Brain Freeze: When Your Brain is Hijacked by Stress.

Stress isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing. It’s a natural process designed to protect or at least prepare us for imminent danger. Stress helps us run fast to catch a train, or run away from a threat. It’s the trigger to our fight or flight response. Stress motivates us to stop procrastinating and get our work done.

In small doses and for a short time, stress is a good thing—but it’s a big problem when we are under too much stress and when it’s constant. Chronic stress causes negative side effects and health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease. Stress is kind of a trickster. It builds up slowly and sneaks up on us, because we get used to being overworked and overstimulated. But your body knows and forces us to slow down.

It isn’t just our body–our brain rebels too. Maybe you noticed your decisions are more difficult when you are under pressure. Stress impairs our thinking—the brain shuts down too and you find yourself operating with 10-15 (some say 20) less IQ points. Why? Because the prefrontal cortex, which is our executive functioning and decision-making region of the brain is impacted. When there is any fear or anxiety the amygdala region of the brain, your emotional center, jumps to attention and takes resources away from the executive decision making of the prefrontal cortex. A chain reaction causes resources (blood and oxygen) to leave the prefrontal cortex, and your IQ plummets. It can seem easier to put off a decision, make a bad one or no decision at all. Brain freeze is something we have all experienced at some time.

Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist has found an inverse relationship between the activation of amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. When the amygdala is active with blood and oxygen, there is less activation in the prefrontal cortex. Our thinking power is hijacked and our problem solving ability plummets, because the blood and oxygen are in the amygdala versus the prefrontal cortex. Tunnel vision is the survival reaction of the of the amygdala–you just can’t see everything.

Any strong emotion, fear, stress, anxiety, anger, joy, or betrayal trips off that pesky amygdala and impairs the prefrontal cortex’s working memory. Powerful emotions overwhelm rationality. That is why when we are emotionally upset or stressed we can’t think straight. The IQ points we need to carefully consider decisions are depleted temporarily.

Quick Stress Buster: Take A Breath

It’s time for a quick stress buster–something you can do anytime or anywhere to relieve tension and stress. It’s as simple as taking a deep breath.

That’s right. The simple act of taking a few deliberate and slow breaths can do you a world of good. It’s relaxing, supplies the body with plenty of fresh oxygen, and relives any tension you have built up.

Get Some Fresh Air

Getting out in the fresh air (today in Minnesota it’s a bit bracing) but it’s worth it. Moving around a little, and simply breathing is a very effective way to release tension, relax, and rejuvenate. You may be worried that it’s a waste of time, especially when you’re on a tight deadline, but trust me and give it a try. You’ll find yourself coming back from a short walk with a lot more energy and a much clearer mind. You’ll easily make up the time you spent outside and feel better.

What are some other ways you might ease your stress and bring your brain back to full power?


About Karen

Karen Karsten, CPCC, CAC, has had several business careers, in government, finance, retail and publishing. Each career was a building block that helped her create the life she has now as a coach, writer and executive director of Rich Chicks and Creative Principle of Think You Can LLC.

Her companies, Think You Can ( and Rich Chicks ( both explore the magic of prosperity and creating clarity about life values. Karen has total faith in the magic of belief. Notice how that works either way: belief of magic, magic of belief. Magic is there—in you, too. Take a moment right now and honor the magic in you.

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