, like graphic novels. You can read magazines, newspapers, etc. about anything you like, and you’ll still get all the benefits of reading. It’s just a matter of keeping your brain active.

10. Brain gym: Practice yoga and meditation

Meditation can have long-term changes in your brain, according to this study. People who have been meditating for years have more gyri in the (ridges in the brain that are used in quickly processing information). This is also another proof of neuroplasticity, as our brain can adapt and change depending on our experiences.

According to another study, practicing yoga for 20 minutes improves speed and precision in working memory and inhibitory control (the ability to inhibit behavior when it’s necessary) tests. These measurements are associated with the ability to pay attention, and hold on to and use new information.

Yoga and meditation help us use our mental resources more efficiently, and helps us reduce stress and anxiety, which improves our performance.

Brain Gym: Meditation and yoga are “in” right now, so it shouldn’t be hard to find classes and get started. If you don’t want to go to a class, there are tons of instructors on YouTube to show you how to meditate and do yoga, without having to leave the house.

11. Brain gym: Eat well and avoid drugs

What we eat affects our brains. Eating well helps keep our brains young and prevents cognitive decline. We already know that there are “superfoods” can work together to help keep our bodies healthy. However, a diet of varied fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and few processed foods, can also greatly improve our overall health. A healthy diet doesn’t only help prevent a large number of diseases caused by diet, but it also helps slow down physical and cognitive aging. Brain Gym comes also from the consumption of different nutrients. Watch below to discover how food affects your brain.

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs all contribute to an increased risk of suffering from different types of diseases and contributes to premature aging.

Brain Gym: If you want to learn how to eat well, you should talk to a nutritionist or doctor who can best guide you to the best diet for you. Don’t trust “miracle diets”, they don’t work and can be dangerous for your health. Choose fruits and vegetables over sweets and whole grains over white bread. Keep an eye on how much sugar and fat your eating, and cut out as much alcohol as possible. It can be hard to get started, but ask for stop smoking tips if you need it!

12. Brain Gym: Control your stress levels!

Take care of your mental health! Mental health issues and constantly thinking negatively affects our overall well-being. However, this study has shown that it also affects our brain in the long-term. Having suffered from depression or anxiety disorders increases the risk of having dementia.

Brain Gym: Control your stress levels with some relaxation techniques. Listening to relaxing music helps relieve stress, and practicing yoga or meditation can also help keep stress at bay. If you’re not sure if you have a mental health issue, get in touch with a mental health specialist.

13. Brain Gym: Try new things

New studies have shown that immersing yourself in new hobbies that require some kind of mental challenge helps improve and maintain cognitive function and can help prevent cognitive deterioration.

Brain Gym: Take the time to try to learn new things. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at them or not! The important thing is that you have fun and you challenge your brain. Try learning how to play chess, how to sew, take on a DIY project, draw, write, learn how to play an instrument, etc.

14. Brain Gym: Spend time with your family and friends

Social relationships stimulate our brains, which helps keep it active and younger for longer. Socializing also helps reduce stress and improves our mood, which helps with our overall mental health.

Brain Gym: Spend more time with your loved ones (especially those who transmit positivity), meet new people, make new groups of friends, etc.

15. Brain Gym: Use your brain whenever you can

“Use it or lose it”, kind of. The best way to make sure your brain keeps working the best that it can is to constantly use and challenge it. We have access to new technology, which makes our lives easier, but it also makes our brain lazy. Before, we had to make an effort to learn and remember something. Now, many tasks have become computerized, which makes our brains go on autopilot. Try to give your brain the chance to work before reaching for the calculator or the GPS or Google.

Brain Gym: Try to solve math problems without a calculator, limit how often you use your GPS, and try to remember information on your own.

Memorize a list of words. For example, try to memorize your grocery list before leaving the house and time how long it takes you to remember it.

In the following video, you’ll see how you can help your brain work well and stay young. We can help our brains create new neurons, even as adults. Sandrine Thuret explains how we can help create new neurons.

This post was originally written in Spanish by CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan

Amygdala: The powerhouse of emotions

Our brain is a palace of structures. It dictates everything we do, how we think, how we behave and how we feel. In this article, we will focus only on the amygdala (sounds like a character out of a Star Wars movie): From what it is, functions, neurophysiological aspects of the amygdala, what happens if it gets damaged, and its relationship with other brain areas.  


What is the amygdala?

The amygdala is a structure in the limbic system that is involved directly with motivation: Particularly related to survival and our emotions. It is also responsible for processing emotions such as fear, pleasure, and anger.

The amygdala is the house where all of our emotions are stored. One of its main functions is to help us to recognize potential threats when we encounter them. When doing this, it revs the body up in preparation for a fight or flight response by increasing our breathing and heart rates. It is also responsible for evaluating the emotional intensity of various situations. This is especially important because since we encounter certain situations repeatedly, from emotional memory, our amygdala wouldn’t need to fire up… unless our brains say otherwise.

The word ‘amygdala’ was derived from the Greek word for “almond” since this part of our brain is shaped like one. Like most other structures in our brain and in other animals, we have two amygdalae. Each amygdala is located on each of the left and right temporal lobe. Since it’s in very close proximity to the hippocampus, the amygdala is involved with the influence of memory consolidation. Memory consolidation is the process that stabilizes a memory trace right when it has been obtained.

Amygdala: The limbic system

To understand the amygdala a little bit better, this article is going to give a swift review of the limbic system and why it’s important.

The limbic system is not a separate system, but a system composed of several key structures in the brain including the diencephalon, mesencephalon, and telencephalon. The limbic system specifically includes the amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus.

You can find the limbic system nuzzled immediately underneath the cerebrum. The limbic system is important because it is responsible for the formation of memories, and our emotional lives are stored in this area of the brain. The components of the limbic system regulate endocrine and autonomic function in response to any sort of emotional stimuli. In short, the three key functions it is known to deal with are arousal (stimulation), memory, and emotions.

Hemispherical differences

Since we possess two amygdalae, it has been noted that the left and right amygdala serve a different purpose in how we process our emotions. Even though the left and right amygdala have independent memory systems, they still work as a team to encode, store and interpret our emotions.

Studies have reported that electrical stimulations to the right amygdala provoke negative emotions of sadness and fear. When looking at the left side, electrical stimulations induce unpleasant (anxiety, sadness, and fear) feelings, yet also has the ability to induce positive emotions such as happiness.

The right hemisphere is commonly associated with declarative memory. Declarative memory stores various information and facts from previously experienced events which need to be consciously recalled. The right amygdala is also responsible for the retention of episodic memory. Episodic memory stores the autobiographical memory, which allows you to recall sensory and emotional experiences of a particular event.

Development of the amygdala

The development of the amygdalae is an interesting tale that consists of developmental differences between the right and left amygdala, as well as sex differences.

When looking at this area of the brain, there are some observable differences in the growth of the amygdalae. The left is the first to develop, reaching its peak 1.5-2 years before the right. Looking aside from the early growth of the left, the right has a continuous increase in volume for a longer period of time. The right side of the amygdala is often associated with face recognition and fear stimuli. As for the left, it is said that its early development provides infants with the capability of being able to detect danger.

There are also considerable differences in the development of the amygdalae between male and females. In the early stages of development of the brain, it is seen that the limbic system in females grows much more quickly than in males. For males, the structural development of the amygdalae occurs over a longer period of time, while females reach their full growth potential 1.5 years before their counterparts. It is noted that reasoning behind the slower development of the male amygdalae is due to relatively larger sizing.

Sex distinction

In regards to the differences in sexes, this area of the brain is one of the best understood. As briefly described above, we see that the amygdala is larger in male adults and in adult rats.

Adding to size, the functioning of the amygdalae differs in males and females. In one study, participants amygdala activation was looked at by watching a horror movie. Results of this study showed a completely different lateralization in the amygdalae between males and females. They showed that enhanced memory of the film was related to more activity occurring in the left amygdala and not the right. For males, it showed that the memory of the film was related to the right and not the left.

The left is responsible for the recollection of details, which results in more thought than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli. This can be used to attribute why we see less of a physical response in women than in men. The right has been linked to taking action and has been linked to negative emotions. In this scenario, this is why we see males respond to emotionally stressful stimuli in a physical manner.

Functions of the amygdala

  • Memory – This area of our brain has been linked to the storage of our emotional memory. The amygdala is heavily involved in calculating the emotional significance of events that occur in our lives. Since the amygdala has connections to other regions of the brain, it also has an influence on emotional perception. What this means, is that the amygdala alerts us to notice significant events even when we are not paying attention.
  • Arousal – Sexual desire is largely mediated by the limbic system. Activation of our amygdala can cause sexual feelings, memories of sexual intercourse, penile erections, orgasms, uterine contractions, and ovulation.
  • Hormonal secretions  When experiencing stressful events, our amygdala sounds the alarm by sending a distress signal to our hypothalamus. When this happens, the hypothalamus activates the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) by sending signals through autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. Then, the glands will respond by pumping out epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The amygdala is also strongly modulated by serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine.

What happens if the amygdala is damaged?

Because there are two amygdalae, if there is a bilateral lesion, there is a reduction in aggression and fear. This may mean you may adopt a superman complex and feel like nothing can hurt you or scare you… unless it’s kryptonite. A study was done on monkeys who had bilateral lesions of their amygdala and researchers reported a huge drop in fear and aggression, just as we see in our human counterparts.

Don’t hold your breath there though. Even though the monkeys showed a significant drop in fear and aggression, humans are faced with a lot more when the amygdala is destroyed. A bilateral lesion can cause an individual to have an impaired ability to interpret emotional facial expression. Kind of sounds like Autism. This type of lesion has actually been linked to autism, with MRI scans detecting an increase in amygdala volume.

Neuropsychological correlates of the amygdala

Advancements in neuroimaging technology have made it possible for neuroscientists to make significant findings related it. Data has shown that the size of an individual’s amygdala can be linked to anxiety, and how size may fluctuate due to antidepressant medication consumption (left). Certain studies have also shown children with anxiety tend to have smaller amygdalae.

Aside from those two interesting facts, data has shown that the amygdala plays a large role in particular mental disorders as well as other mental states.


A very rare genetic disease known as Urbach-Wiethe disease is responsible for focal bilateral lesions of the amygdala in people. Such a disease results in individual’s showing no signs of fear. This finding of the disease continues to prove that the amygdala plays a large role in triggering the state of fear.


Several studies that have looked at animals have repeatedly shown that stimulating the amygdala induces sexual and aggressive behavior. 


Schizophrenic patients are known to have enlarged ventricles, as well as enlarged amygdalae.

Social interaction

It has been said that there is a positive correlation between amygdala volume and the size and complexity of social networks. Size, in this case, means the number of contacts an individual may have, while complexity stands for the number of different groups an individual belongs to.

Data reveals that the larger a person’s amygdalae are the larger amount of social networks an individual has.

It has also been shown that the amygdalae are responsible for processing the violations of personal space. It has been observed in fMRI scans that this region of our brain is activated when it is sensed that a person is standing very close to them. For example, the person who is being scanned is aware when the observer is physically close to them, then when the observer is standing at a distance.

Sexual orientation

In recent studies, it has been suggested that there may be possible correlations between connection patterns in the amygdala, and sexual orientation. It has been reported that homosexual males have a tendency to show more feminine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual males do. Homosexual females tended to show more masculine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual females.

Bipolar Disorder

It is well documented that in bipolar disorder, there is great amygdala dysfunction during facial emotion processing. Those who have bipolar disorder have also displayed increased activity in their amygdala.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Patients who suffer from PTSD typically have a hyperactive amygdala in response to various stimuli that are in some way connected to trauma.


It is also overactive in those who suffer from depression, especially when you present them with sad stimuli. However, when presented with “happy” stimuli, their amygdala is under-active.


It is responsible for setting off a chain reaction for this disorder. It begins to react because some environmental stressor has convinced this area of the brain that you are in danger. However, this is only an issue to worry about when the amygdala is regularly triggered.

Amygdala and other brain regions

It holds some very special connections with other areas of the brain. It is known to make reciprocal connections with the hypothalamus, thalamus, septal nuclei, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, orbital frontal cortex, the brain stem, and the cingulate gyrus.

The amygdala receives input from all senses as well as visceral inputs. Visceral inputs derive from the hypothalamus, parabrachial nucleus, septal area, and orbital cortex. Visual, auditory, and somatosensory information comes through via the temporal and anterior cingulate cortices. Olfactory sensory information is received from the olfactory bulb.

Some output pathways of the amygdala include:

  1. Stria terminals
  2. Ventral amygdalofugal pathway
  3. Directly to the hippocampus
  4. Directly to the dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus
  5. Directly to the entorhinal cortex

Amygdala/emotional hijacking 

Emotional hijacking is an event that occurs when an individual’s cognitions are overpowered by their emotions. You normally see emotional hijacking occur in the context of fear and aggression. A perfect example of emotional hijacking to kick off this section is when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. According to Daniel Goleman who coined the term amygdala hijacking, this bad decision on Tyson’s behalf is the perfect example of it.

The neocortex – the “thinking” brain, has been completely overridden, and the amygdala fires up taking over total control of the brain; Thus the name “amygdala hijacking.” Hijacking can cause a person to perform irrationally, making decisions that are destructive. Not only does this take a toll on an individual (people who experience emotional hijacking are very remorseful after they realize and reflect on what they have done), their social relationships also take a huge hit. Emotional hijacking can lead to verbal or physical attacks, and such a surge of rage can easily cause an individual to severely harm a person, giving them the capacity to kill.

Something to keep in mind is that emotional hijacking is a phenomenon that requires build up. Troubling past experiences that are crippling an individual can be the direct link to why someone will have an outburst like this. When a person has an outburst, they don’t last long, but the consequences can be quite damaging as a result.

However, there is no need to worry. Not all emotional hijacks are distressing. Goleman states that there are positive hijacks. He gives an example that if a joke strikes a person as funny, and their laughter is explosive, that is a limbic response.

There are three signs you can look out for if you happen to experience an emotional hijack:

  • Strong emotional reaction
  • Sudden onset
  • Post-episode realization if the reaction was appropriate or not/regret

Areas of the brain are especially fascinating, especially when looking at them in more depth. Learning about them gives us an idea of what’s going on within ourselves, and we are able to give a reason for our behavior.

Is this your favorite part of the brain after reading the article? Do you have a favorite area of the brain? Please let us know in the comments below! We hoped you enjoyed this article. 🙂

Social skills: Tips for better and healthier relationships

Social skills. Do you have a hard time starting conversations? Do you avoid speaking to strangers because they intimidate you? You can’t change the subject in a conversation without it seeming abrupt? People think you don’t know how to listen? Do you interrupt a lot?  In this article, we give you some tips on how to improve your social skills and how to teach social skills to your children.

What are social skills?

Social skills are those that allow us to communicate and interact effectively with others. We communicate through verbal language, gestures, posture, the tone of voice and even our physical appearance. That is why if we want to improve our social skills we must have an effective communication of all these aspects.

Human beings are social animals. Our life is based on relationships with others, hence the importance of knowing how to manage ourselves in social environments. Satisfactory social relationships contribute greatly to our levels of well-being and quality of life. In addition, cultivating and maintaining a supportive network with loved ones prevents psychological disorders and problems. We will also have better working relationships. By being good communicators we will get what we want more easily.

Social Skills

Developing and training our social skills is about paying attention to how we communicate with others and the messages we send.

Like any skill, social skills are learned. There are people who have managed to learn them easily and almost unaided. Other people find it more difficult, but it is nothing that cannot be acquired through practice.

Consequences of a lack of social skills

A deficit in social skills can be very damaging.

  • It will reduce our success in creating and maintaining social relationships.
  • Our self-esteem will be damaged.
  • Difficulty expressing our desires and needs.
  • Widespread emotional distress.
  • Academic and work performance will be reduced.
  • More likely to develop a psychological disorder, such as anxiety, social phobia, depression.

How to improve social skills

Non-verbal communication

With non-verbal communication, we transmit more than we think, and we usually don’t pay attention to it. There are different kinds of nonverbal communication that we can modify to improve our social skills.

  • Body movement: hand gestures and head movements.
  • Posture: the way your body is sitting or standing, if your arms are folded.
  • Eye contact: the amount of eye contact often determines the level of trust and sincerity that is transmitted.
  • Non-Verbal Language: they are non-linguistic vocal aspects, such as tone of voice, speed, intonation, prosody, etc.
  • Closeness or personal space: determines the level of intimacy.
  • Facial expression: such as smiles, eyebrow movements and muscles surrounding the eyes.
  • Physiological changes: such as sweating or facial redness.

How do we master the art of non-verbal communication? It is important to know the consequences of our non-verbal behavior in order to use it more consciously. All behaviors can be useful depending on the situation, none of them are wrong in themselves. It is also important to look at other’s gestures to see what they are really communicating.

How do we improve our non-verbal language?

  • The absence of hand gesturing can cause our speech to be flat and monotonous. Hand movements are a way to emphasize the speech and our interlocutor can follow it better. However, very rapid gesturing can be distracting and annoying. Therefore, make sure your gestures are slow and keep pace with what you’re saying.
  • If we want to transmit kindness and friendliness the best thing is that our posture be open and relaxed. Crossing arms and legs can transmit disagreement, discomfort, nervousness. If our shoulders are down and we look down, we are transmitting insecurity. On the contrary, if we are standing upright and looking ahead we transmit security.
  • It is very important to maintain optimal eye contact. If we do not look into the eyes of our interlocutor, he may think that we are hiding something or not trusting him. However, keeping your eyes fixed can be very uncomfortable and challenging.
  • It is very important to respect the personal space of our interlocutor. This will depend on each individual’s own characteristics and the level of confidence. If you get close to the other person and the other person turns away, respect him or her and don’t keep getting closer. If on the contrary, the other person approaches you, perfect, you have established a new level of intimacy. We must pay attention to the signals he/she sends us. For example, if we touch his shoulder and notice how stiff he gets, it’s best not to touch him. Some people are very reluctant to make physical contact with strangers.
  • The facial expression should be consistent with our speech. If it is not, the other person will perceive you as untruthful. A good way to connect with others is to “imitate” each other’s facial expressions. This comes naturally to many people and has to do with empathy, but other people find it harder. If the other person smiles, you too, if he looks sad, do the same. But don’t look forced, because it may be unnatural and the other person may notice.
  • Physiological changes, such as sweating or turning red, can be more difficult to control.  A good way to do this is by practicing relaxation, breathing or other techniques.

Social Skills: Conversation skills

We often find it difficult to start and maintain conversations. Especially with people, we don’t know much about, we don’t get out of the typical dull conversation about the weather. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have trouble starting conversations?
  • Am I running out of subjects to talk about?
  • Do I avoid talking about myself?
  • Do I talk too much about myself?
  • Am I interrupting constantly?
  • Tips to improve our conversation

In the following video, Celeste Headlee gives you 10 tips for better conversations.

  • Listen and let them know you are paying attention. Use interjections as “ahá”. It sounds silly but it’s important. You can also paraphrase or repeat the last thing he or she has just said, be careful though no one likes a parrot.
  • You can start a conversation by talking about the weather, making a compliment (“I love that sweater you’re wearing”), or by taking advantage of the theme of the book you’re reading. Anything you may have in common (school, work,etc.)
  • Do nothing else while you’re talking. Listen and talk, nothing more. Multitasking can damage your relationships. Try not to think about what you have to do next, don’t look at your cell phone. Focus on the present moment, the conversation.
  • Don’t be dogmatic, enter into any conversation assuming that you have something to learn from the other person. Don’t try to impose your opinion. Talk openly.
  • Use open-ended questions: how, when, where, why. Let the other person express themselves. Avoid using questions that are answered with yes or no, as it greatly reduces the quality of the conversation.
  • If you don’t know something, say it. Show yourself honest. Assuming that we don’t know anything makes us look more sincere, more pleasant and sympathetic.
  • Don’t equate your experiences with theirs. If she’s talking about a family member who has passed away, don’t talk about when a family member of yours died. It is also often a way to play down the other person’s experiences.
  • Don’t be repetitive. Don’t tell the same story over and over again, people get tired. If you have already told something that has happened to you or that you have achieved, don’t bring it up all the time, without it having anything to do with the subject.
  • Don’t give too much detail. Save dates, irrelevant names, irrelevant details.
  • Never interrupt. For people who are impulsive, this is hard for them because we talk a lot slower than we think and we are constantly thinking about what we could say. Notice when you interrupt, and always apologize when you do. Every time try to figure it out first until you stop. It is extremely frustrating to try to say something when you are being interrupted all the time.

Social Skills: Assertiveness

Assertiveness is a basic social skill that has been much talked about in recent years. Assertiveness consists of defending your rights, making requests, putting ourselves in our place respecting the rights of others. You can find out more about assertiveness in this article.

Social skills in children

Children learn social skills in a variety of ways: imitation, social and experiential reinforcement.

Social Skills

We have already mentioned the importance of having good social skills and exercises to improve them, but how do we pass them on to our children?

  • If you want your children to have social skills, be a good example. Be careful of your behavior when you are in front of your child because he or she will copy it. Therefore, apply all the advice listed in this article.
  • If the child is defending his or her rights properly, when he or she acts politely, listens to others and with consideration, carefully reinforce the child with caresses, smiles, smiles, and words of congratulations. If not, we explain to them the consequences of behaving in that way and try not to pay any more attention to them until they change their attitude.
  • For example, if a child is asking for something by yelling, we can say,”That’s not a good way to ask for things. When you ask me without shouting and please, maybe I will give it to you.” When he does well, we will grant him, if it is a reasonable request.
  • Cultivate their self-esteem.
  • Promote their ability to listen. Listen to him and tell him that we can learn a lot if we listen to others.
  • Encourage him to relate to others. The best way to train in social skills is to practice them.
  • Don’t let your child isolate himself. Encourage them to participate in activity groups with other children.
  • Help them to solve their conflicts properly, respecting others and himself.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: together for better treatment

Psychologist vs psychiatrist has been a question on the minds of a plethora of people who are seeking professional help. In the society that we live in today, we sometimes do not have time for ourselves. In between the appointments, classes, work, supermarkets, mortgages and an occasional workout we forget to take care of our mind. When people think about health, they usually look into the physical aspects of what we consider healthy. Somebody who follows a healthy diet that consists of all the needed macro and micro-nutrients. Somebody who takes the time to exercise a few times a week. A person that plays a sport. These are the people that inspire us and these are the people we aspire to be. In chasing the goal of a perfect physical health, we often forget about our mental health.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: Education

psychologist vs psychiatrist


If your goal is to pursue a career in psychology you will first need an undergraduate degree in psychology. After that, and, depending on a country, psychologists will be required to go to graduate school. In graduate school, they will obtain a title of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).

Students need to be careful with the distinction of the two. Some countries consider a Ph.D. degree to be a solely research oriented doctoral title that does not allow a person to practice with people. In many countries throughout the Ph.D. degree, the students are required to develop and design a scientific study. In the end of their doctoral degree, the students will write a dissertation and present it to specifically assigned judges. They might then go on to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship and continue their work in research. PsyD is considered to be a clinical degree. It does not include a research aspect and is solely focused on producing practitioners in the field of mental health. Many times before a Ph.D. or a PsyD degree can be obtained, students are required to undergo a one or two-year Master of Science degree.

Throughout the course of their clinical training future psychologists will have constant supervision. They will have practicums with different age-groups and different mental health problem populations.

Psychologists can differ from one another in regards with different treatment approaches. The majority fall between the two categories, one being the psychodynamic approach and the other – cognitive-behavioral therapy.

In many countries, only those who complete all the required conditions and certified themselves will then be able to use the protected title of a “psychologist”.


psychologist vs psychiatrist

Psychiatrists need to get proper medical training. They will have the same medical education as every other medical doctor you might see if you go to a hospital. Instead of a Ph.D. or a PsyD degree, psychiatrists will hold a Doctor of Medicine degree (MD). Depending on the country medical schools have different requirements.

In the United States, a student needs to complete an undergraduate degree and then apply for medical school where they will spend 4 years. In the UK, for example, medical school lasts for 5 years and students apply straight after finishing secondary education. After the completion of medical school students have to undergo different residency or foundation programs in order to be considered fully specialized and trained psychiatrists. In the US the training lasts for 4 years and that’s where the students specialize in Psychiatry. The UK students study for 2 additional Foundation years where they practice in hospitals before they can specialize. After that, they take 4 years and have to pass two exams in their specialization.

Psychiatrists train in diagnosis and treatment for various mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They also get training in a different psychotherapeutic treatment approach like cognitive-behavioral therapy. Many psychiatrists then further specialize in the fields of neuropsychiatry, geriatrics, psychopharmacology, and others. Compared with psychologists, psychiatrists treat people who have more severe mental problems. These mental disorders usually required prescribed medicine.

That is where one of the main distinctions between a psychologist and a psychiatrist comes in. Being fully trained medical doctors psychiatrists are allowed to prescribe drugs to their patients, while psychologists cannot do so. Psychologists have to refer their patients for medication.

Job Outlook & Salary

Bureau says that both, psychologists and psychiatrists have a similar job outlook. The salary is different for both of the professions, however, with major differences between countries as well. Psychiatrists, being qualified medical doctors, earn significantly more money than psychologists do. Their average salary rounds up to about $160,000 in the U.S. with psychologists almost reaching the $70,000 mark in the United States in 2010.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: similarities

The similarity is quite obvious. Both of the professions deal with people who have mental health problems. They will both will try and help you with these problems by talking and offering therapy. Both of the professions will attempt to arm you with the tools to solve your issues. Apart from treating patients, both of the professionals keep up with the recent and up-to-date research and sometimes, both of them can participate in the ongoing investigations. These investigations can deal with a variety of topics ranging from psychophysical studies to brain studies with the use of neuroimaging methods.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: differences

The professions have different regulations, distinct certificates, and licensing procedures. On top of that, different countries have different ways of categorizing these two. Countries tend to protect certain profession titles. Education professions and doctors usually fall under the category of protected titles. Psychologists and psychiatrists do too in the majority of nations. This happens due to the fact that both of the professions have a high contact with the society. And if one were to think about the population both psychologists and psychiatrists have to deal with on a daily basis, they start to understand why the protected titles are necessary. This all sounds confusing and, in reality, it is.

Both professions treat in a different way as well. Psychologists can treat in a variety of different ways depending on their approaches: psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic.

Psychiatrists, being medical doctors, rely more on pharmacological approaches in combination with the most common therapy for given disorders.

Apart from those who are suffering from disorders, there are many who would like to pursue a career in mental studies. The question of psychologist vs psychiatrist comes up again. Both of the professions require a different amount of study, different perspectives, and opportunities. Apart from just clear cut clinicians, there are many sub-fields in both specialties. The psychologist vs psychiatrist problem then becomes even more confusing. Students should be able to learn the difference between the two and understand the different ways both professions can take them.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: mental disorders

We don’t often focus on the things that we truly enjoy. Maybe we focus on things that others like and with that, we undermine our own wants. Everybody’s needs are different and not a lot of people know or have the ability to satisfy their own needs. This can lead to many various conditions that undermine our mental health. People fall into spirals of depression, develop different types of anxiety and phobias.

This is just the iceberg of some mental disorders that can be influenced by the environment. We also cannot forget the genetic component. Both depression and anxiety have a link to genetics. Apart from these two disorders, we have a variety of others. Learning and attention disabilities are appearing more and more in various countries. Developmental and personality disorders are becoming more often. Some countries diagnose their population a bit too much, others do not understand the notion of a mental disorder.

The psychologist vs psychiatrist question also comes up due to the fact that psychologists and psychiatrists are able to view mental disorders in a different way. When people find themselves in trouble they should be able to ask for professional help and they should be able to know who to ask for help. The psychologist vs psychiatrist dilemma that many people face should not be one.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: Major Depression

Different countries will have different regulations for the diagnosis of various mental disorders. In the US, both of the professionals will look at the last edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to diagnose a patient and treat him or her with depression. The diagnosis will be quite similar to the Major Depressive Disorder with symptoms ranging from loss of interest or anhedonia, depressed mood, feeling sad, guilt and worthlessness and many other symptoms. A professional needs to be able to check off 5 from the list in order to be able to diagnose a patient with a Major Depressive Disorder.

Psychiatrists: Major Depression

A psychiatrist will pursue a series of activities and interventions. The doctors will provide these therapeutic techniques throughout the process of treatment. Before the start of treatment, they will establish a therapeutic relationship with the patient. The patient should be aware of all of the treatment procedures and the psychiatrist will take into account the preferences of the patients.

Psychiatrists will then compose a complete psychiatric history of the patient. They will look for manic symptoms in order to conclude that it is indeed major depression and not bipolar disorder. The doctors will look at any treatments that the patient has undergone or is undergoing at the moment. This step will especially include the history of all of the side effects, if any, to prescribed medication, the assigned dosages and how long the patients were taking the medicine.

Being doctors, psychiatrists will compose the general medical history and overlook any other medications that the patient might be taking. Importantly, they will check for substance use history and whether the patient has undergone treatment for those if present. Psychiatrists will then compose an individual history of the patient including the major events that happened to the patient, social, work related history, and family histories.

Psychiatrists: Major Depression treatment

These clinicians will also assess the patients based on suicide risk and hospitalize them, if necessary. Then, they will consider a treatment setting for the patient that is the most appropriate and the least binding, if conditions allow. Psychiatrists will then attempt to maximize the quality of life of the patient which includes personal hygiene, interpersonal and work relationships etc. They will then establish a connection with all of the other clinicians that are overseeing the patient.

When choosing the initial treatment, psychiatrist’s goal is to reduce the symptoms and promote remission of the episode. Doctors need to look at how severe the symptoms are and other factors that might contribute to patients’ depression (biological, environmental, social). They need to take into account patient’s preferences. (1) Psychiatrists need to consider which treatment methods would be the best for a particular patient, both providing pharmacotherapy in the form of anti-depressants (in the case of psychotic features, antipsychotic medication) and combining with psychotherapy. In certain cases, psychiatrists may consider electroconvulsive therapy for, especially severe cases.

Psychologists: Major Depression

Psychologists will pursue a series of activities and interventions for the patients as well and establish a therapeutic relationship. They will also keep track of all of the psychiatric, personal and social history of the patient.

Psychologists will mainly use psychotherapy in order to treat depression, depending on their approach. It is especially helpful when the depression is in the mild or moderate form. They will help the patients understand the life events that could have led to depression itself. They will help the patients to accept these life events and look towards the future with practical goals.  Psychologists will focus on cognitive distortions of the patient and maladaptive thoughts and try to decrease the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in the patient. They will help the patients learn how to deal with the milestones in their life and the symptoms in order to prevent depression in the future.

For the most part, psychologists use two different types of therapy:

  1. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): this is where patients learn how to deal with their social relationships and to communicate their emotions in a better and more adaptive way. IPT focuses on learning new social skills and creating a support circle around the patient.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): psychologists help patients realize the maladaptive thought and try to teach them to realize when the thoughts occur. They also try to teach the patients to change the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to depression and focus on social skills.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: Anxiety

There are many different types of anxiety. Both psychologists and psychiatrists are able to treat anxiety and the phobias that might be associated with it. A psychologist might be able to treat various phobias with the help of exposure therapy and behavioral techniques and help ease some behavior patterns that appear in anxiety. Psychologists can offer to counsel and achieve those behavioral changes. They can help with abuse and trauma. A psychiatrist will be able to diagnose you right away and will deal with more severe types of anxiety. Since a psychiatrist is a medical doctor he or she will be able to prescribe medication along with providing psychotherapy.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: similarities in treating mental disorders treatment

Both professionals can treat psychiatric disorders in a similar fashion. For example, in the case of major depression, it is quite common to combine psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy in order to achieve maximum goals. Both psychiatrists and psychologists recognize that and implement it into their treatment strategies.

Psychologist vs Psychiatrist: differences in treating mental disorders treatment

In some cases, however, psychiatrists and psychologists differ in their approach to treating certain psychiatric problems. A great example would be bipolar disorder. The goal of a psychiatrist is usually to help the patient autonomously manage medication due to the fact that bipolar disorder requires medication that lasts for quite a while, if not for life. This is psychiatrist’s primary focus when it comes to patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Psychologists, on the other hand, recognize the fact that patients with bipolar disorder need pharmacotherapy, but they focus more on psychotherapy. They can use cognitive-behavioral therapy for both the depression and the manic phases of the disorder, helping with thought distortions and maladaptive behaviors that happen as a result of the disorder.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist: Who should you see? 

Patients will usually see a primary physician first. The primary physician will refer these patients to a licensed and certified clinical psychologist. This psychologist will start therapy with the individual and work on making the patient look at their own thoughts and behaviors.

For disorders that are more serious in nature (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) should see a psychiatrist for a proper medication treatment plan. For mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress it is better to see a psychologist who can then refer you to a psychiatrist, if needed, for pharmacotherapy and further treatment.

A psychiatrist can come in as a referral from a psychologist for a prescription of medicine. After that, the two professionals work together in order to achieve the best and proper individualized treatment for the patient in hand.

At times, both of the professionals can view various mental problems from different perspectives.

The goal for both professions is to provide the best possible treatment. We cannot say that one of the professions is better than the other one because both of them work for the good of the people. Often times they work together in a collaboration to help their patients.


American Psychiatric Association. Treating Major Depressive Disorder: A Quick Reference Guide. Practice. 2010;(October):1–28.

Frontal Lobe: Areas, functions and disorders related to it

The brain is divided into four lobes, differentiated by their location and functions. In this article, we are going to focus on one of the lobes: the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the biggest lobe in the brain and the most important lobe for the human species. 

Why is the frontal lobe so relevant? What are its functions? The following article will give you an all-inclusive look on the frontal lobe. 

Frontal lobe

Frontal Lobe: Anatomy and Functions

The Frontal lobe is located at the front of the brain, at the front of each cerebral hemisphere and in front of the parietal lobe. It is considered the most important lobe due to its functions and because it takes up one-third of the total brain. In other species its volume is inferior (chimpanzees 17% and dogs 7%).

The functions of the frontal lobe depend on the area we focus on. It plays a part on movement control as well as in high-level mental functions or behavior and emotional control. The frontal lobe is divided into two main areas: the motor cortex and the prefrontal cortex.

Motor cortex in the frontal lobe

The main function of the motor cortex is to control voluntary movement, including the ones in expressive language, writing, and ocular movement. This cortex is divided into three areas:

Primary Motor Cortex

Sends commands to the neurons in the brain stems and spinal cord. These neurons are in charge of specific voluntary movements. Inside the primary motor cortex, of both hemispheres, there is a representation of the contralateral half of the body. That is, in each hemisphere, there is a representation of the opposite side of the body.This is known as the motor homunculus and it is inverted, therefore the head is represented at the bottom.

Premotor Cortex

This area is in control of the preparation and movement programming. Premotor cortex automates, harmonizes and archives movement programs related to previous experiences. Within the premotor cortex:

  • Supplementary motor area: in charge of controlling postural stability during stance or walking.
  • Ocular field: controls the joint deviation of the gaze when voluntary exploring a field.
Broca’s Area

It’s considered the center for producing speech, writing, and also in language processing and comprehension. It coordinates movements of the mouth, larynx and respiratory organs that control language expression. Injuries can produce different language disorders. 

Prefrontal Cortex of the Front lobe

The prefrontal cortex is located in the front part of the frontal lobe. It is considered the ultimate expression of human brain development. It is responsible for cognition, behavior and emotional activity. Prefrontal cortex receives information from the limbic system (involved in emotional control) and acts as a mediator between cognition and feelings through executive functions. Executive functions are a set of cognitive skills necessary for controlling and self-regulating your behavior. Within the prefrontal cortex, three areas or circuits are important: dorsolateral, anterior and orbital cingulum.

Dorsolateral area of the frontal lobe

It is one of the most recently evolved parts of the human brain. It establishes connections with the other three brain areas and transforms the information into thoughts, decisions, plans, and actions. It is in charge of superior cognitive abilities such as:

  • Attention: Focus, inhibition, and divided attention.
  • Working memory: maintenance and manipulation of the information.
  • Short-term memory: ordering events.
  • Prospective memory: programming upcoming actions.
  • Hypothesis generator: analysis of the possible outcomes.
  • Metacognition: self-analysis of cognitive activity and continuous performance.
  • Problem Resolution: analysis of the situation and development of an action plan.
  • Shifting: the ability to adapt to new situations.
  • Planning: organizing behavior towards a new objective.

General Cognitive Assessment Battery from CogniFit: Study brain function and complete a comprehensive online screening. Precisely evaluate a wide range of abilities and detect cognitive well-being (high-moderate-low). Identify strengths and weaknesses in the areas of memory, concentration/attention, executive functions, planning, and coordination.

Anterior cingulum of the frontal lobe

This area regulates motivational processes. It’s also in charge of perceiving and resolving conflicts as well as regulating sustained attention.

Orbital area of the frontal lobe

This area is in charge of controlling emotion and social conduct. It regulates emotional processing, controls behaviors based on context and detects beneficial or detrimental change.

A neuroscientist explains the frontal lobe and the types of disorders that can happen after an injury.

Frontal Lobe: Disorders related to it

As we have explained, the frontal lobe is involved in different processes (motors, cognitive, emotional and behavioral). This is why disorders due to injuries suffered to this area can vary from concussion symptoms to others more severe.

Motor disorders

Injuries to the primary or premotor cortex can cause difficulties in the velocity, execution and movement coordination, all leading to different types of apraxia. Apraxia is a disorder in which the individual has difficulty with the motor planning to perform tasks or movements when asked, provided that the request or command is understood and he/she is willing to perform the task. A University of Toronto scientist has discovered the brain’s frontal lobe is involved in pain transmission to the spine. If his findings in animals bear out in people, the discovery could lead to a new class of non-addictive painkillers.

  • Ideomotor apraxia: Deficits or difficulty in their ability to plan or complete previously learned motor actions, especially those that need an instrument or prop. They are able to explain how to perform an action but can’t act out a movement.
  • Limb-kinetic apraxia: voluntary movements of extremities are impaired. For example, they can’t use their fingers in a coordinated fashion (waving).
  • Buccofacial or orofacial apraxia: Difficulty carrying out movements of the face, tongue, mouth, cheeks, etc. on demand.

Apart from the apraxias, other disorders can be developed from injuries to the frontal lobe, such as language disorders or aphasias.

  • Transcortical Motor Aphasia: language disorder due to which the person has a lack of verbal fluency (slow speech with reduced content and poorly organized), limited spontaneous language (lack of initiative) and difficulty or incapacity in writing.
  • Broca’s Aphasia: language disorder that generates a lack of verbal fluency, anomia (inability to access the lexicon to evoke words), poor syntactic construction in speech, difficulties in repetition, reading and writing.

Dysexecutive syndrome

It consists of a group of symptoms, cognitive, behavioral and emotional that tend to happen together. However, the symptoms are going to depend on the injured area:

Dorsolateral Area

An injury in this area is usually related to cognitive problems such as:

  1. Inability to solve complex problems: decrease in fluid intelligence (reasoning, adapting and resolving of new situations, etc.).
  2. Cognitive rigidity and perseveration: the person maintains a thought or action despite being invited to change it.
  3. Decreased learning ability: difficulty in acquiring and maintaining new learning.
  4. Temporal memory impairment: deficit in the order things happened
  5. Deficiency in motor programming and changing motor activities: difficulties in the organization of sequences of movements and the time to change an activity.
  6. A decrease in verbal fluidity: impairment in the ability to recall words after an instruction. This action not only requires the lexical part but also organization, planning, focus and selective attention.
  7. Attention Deficit: difficulty maintaining your attention and inhibiting other irrelevant stimuli or changing the focus of attention.
  8. Pseudo-depressive disorders: similar symptoms to depression (sadness, apathy, etc.).
Anterior cingulum area
  1. Reduction of spontaneous activity: appear to be static.
  2. A loss in initiative and motivation: noticeable apathy.
  3. Alexithymia: difficulty identifying emotions and therefore inability in expressing own emotions.
  4. Language restriction: answers tend to be monosyllabic.
  5. Difficulty in controlling interference: selective attention impairment.
  6. Pseudo-depressive disorders. 
Orbital area

The symptoms of an injury in this area are more behavioral. The person’s behavior tends to be uninhibited.

  1. Changes in personality: high instability between who he is and how he acts. Similar to what happened to Phineas Gage. 
  2. Irritability and aggressiveness: exaggerated emotional reactions in daily life situations.
  3. Echopraxia: imitation of observed movements in others.
  4. Disinhibition and impulsivity: lack of self-control over their behavior.
  5. Difficulty adapting to social norms and rules: behaves socially unacceptable.
  6. Judgment is impaired: many reasoning errors.
  7. Lack of empathy: difficulty understanding other people’s feelings.
  8. Euphoria
 The frontal lobe is incredibly important for humans to function to their full potential. Even without brain injury, it’s crucial to maintain our cognitive skills active. CogniFit offers a complete assessment of your cognitive skills and brain training not only as a rehabilitation due to injury, dementia, etc. but it can also strengthen your current neural patterns. Brain health is essential to lead a full life.
Hope you liked this article, feel free to leave a message below!
This article is originally in Spanish written by Natalia Pasquin Mora, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Understanding Your Brain and Stress: What Happens When We’re Stressed?

It’s time to talk about our good ol’ buddy stress. For most of us, it seems to cling to us all day every day, no matter how many times you try to part ways. It’s just become a part of us, so much so that we might feel weird or empty without it. But what is stress? What exactly does stress do to our bodies, to our brains? Why is it such a good thing to have sometimes, but other times seems to overwhelm us? It’s time that we learn more about the delicate relationship between our brain and stress.

Understand your brain and stress

Check your understanding

How much do you know about stress? Take this short quiz to find out!

1. Stress is inevitable.
  • These days, it may seem like we can't avoid stress. Often times, what you think is stressful now you probably won't think is stressful in the future. Try looking at the things that stress you out in a different perspective, or look for ways to make your life easier!
2. People can choose whether or not to be stressed.
  • As you'll learn in this article, stress isn't a switch you turn on and off. Stressful situations spark many complex reactions within your body and cause physiological changes so that you're equipped to handle the stress. While we can manage it, we can't choose whether or not to be stressed.
3. Exercise is a good stress reliever
  • While it may be hard to fit it into tight schedules, exercise is great to relieve stress! It releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and lifts your mood for the day. And even better, it clears your mind so you can be more focused and productive in the workplace.
4. Stress is a good for when you need to be motivated
  • When talking about reaching deadlines or a set goal, some stimulating stress can be good for you. It may provide you with enough to get though the day, or to be a little more productive. But pay attention to how you feel- frustration, irritability, and anger can be signs that you're experiencing too much stress.
5. We'd all be bored without stress
  • Stress has become such a big part of our lives that we might feel empty without it- but we don't have to! Think about all the things you could take time to enjoy without the stress of all your responsibilities. It's very possible to do, so start looking for ways you can de-stress!

The biological mechanisms of stress

When we experience a stressor, it sets off reactions in our body to help prepare us to handle it. For example, let’s say you’re camping in the woods for the weekend, and you’re just about head to the tent for the night. All of a sudden, you hear a loud crash, and you turn around to find a huge bear looking through your stuff!

Seeing the bear stimulates your hypothalamus to release two hormones, called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and arginine-vassopressin (AVP)CRH travels down to the anterior pituitary and stimulates the release of corticotrophin into the blood stream. Once corticotrophin reaches the adrenal cortex (a gland on top of the kidneys), the adrenal cortex increases the production of cortisol and other hormones called catecholamines. 

Surely this must sound very complicated, but here’s the basic idea. Seeing the bear stimulates the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, which eventually causes the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. This hormone causes many changes in our body so that we can properly deal with our stressor.

Your body and stress

AVP rushes to the kidneys and tells it to make less urine and bring more water back into the body. It also sends signals to our blood vessels to constrict, which raises our blood pressure and allows the oxygenated blood to go where its needed. Cortisol limits the amount of insulin production so that less glucose is stored. It then sends all the glucose it can to the rest of the body, so that it has immediate energy when it goes into the “fight or flight” response. Finally, catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) work with cortisol to get the heart pumping more blood, faster.

Different types of stress can have different impacts on our body. When stress is prolonged, it can have detrimental effects. Here are just a few:

  • Cortisol suppresses the immune system, so the longer cortisol stays in your system, the more at risk you are of getting colds, infections, cancer, food allergies and gastrointestinal issues.

  • The longer your blood vessels are constricted and your blood pressure is elevated, the more at risk you are for vessel damage and plaque buildup. In other words, you’re much more likely to have a heart attack the more you’re stressed.

  • Cortisol can cause weight gain in many ways. One way is because of the high levels of glucose in the blood and the low levels of insulin. This means other cells that need the glucose can’t get it, so they send signals to your brain to tell you you’re hungry. As a result, you overeat, and the unused glucose is stored as fat.

Your brain and stress

Stress can change neural networks

Prolonged periods of stress can cause increased branching in the amygdala– the fear center of the brain. This means that small, less stressful situations can cause huge rises in cortisol levels. Conversely, the hippocampus– which is responsible for learning, memory, and controlling stress- deteriorates and weakens our ability to control our stress.

Stress can shrink your brain

Studies with rat brains have shown that stress can also cause your brain to shrink. Fewer connections between neurons in the prefrontal cortex inhibit our ability to make decisions and judgments. And because the hippocampus deteriorates with prolonged stress, it can make it harder to learn and remember things.

Stress can be detrimental to mental health

Serious mental health problems can arise from stress because of the chemical imbalances cortisol can cause. Because cortisol can make us feel tired after a while, large amounts can have us feeling low in energy or depressed. In other cases, stress activation can lead to severe feelings of anxiety. In many cases, it can actually influence our personality, causing us to be more irritable, hostile, angry or frustrated.

Since stress is such a big part of our daily lives, its more important than ever to take precautions to protect our brain and our body. For tips on how to reduce your stress, click here.