Category Archives: Brain Hacking

The Attention Economy

In May 2017, James Williams, a former Google employee and doctoral candidate researching design ethics at Oxford University, won the inaugural Nine Dots Prize.

James argues that digital technologies privilege our impulses over our intentions, and are gradually diminishing our ability to engage with the issues we most care about.

Possibly a neat followup on our earlier post on “busy-ness“.

Explainer: what’s the link between insomnia and mental illness?

Just made a bad decision? Perhaps anxiety is to blame

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-03-bad-decision-anxiety-blame.html

Most people experience anxiety in their lives. For some, it is just a bad, passing feeling, but, for many, anxiety rules their day-to-day lives, even to the point of taking over the decisions they make.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered a mechanism for how anxiety may disrupt decision making. In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, they report that anxiety disengages a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is critical for flexible decision making. By monitoring the activity of neurons in the PFC while anxious rats had to make decisions about how to get a reward, the scientists made two observations. First, anxiety leads to bad decisions when there are conflicting distractors present. Second, bad decisions under anxiety involve numbing of PFC neurons.

Interactive Self-Care Guide

Interesting find:

[…] interactive flow chart for people who struggle with self care, executive dysfunction, and/or who have trouble reading internal signals. It’s designed to take as much of the weight off of you as possible, so each decision is very easy and doesn’t require much judgement.

Some readers may find it of use. I think it’d be useful to have the source code for this available so that a broad group of people can tweak and improve it, or make personalised versions.

The Effect of Screens Before Bedtime

Staring at screens right before sleep turns out to be a lot worse than previously thought. Dr. Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, lays out all of the negative effects that bedtime screen viewing can have on the brain and body.

And of course, that’s aside from the effects of the contents! If you read any news, you may find yourself all riled up and annoyed at something you can do absolutely nothing about (or at least not at that moment). If you check your work email, just as problematic.

Sleep: How to nap like a pro | BBC Future

Why the modern world is bad for your brain | Guardian UK

Feet up the Wall

Gina Rose of Nourished Naturally writes:

I often spend 5-30 minutes a day with my feet up the wall.
What’s going on in this pose?
Your femur bones are dropping into your hip sockets, relaxing the muscles that help you walk and support your back.
Blood is draining out of your tired feet and legs.
Your nervous system is getting a signal to slow down. Stress release and recovery time.
This position is great for sore legs, helps with digestion & circulation as well as thyroid support. If you suffer from insomnia try this before bed.

I’ve done this at times but at the time never thought through why it might be beneficial. Worth a try! And as they say, it doesn’t hurt to try – but of course it could and if it does hurt, obviously stop straight away.

New evidence on body clock and depression

Researchers found something relevant to people with depression while working on something else (original article at Independent.co.uk, tnx Andrew for the link).

In a nutshell, what they found was that people with severe depression had their body clock out of whack: they were essentially living in a different timezone. I don’t think it’s actually news to us, I wrote about this and it being the equivalent of jetlag in the BlueHackers HowTo. But, I do think it’s interesting in the sense that at least in the cases the researchers encountered, for people with severe depression there was a genetic cause. We like to know why things are the way they are, so this new info can help in that respect.

Modern life, in particular with the type of work many of us do, makes it really easy to stuff up your day and night rhythm, and also your eating pattern which is actually related to this as well. Getting your day/night, daylight and food intake patterns right is generally a very important base. Not for everybody, but I think definitely for most of us. And while some of these things might still be hard for some, they’re relatively easy steps compared to others. It’s worth a try and they’re also specifically things you can get external help with – you can get a friend to come by for a walk at a specific time of day, or go get a meal.

Once the new pattern is trained (can take up to three months but often it’s much sooner) you’ll find it much easier to stick to, and also that other tasks become easier.

Mind you, I’m very aware that this is still easier said than done – I have my own company arranged in such a way that it doesn’t create nasty work hours, but I also have a family and thus in the mayhem (or even just because of the weather) I sometimes lose (some of) the pattern for a while. But, I’m now aware of it and that does make a difference already – it’s easier to fix. Typically my food pattern stays ok, but the morning walk loses out (by the way, it may be an afternoon walk that works best for you).

Do you know what’s messed with my morning walk lately? The city council has closed off a footbridge crossing a creek (storm damage), and that was the only way through in that particular direction. I can create other walking loops but they’re less convenient for several reasons – I’ve walked some but it feels less comfortable. I’m generally ok with change but it’s funny how this is just very disruptive!

How do day/night, exercise and food patterns work for you, and how have you tweaked them to work better for you? Please tell, it will help others.

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One geek’s guide to clinical depression

Guest post by John Dalton.

One of the many events I attended during the week of Linux.conf.au this year was a BoF session (“Birds of a Feather” – an informal discussion group) for BlueHackers, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of depression within the geek community.

I think the event was very successful, with around 50 geeks in attendance. I spoke to the group, along with many others – here’s (roughly) what I had to say:

I think of myself as being a pretty bubbly, happy guy.

I have “been depressed” – I’ve had bouts of depression – but I don’t consider myself to be someone who “has depression”. This is a distinction which people who haven’t experienced clinical depression may have difficulty understanding.

I didn’t recognise the difference until I met a girl with clinical depression. This was something I knew, something she’d told me and which we’d discussed – but it took some time for me to realise I didn’t really understand.

My impulse when someone tells me about a problem is to try to solve it. We would talk about how she felt – I’d listen, and I’d try to suggest things she could do to feel better, actions she could take to improve various circumstances. I’d try to explain to her that things weren’t as bad as she thought, and that things would improve.

Her behaviour was erratic. Sometimes it would seem that after talking things over we’d solved all the problems, that things were on the way up. Then we’d talk again shortly after and I’d find out that things were just as bad as they’d always been.

Sometimes I would tell her that things would get better, and she would agree – she could explain how everything was going to improve, but I could see in her eyes that she just couldn’t bring herself to believe it.

The point at which I really knew for the first time that I didn’t understand what was going on was when she called me one night in tears, and told me she’d tried to kill herself.

To cut a long story slightly shorter, this event resulted in her being committed for a short stay in the psych ward at the hospital.

The girl I’m talking about later became my wife, and a couple of weeks ago we had our 11th wedding anniversary.

This episode early in our relationship taught us both a lot. For my part, I finally learned just what it means to be clinically depressed. I learned that this wasn’t something that was ever going to go away – that things could get better, but that it would take hard work and vigilance on both our parts – and that there’d be more bad times ahead to go with the good.

* * *

I think that our community is getting better at talking about depression, but that we might have a disadvantage when it comes to understanding it.

I think that people in our community are more likely than usual to take a hyper-rational, deconstructive approach to problem solving. This approach makes it more difficult for people to understand clinical depression without having experienced it themselves, and I suspect it makes people less likely to recognise it when it happens to them.

I’ve seen the pain in someone’s eyes, and heard the helplessness in their voice, when they’re confronted with situations and emotions they can’t think their way out of. When they look at the problem, figure out an approach to help deal with it, but then realise that they know – they just know with some part of themselves – that nothing they do will fix it.

I want to tell those people that they’re wrong, but the difficulty there is that if we leave it too late, that’s not a message that can get through.

The most important function of BlueHackers in my opinion, and in fact any organisation which deals with depression, is education. Learning is hardware hacking for your brain. I want everyone to do an include, to load a module, whichever metaphor you like – I want everyone to know now, when they can absorb the information, that you need to ask for help before you hit the bottom.

Recently I had a phone call from another friend of mine, from someone who had hit the bottom. My only wish is that they’d called me earlier, but luckily that person is still with us. I had told them to call me if they needed to – I’m so glad they did – and they said to me later that simply telling them to call me if they needed help was enough that, when they were convinced noone would care or help, they were pre-armed with that knowledge, those instructions – care, and I will help.

I want you all to talk to your friends, your family, your colleagues, to strangers in this room – and let them know that you care. I want you to hack their brains, to perform a knowledge injection rather than an SQL injection – to try to innoculate them against the belief that noone cares, so that when it happens, they might remember that someone does.

I’m not a professional counsellor, I have no training in this area, and if you were to call me I would tell you that you need professional help – and I would try to help you get it. But I will also remind you that you are not alone, and that someone cares.

This is an open source conference, but we are an open source community. I think it’s important that we – as a community – talk about depression in its many forms, and that we’re there to help each other no matter what kind of depression someone might be going through.

I want to thank Arjen for his work on BlueHackers, for being brave enough to start something that needed to be done – and I hope that we can all reach the point where admitting that you’re depressed and that you need help is no longer an act of bravery.

I want you all to do two things:

– if you’re depressed, tell someone.
– if you know someone who’s depressed, talk to them and tell them you care.

It’s not enough, but it’s a start – and you could literally save a life.

 

Originally published on my blog as “One geek’s guide to clinical depression.

 

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