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According To A Neuroscientist, This Is The Best Way To Stay Calm When You Are Stressed


Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist, reveals a technique called ‘the pre-mortem’ which he thinks is the best way to remain calm when you are under stress. 

Stress plays a huge part of our lives. Some are better at dealing with it, some are not so good, but what is certain is – no one is immune to it.

And while there is some excellent advice out there for minimizing stress, such as yoga, listening to music, walking in nature and so on, there is one scientifically proven way for lowering or even eliminating stress.

Daniel Levitin is a neuroscientist who in his brilliant TED talk revealed what happens to our brain when we are feeling stressed, and what we can do to prevent, minimize, or eliminate that stress.  

He says that when we are under stress, our brain releases cortisol which is responsible for raising our heart rate, modulating our adrenaline levels, and clouding our thinking.

He was wondering if there were things that we could do or systems that we could put into place to prevent bad things from happening. Or, if they did happen, what we could do to minimize its effects of it resulting in a total catastrophe.`

He talked with his friend Gary Klein, a trained psychologist, on this subject and learned a technique from him called ‘prospective hindsight,’ or ‘the pre-mortem.’

Levitin defines this method as a way to look ahead and try to figure out all the things that can go wrong, and then figure out what can be done to stop those things from happening, or to reduce the damage.  

So, what can we do in the form of pre-mortem?

There are some obvious things that we can do, like finding a place around our home that will be designated for small things that are easily lost, such as car keys, passports, etc.

This is helpful because there is a part of our brain called the hippocampus that is responsible for our spatial memory. It keeps track of the location of things. And while the hippocampus is good with things that do not move, it is not so good with things that move.

This is why it is nice to have a space like that in your house where you can keep things that you are most likely to lose.

Moreover, it is important to remember that when we are stressed, we are not at our best abilities, so it is crucial to put our systems in place. This is because of the cortisol which is released when we are under stress. Cortisol is toxic, and it clouds our perception and thinking.

And there is probably no more stressful a situation than when we are faced with a medical decision that we need to make. And at some point, all of us are going to be in this situation when we must decide about the future of our medical care or that of a loved one.

In that situation, when a doctor suggests you a drug, it is important to ask him: How many people have to take the medicine before someone is helped?

According to research by Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband, the number is three hundred. Moreover, 90% of the drugs work in only 30% – 50% of the people.

Plus, you should ask your doctor about the possible side effects of the drug.  

The idea of pre-mortem is to think ahead of time about the questions that you might be able to ask that will push the conversation forward. This is true also for financial decision-making, social decision-making – and any kind of decision that you need to make.

Frequently, you have a choice: Do you want a shorter life that is free from pain, or a longer life that could have a large amount of pain toward the end? These are things you need to talk and think about with your loved ones.

And remember that when you are under stress, your brain releases cortisol which makes many systems to shut down.

The reason for this is evolutionary. When we are face-to-face with a predator, we do not need our libido, or our digestive system, or our immune system; because if our body expends metabolism on those things and we are not able to react rapidly, we might become the predator’s lunch, and then all those things cease to matter.

Unluckily, the thing that goes out the window during the stressful times is our ability to think rationally. And this is why it is so important to think ahead about these kinds of situations.  

Finally, we are all flawed. We are all going to make mistakes and fail from time to time.

However, when we are able to look and think ahead to what those failures could be, and try to put our systems in place – we could minimize the damage, or even stop the bad things from happening in the first place.