Brain Break

Part Two of our “Brain Development” Series: The Brain and Crisis Situations

By: Robin Donaldson, Chief Operating Officer, Indiana Youth Services Association & NSPN Advisory Board member

What determines the individual responses in times of crisis? Why do some freeze and become incapable of responding while others seem to thrive and rise to the challenge in the face of threat? We can look to genetics and a person’s upbringing to determine the neural pathways established in the brain that dictate the varied ranges of response to crises.

In the center of the brain and seated in the limbic system lies a small structure known as the amygdala. The amygdala houses fearful or threatening memories and uses this information to access incoming information to determine potential threats and initiate the “fight or flight” response required to deal with those threats. While information from the amygdala can be sent to the prefrontal lobe for higher cognitive and emotional assessment, it is important to understand that the amygdala is designed to respond immediately to ensure survival.

Genetics will determine the initial sensitivity and response rate of the amygdala. Some individuals are prone to quick emotional responses due to the innate sensitivity of amygdala responsiveness influenced by levels of neurotransmitters and cellular structure.  Early upbringing can either enhance or moderate this heightened sensitivity.

Early environment is crucial to the cellular development and connectivity of the amygdala because newborns enter the world unable to regulate their emotional responses.  When responsive caregivers immediately respond to meet the needs of their newborn, they help establish neural pathways in the brain that allow the infant to begin to self-regulate and self-sooth in times of distress. Infants who have caregivers that are unresponsive lack the opportunity to establish these pathways for self-regulation.  When caregivers are abusive, infants miss opportunities to self-regulate and the initial responsiveness of the amygdala is increased to respond to the threat. Neglectful and abusive environments heighten emotional responses and reactivity and all new information is processed against those threatening memories. An overactive amygdala results in increased anxiety, fear, distrust and mood disorders.

These early patterns generally persist throughout life. While intervention can help moderate the emotional response and change behavioral patterns, in times of crises or in unfamiliar situations we tend to revert to earlier patterns. Certain environmental features or characteristics and mannerisms of others can trigger old fearful memories and initiate the crisis response. Understanding how a person’s stress response was established can help predict their future behavior in crisis situations.

This blog post is the second in a three-part series on brain development. Click here to read the first blog, “General Brain Development.” Stay tuned for the final blog post on brain development!

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Part One of our “Brain Development” Series: General Brain Development

By: Robin Donaldson, Chief Operating Officer, Indiana Youth Services Association & NSPN Advisory Board member

The human brain is a beautiful thing. Nothing matches a healthy brain in efficient, creative, and effective functioning. Normal brain development follows predictable patterns mirroring the mastery of developmental skills at different stages of life. It is important to understand, however, that brain development is strongly influenced by environment. An enriched, supportive environment facilitates healthy brain development; a deprived, harmful, or stressful environment greatly inhibits normal brain development.

There are two developmental periods during which brain growth and development is unparalleled: birth – toddlerhood and pre-adolescence. During both of these stages, there is a tremendous increase in brain matter, particularly in neural connections, or synapses, that allow the brain cells to communicate. This overabundance of brain matter is necessary to accommodate the significant learning that occurs during these periods.

Also common to both periods of brain development is the process called pruning. Neural pruning rids the brain of unused synapses to promote more efficient processing. Again, pruning is highly dependent upon the environment and individual experiences. Exposure to new skills and learning opportunities is crucial during these times.

There are also differences in the brain development of infancy / toddlerhood and adolescence and these differences reflect the developmental tasks that are key to each stage. Much of brain development in the earlier years is inhibitory; neural communication in the brain blocks brain activity in certain areas as the child learns to control their own bodies, emotions, and actions.  Brain growth in adolescence is excitatory; this is particularly true for the limbic system, the area of the brain integral to learning, reward, and emotions.

Key to understanding much of adolescent behavior is the knowledge that the limbic system develops and is “primed to respond” much sooner than the prefrontal cortex, the area controlling higher cognitive processes and higher emotional control. Due to this uneven growth pattern, adolescents experience heightened emotions, have more difficulty reading emotions and controlling their own emotions, and engage in thrill-seeking behavior at much greater extent than adults.

Because development of the prefrontal cortex is reliant upon experience, adults can create environments to facilitate this development. Learning opportunities, positive role modeling, adequate rest, diet, and exercise, effective coping skills and reduced exposure to risks factors such as alcohol, drugs, and stress, are all key components to healthy brain development. It is within our power to create experiences for youth that will allow them to maximize the most powerful tool at their disposal, the human brain.

This blog post is the first in a three-part series on brain development. Stay tuned for the next two blog posts on brain development!

Welcome to the NSPN Kitchen – Summer Edition

It’s summertime and folks are getting ready for some summer treats! Get ready to open wide for the NPSN Kitchen Cookbook! The staff at NSPN put together a yummy set of summertime beverages, snacks, starters, entrees, sides, and desserts just for you!  We hope you have fun recreating these tasty treats, but most of all, we hope you enjoy EATING them! Happy Cooking!

Access the NSPN Kitchen Cookbook here:  https://nspn.memberclicks.net/assets/docs/NSPN/nspn%20cook%20book.pdf 

NSPN Kitchen Cookbook

NSPN Kitchen Cookbook

Preparing for Summer: Youth-Friendly Activities

By: Danielle White, Executive Administrative Assistant, National Safe Place Network

As the school year draws to a close, it’s time to find opportunities for keeping youth engaged during the summer months. As we all know, relaxation can be fun, but it’s only a matter of time before boredom kicks in. Chase away the mid-summer boredom blues with some of the activities listed below and be sure to let us know how much fun you have!

Make your own ice cream: Beat the heat with homemade ice cream—no fancy machines required! Find out how here: http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/cooking-activities-recipes/make-your-own-ice-cream

Create a variety of flavors in under 30 minutes and then add toppings for homemade sundaes. If that sounds like too much exertion in the heat of summer, try popsicles instead (http://www.myrecipes.com/kids/healthy-kids/homemade-popsicles).

Explore local activities: Find community partners to sponsor zoo or museum trips or get tickets to the local fair. Check out your community’s free festivals and other summer activities (but be sure to provide adequate supervision)!

Grill out: Who doesn’t love a cookout?! The possibilities are endless—burgers, hot dogs, brats, grilled veggies, and more! Don’t forget the ice cream and s’mores for dessert! Bonus points if you have a campfire and live music.

Competitions: Bring out the competitive side of your young people. Field days, mini Olympics, basketball/volleyball/badminton games, Top Chef style competitions, and more will keep the youth in your program active and engaged. A little healthy competition never hurt anyone!

Arts & crafts: Tie-dye, chalk, paper mache, balloon animals, painting, drawing, and so much more! There are crafts for every interest and skill level. Give your group a theme or just let them do their own thing. More ideas here: http://www.babble.com/home/10-awesome-summer-craft-projects-for-kids-teens/.

Fireworks: Fireworks are an iconic summer activity. Grab some discounted fireworks for the Fourth of July and go to town! Just be sure to discuss firework safety before the fun begins (http://www.fireworkssafety.org/safety-tips/).

Game night: Game night is fun for everyone. Board games, card games, video games, and more make for an easy and entertaining night! Snacks are a must.

Learning is fun: Help fight summer brain drain by engaging in educational activities. There are plenty of science experiments that can be done with household objects (http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/HomeExpts/HOMEEXPTS.HTML). Games like Jeopardy, Trivial Pursuit, and others will teach new information in a fun environment. If your community has a zoo or other animal-related activities, those can be great learning events. Be creative and remember that learning is fun!

Book club: Keep young minds active during the summer months with a book club. Not everyone wants to spend their time off reading, so keep it fun with movie tie-ins like the Divergent or Hunger Games series or The Fault in Our Stars. There are plenty of movie adaptations being made all the time, so take advantage of them and watch the movies as part of the discussion.

Movie night: Get tickets to a movie theater or a drive in. If those aren’t an option, host your own! Bonus points for using a projector and having an outdoor movie night. Don’t forget the snacks!

Cook together: Choose a theme for the week and learn how to make different parts of the meal each night. At the end of the week, have a feast! For Mexican week, each night could be homemade tortillas, tacos or taco salad, enchiladas, nachos, homemade salsa and guacamole, and dessert. Make each part of the meal on a different night and watch it come together!

Garden: Plant flowers and/or vegetables. Let youth have a say in what is planted and encourage them to tend to the garden regularly. If you grow vegetables, be sure to use them in the kitchen.

Go swimming: Find a local pool to donate swim time and lifeguards for a pool party. Be sure to bring snacks, drinks, sunscreen, and good music. Water parks with diving boards, slides, and wave pools kick the party up a notch! This is also a good time to go over basic water safety (http://www2.redcross.org/services/hss/tips/healthtips/safetywater.html#general).

Whatever you do to beat the heat, have fun, stay safe, and let us know how it turns out! We love to hear about all the fun that NSPN agencies have.

Time for a Brain Break!

It’s Tuesday and it’s been a while since we have shared a Brain Break with you. We get it… Brain Breaks can be “Downright Distracting”! BUT who doesn’t need one every now and again? You can do a number of things while taking a Brain Break!  Brain Breaks can be energizing, social, productive, they can even benefit your career!

“Take Five” and check out these 51 things to do when you need a break at work.
https://www.themuse.com/advice/take-five-51-things-to-do-when-you-need-a-break-at-work

Remember when you were a kid and you used to stare at optical illusions?  Ok, well maybe you still do… we won’t judge because quite frankly, we do too!  Here are some fun illusions that might help relieve some stressors of your day.  Go ahead, take a brain break! You deserve it.
http://www.buzzfeed.com/samjparker/optical-illusions?sub=2170023_1108271#.naA0Ppvny

Ain’t got time for that? (Because of March Madness of course!)  Check out some fun March Madness party ideas!
http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/holiday—celebration-recipes/march-madness-party-ideas-with-game

We hope you enjoyed this Brain Break today! Don’t forget to pop back by NSPNsights and check out some useful information we actually write about and post.  We have some exciting topics coming up and even some awesome guest bloggers! 

March is Women’s History Month

Last year, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation sayingduring Women’s History Month, we recognize the victories, struggles, and stories of the women who have made our country what it is today.'”  Earlier this week, the NSPN team took a moment to reflect on some historical or encouraging women who have made a difference.  Here’s a few of the inspirational quotes shared by the team:

Hillary Ladig shared a Maya Angelou quote:  “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Tella Jones also shared a Maya Angelou quote:  “If you get, give.  If you learn, teach.”

Elizabeth Smith Miller shared a quote from her mother, Jacqueline Limage:  “Make sure to wash your hands… and wear a face mask… if you’re around someone breathing.”  (And she listens!)

Susan Harmon shared a quote from none other than the royal southern belle herself – Scarlett O’Hara: “Tomorrow I’ll think of some way… after all, tomorrow is another day.”

TC Cassidy shared a quote by Arundhati Roy. This quote speaks to most, if not all activists, including youth care and human trafficking awareness and prevention workers: “There’s no such thing as the voiceless; there is only the deliberately silenced and preferably unheard.”

To read more quotes by influential women visit: http://m.ibtimes.com/womens-history-month-2015-quotes-21-inspirational-sayings-influential-women-1831522 or check out the following links to learn more about “Women who have changed the world!”

http://www.emlii.com/9146884/31-Most-Inspiring-Women-Who-Changed-The-World

http://www.biographyonline.net/people/women-who-changed-world.html

It’s time for a Brain Break!

On NSPNsights, we are excited to provide you with a “Brain Break” from time to time. Brain Breaks can be fun tips, trivia questions, games, recipes, or the like. Today, we have a recipe from our new Director of Research, Education and Public Policy – Katie Carter. We look forward to “serving” you lots more Brain Breaks!

NSPN Brain Break

 

Any Fruit, Easy Summer Cake – This Brain Break was brought to you by: Katie Carter, National Safe Place Network – I love cooking and reading about cooking. I gobble up food blogs and new recipes as a hobby. I came across the recipe (from Big Girl Small Kitchen at ow.ly/zRO2d) after a weekend of overly enthusiastic fruit-shopping and a lot of cherries to consume. The wonderful thing about this recipe is you can make it using just about any fruit and nut combinations. Enjoy!