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Headed Out

Optimize Blog - April 24, 2015 - 0 comments

Ever felt that there is so much going on that your head is about to explode? Well believe it or not, Exploding Head Syndrome is a real condition!
The physician Silas Weir Mitchell first described the disorder in 1876, when he described two men who suffered from what he called “sensory discharges” – the men themselves described it as hearing “loud bells” or a “gunshot” that would wake them from sleep.
But despite its provocative and intriguing name, there has been relatively little research into the disorder. However it appears that it may not be as rare as we might think with some surveys showing up to 18% of people having experienced the condition.
It’s strange, unpleasant and surprisingly common. Recently a man whose head regularly ‘explodes’ described it like this – “There’s this sudden crescendo of noise, then a profound and jarring explosion of sound, electrical fizzing and a bright flash in my vision, like someone has lit a spotlight in front of my face.” Others describe it as like a bomb going off next to their head as they fall asleep. Sometimes it occurs just once in a lifetime, for others it happens multiple times a night.
Theories about the cause of an exploding head are speculative, but the most compelling theory comes from a handful of studies in which people with the condition have had their brain activity monitored overnight. These studies suggest that there may be a burst of neural activity in the brain that coincides with the reported explosion.
Apparently the key is the alpha brainwaves that are normally responsible for drowsiness, and a sudden burst of neural activity in the areas of the brain responsible for processing sound. The thinking is that perhaps the neurons are all firing at once, which results in the sensation of an explosion in your head.
All fascinating stuff but most of us fortunately don’t suffer the real thing but rather the virtual head explosion from the myriad of data we have to sift through on a daily basis. The barrage of information confronting us every minute has our brains working ever harder to keep up. As leaders, managing complexity is very much a critical role that we need to perform.
Our brain has an almost incomprehensible amount of data that it needs to process and those trillions of cells are being asked to work ever harder. The frontal lobes of our brain are the areas where this decision making takes place and as long as they stay in control and can process all this data effectively, then we are able to function appropriately.
Yet just below our frontal lobes lurks the area of the brain concerned with survival. These areas govern our primitive functions – sleep, hunger, breathing, heart rate and so on. When our frontal lobes are coping with the data presented these areas send positive messages – excitement, motivation, satisfaction. However, when you experience information complexity overload your brain begins to panic and those areas below your frontal lobes start to send a different type of message.
In primitive terms these areas may as well assume that you are being stalked by some ferocious predator – it determines your inability to process the data as fear – hence the rapid transition to survival mode. But in our working life where the job is becoming a little overwhelming you could do with some clarity of thought to handle the complexity rather than the urge to run away. But those frontal lobes are trained not to ignore the panic signals and your brain starts to lose its ability to think clearly.
To help your frontal lobes stay in control, you need to break up complex tasks into smaller ones, don’t allow yourself to be sucked into a maelstrom of emails and telephone calls, attend to critical tasks and prioritize.
So next time your head feels like it’s about to explode, take time to think and plan. Prioritize ruthlessly and focus on the important without being distracted by the urgent. If all else fails……take an aspirin.

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