stress + swiss cheese on rye

June 30, 2011

words of wisdom
thank you all for your comments yesterday — from deep thoughts on the dangers of distraction in our society [more on that later] to car-detailing tips. josh ended up taking the car to a detailer, but instead of offering to do the job, they basically talked him through doing it himself. and therefore, the entire interior of the car has now been partially disassembled by someone much more used to removing gall bladders than car seats. but he assures me this will all turn out okay. and i have to say, it does seem to have dried off pretty nicely.

why yes, that would be the drivers’s seat on the floor of our apartment. why do you ask?
on distraction: read at your own risk
yesterday, reader jane left a comment warning of the potential dire consequences of distraction — you can read this terrifying article about parents who accidentally left children in hot cars to perish here. reading it chilled me to the bone and sent me into tears in front of my laptop, in part because it was just disturbing to read, and also because i thought about how the swiss cheese effect had impacted me over the past month and yet how much WORSE the outcomes could have been [i could have hurt someone in the car accident, for example].

one interesting [and potentially useful] piece of the article discussed the factors that have led to outcomes much more catastrophic than what my experiences have been. here’s an excerpt:

Diamond [molecular physiologist and memory expert] says that in situations involving familiar, routine motor skills, the human animal presses the basal ganglia into service as a sort of auxiliary autopilot. When our prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are planning our day on the way to work, the ignorant but efficient basal ganglia is operating the car; that’s why you’ll sometimes find yourself having driven from point A to point B without a clear recollection of the route you took, the turns you made or the scenery you saw.

Ordinarily, says Diamond, this delegation of duty “works beautifully, like a symphony. But sometimes, it turns into the ‘1812 Overture.’ The cannons take over and overwhelm.”

By experimentally exposing rats to the presence of cats, and then recording electrochemical changes in the rodents’ brains, Diamond has found that stress — either sudden or chronic — can weaken the brain’s higher-functioning centers, making them more susceptible to bullying from the basal ganglia. He’s seen the same sort of thing play out in cases he’s followed involving infant deaths in cars.

“The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant,” he said. “The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted — such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back — it can entirely disappear.”

lack of sleep
change in routine

[in my case, the answers to these questions are: yes, yes, somewhat yes, and HELL YES]

the solution?

not necessarily so simple. but, i’ll keep working on it.

in less macabre news . . .
my long-awaited cookbook came:

the beautiful illustrations and simple-yet-delicious-sounding recipes took me away from the cares of the day for a few moments last night. i am so excited and do plan to go through all of the recipes in this cookbook. unlike the martha project, i am not going to exclude all other recipe sources while i go through this book — i think that could potentially get a little bit monotonous, and while this book is entirely vegetarian, we are not.

and i need to leave room in my cooking agenda to incorporate cooking light gems like this one:

shrimp + basil panzanella
ripe tomatoes. basil from our ‘garden’ [fine, it’s a plant from whole foods sitting on our windowsill in a pot, all right?]. succulent shrimp and crusty bread. almost enough to make me forget about . . . well, what i forgot. almost.

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