Heartstyles blog

Brain drain: What is it and how do you beat it?


Dr. Mara Klemich – Founder & Consulting Psychologist

At Heartstyles we talk a lot about the mental processes you can use to be at your best as often as possible. But we know full well that mental processes usually hinge on physical ones. Brain drain is a case in point...

Feeling threatened

There are all kinds of situations in which we might feel threatened. Some involve a threat to our actual safety, in other cases it could be that we feel attacked in a social or professional sense.

Unfortunately, when we feel threatened - regardless of the kind of threat in question - the physiological response we go through is largely the same. Blood is redirected away from the neocortex (which is the part of the brain that deals with logical analysis) and our heart rate increases. Our perception also narrows, both in terms of sight (we lose some of our peripheral vision) and mental focus, with the release of the stress hormone cortisol making concentration and problem solving much harder.

This 'fight or flight' response is really useful if, for example, you need to escape imminent danger. It's less helpful if it kicks in while you're giving a presentation and your boss interrupts with an unexpected question. In fact, it's just about the last thing you need...

Taking back control?

The most important thing to do is recognise that something is amiss. If you feel badly flustered, don't ignore the feeling. Acknowledge it. Unless you make that vital first step, it'll be very hard to get back on track.

After that, the most important thing you can do is nothing at all. Just stop, if only for a few seconds.

Depending on the situation, you might be wary of doing this. In scenarios such as a presentation, it's easy to fall into the trap of simply ploughing ahead. But trust us. We know from (not all that pleasant) experience, that this will only make the effects of 'brain drain' worse. So...




Next, you need to breathe. Getting oxygen back into the blood will counter some of the physical effects, and help get the neocortex back into the equation as you gather your thoughts.

After this, you'll be better equipped to start analysing the situation and formulating an appropriate response. Try to be as objective as possible - stepping away from any feeling of personal threat. This will help you see things logically, but will also go a long way to helping you remain tactful too. That's important, because when you do react, you need to be mindful not only of what you say, but also how you say it - including your body language.

So, in review:

·       Stop

·       Breathe

·       Think

·       Behave

Next time you're in a situation that triggers the symptoms of brain drain (hopefully not to soon) be sure to follow these steps.

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