June 19, 2016 – Brain Health and Compassionate Communication

Garrett Riegg, J.D.
Brain Health and Compassionate Communication

Happy Father’s Day! I found recently that I am a father figure at a fraternity I advise at Sonoma State. It was very important to a young man there. His father was absent from his life, and he had no brothers or sisters. He told me recently about his wonderful girl friend and the great job he had as a camera man with the Forty Niners. He was so excited. Over break, though, he was binge drinking and took some pills. I got a call that he was found face down on the floor outside his room, dead.

It is believed that over 50% of students engage in this dangerous behavior. We do know more people are now dying from illegal and legal use of anti-depressants and opioids than from handguns or auto accidents. Among white middle-class women, up to 40% are using 1 or more anti-depressants. Medicine didn’t believe how dangerous these drugs are.

The answer to depression is not drugs. After researching thousands of studies, it has been determined that there are 8 ways to calm the brain.

From the last to the first:

8) Smile. Mean it or not, it releases endorphins. And little things count. It has been found that if a patient about to get a bad diagnosis were to give their doctor a small bag of jelly beans before the diagnosis, the doctor is 20% more accurate!

7) Think. Chess can reverse some dementia. Games and puzzles improve mental ability in the short run, but for the long run the mind needs big intellectual ideas and challenges, like philosophy, metaphysics, or world peace.

6) Relax. Relaxing your muscles and breathing deeply is good for the brain, as is playing relaxing music or repetitive activity like knitting or using rosary beads.

5) Yawn! It also relaxes the muscles in the neck and causes you to breathe deeply. Students who yawned 5 times before a test consistently made higher scores. 5 yawns, too, are as good as a cup of coffee.

4) Meditating. It’s a treat for the brain. MRIs show significant differences between monks and regular people. And they show negative emotions kill brain cells, while positive emotions grow brain cells.

3) Aerobic exercise is definitely good because it brings more oxygen to the brain.

2) Dialogue. Talking, especially talking about big concepts like God or evolution.

1) Faith. The most important. Not necessarily faith in God, but focusing on affirming, positive beliefs, like faith in humanity or the individual’s faith that he or she can overcome. Optimists have better health overall; pessimists die earlier.

I was lucky as a college student to not only have a good father, but over summer vacations I also had a good father figure in my boss at Beacon Moving in Oakland. He was African American, and this was 1963, before the Civil Rights movement had accomplished anything. But Bill had faith. His work was of the highest quality. He was the first black driver for Beacon in Oakland. He had zero customer complaints filed when the average was 20 to 30 a year. He was elected to union shop steward at Beacon, even when the union still didn’t want to integrate! I found out Bill had pulled himself out of poverty and alcoholism, gotten married, and at 50 started a family by adopting a little girl. They adopted 2 more girls, and all were good students. I know at least the oldest went to college. Bill had never even graduated high school! I so appreciate the fathers I had!