Your Home Office Can Kill Your Brain

I was talking with one of my colleagues on the phone – another work-from-homer – and she’d mentioned that she’d just got done dancing? Dancing? Yeah, to wake myself up in the afternoon lull I do some dancing in my home office.
I forgot that I could dance.
I know that if I were to enter the corporate office environment again that I’d probably ‘live it up’ the last few days by dancing and seeing movies all day to work at night. Stuff like that. But I’ve been working from home now for four years so after awhile you’re new work habits become… well, habits.
Kathy points us to an article in Seed magazine about Princeton scientist Elizabeth Gould who found that primates brain grow new neurons – flying in the face of a centruy of research that primates (and humans) are born with a all their brain cells from the start. My favorite part is when Gould figures out why the primates they usually study don’t show this activity. Snippets that blow my mind:

Put a primate under stressful conditions, and its brain begins to starve. It stops creating new cells. The cells it already has retreat inwards. The mind is disfigured.

Imagine what too much caffeine or harder substances can do if you’re constantly on an adrenaline or uber-happy high.

Gould’s work implies that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. Poverty and stress aren’t just an idea: they are an anatomy. Some brains never even have a chance.

I’ve often thought about poverty as ultimately a poverty of options. That not seeing any options or possibilities in front of you causes you entire worldview to shrink. (I’m by no means negating the socio-economic structures that prevent economic mobility)

As Christian Mirescu, one of Gould’s post-docs, put it, “When a brain is worried, it’s just thinking about survival. It isn’t interested in investing in new cells for the future.”

I’ve become pretty forgetful as all this book stuff starts to churn – yes, I have a lot on my mind – but maybe the added stress and worry are actually harming my neurons.
Gould also spends a lot of time researching the serotonergic theory behind anti-depressants and why does it take a month for anti-depressants to take full effect.

The theory is appealingly simple: sadness is simply a shortage of chemical happiness. The typical antidepressant—like Prozac or Zoloft—works by increasing the brain’s access to serotonin. Unfortunately, the serotonergic hypothesis is mostly wrong. After all, within hours of swallowing an antidepressant, the brain is flushed with excess serotonin. Yet nothing happens; the patient is no less depressed. Weeks pass drearily by. Finally, after a month or two of this agony, the torpor begins to lift.

Time for those full-spectrum lamps:

What water and sun do for trees, trophic factors do for brain cells. Depression was like an extended drought: It deprived neurons of the sustenance they need.

I LOVE THIS:

Perhaps the time lag of antidepressants was simply the time it took for new cells to be created.

This explains why anti-depressants combined with therapy work better than just meds alone.

The realization that typical laboratory conditions are debilitating for animals has been one of the accidental discoveries of the neurogenesis field.

Talk about obvious and yet overlooked. Unstimulating environments for your subjects or test lab animals skews your data.
Which probably explains why I should move my computer desk every 2 months. And have something to look at above my desk besides a blank wall.
I found this article from a MeFi discussion about CNN’s story about the creator of the cubicle’s original intentions – large workspaces – being perverted by economics to become veal stalls.
Anyway – back to dancing. I resolve to put on some Prince and dance for a good five minutes as a break today. Preferably to the songs ‘7’, ‘Gitt Off’ and ‘Sexy MF’ and while dancing with the cat who will think I finally lost that last marble.
Don’t forget that you can dance, too. If you work at home, close the door and shake it. If you work in an office, go to an empty conference room and do your best krumping.

10 thoughts on “Your Home Office Can Kill Your Brain

  1. Adam

    Andy,
    Great blog! I just quit my job a month ago and am working from home for an extended time for the first time. I’m just curious – do you ever work remotely? It seems like going to a few different cafe’s, libraries, etc with wireless once or twice a week might help. Regular visits to those places seem to be in my future because the scenery definintely gets boring at home!

    Reply
  2. Tris Hussey

    Hear, hear! I’ve been working from home for 6 years now and sometimes I forget that … hey walking around the block for a break is a good thing (and when I often do a podcast).
    The downside is for me that I can find myself stuck in the house for days without being face to face with another person.
    Let’s see if I can get the kids to dance to some Black Eyed Peas or Natasha Bedingfield before lunch!

    Reply
  3. Patsi Krakoff

    Hi, Andy. Yes, take your brain out for a walk, play some tennis – oh! Sorry, forgot you’re in Chicago and not San Diego. So true, trust me; the brain can regenerate, but not without your help. Medications, legal or otherwise can stimulate your brain, but now without side-effects… The best jump start and antidote to stagnation, & depression, is exercise. Boogy on. The other thing it needs is novelty…new challenges. But if you’re writing a book, well, there’s just no help for you. Stay indoors and write. I’ve got a blog about the brain and all the neat things they are discovering about how it works, but don’t go there, you’ve got to keep your nose to your grindstone, inbetween songs, of course. Oh, the other reason is takes a while for antidepressants to work is that the receptors for happiness neurotransmitters get dried up and have to regenerate themselves…can’t do this overnight. Now if depressed people would just start dancing…Next week is national Brain Awareness Week, so start celebrating now.

    Reply
  4. Lyle Lachmuth

    Or, you could just move your phone to the other side of your desk every month or so.
    Or, try the ideas in “Keep Your Brain Alive” by Lawrence Katz and Manning Rubin
    L

    Reply
  5. Dee

    Andy, This is the first time I have visited your site (Solo-E link)and this very same research (the original article I think) was recently sent to me in reference to a different context. I found it quite fascinating! Thanks for getting it out there for others to ponder.
    Dee

    Reply
  6. Michele

    Dance the day away. I love the part about the primates. Years ago when I started my first interior design company I worked from home. I thought I’d go nuts the day I had the client on the phone, the dog was barking at the UPS man at my door. No computers back then, all drafting by hand…and the isolation was enough to drive me out of the home and into an office. DFBD…Dancing for brain cells. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Lynn Terry

    Prince?? Krumping?? LOL! This was a great post, haha
    I can relate to your work-at-home friend, as I will often dance or hop on the Gazelle for a break from sitting on long work days. Long work days are rare anymore (Hooray for Passive Income! lol) but sometimes you have to have one just because the breaks are so fun 😉
    And I cant laugh at your music choices – I’m likely to be dancing to anything from Black Eyed Peas to Johnny Cash haha
    Have a good one!
    Lynn Terry

    Reply
  8. Lynn Terry

    On a more serious note, I found the notes here to be quite interesting. After having been in a home-office environment for almost 10 years now… these are the things I do to resolve “cabin fever” and “brain mush”:
    – Grab your laptop and work out on the patio!
    – Open doors & windows for fresh air (and so you can actually hear that there IS a real world out there!)
    – Get involved locally. If you have kids, encourage them to play softball (ball parks are fun!!). Find a church you like. Join a local aerobics class, or sign up for a creative writing class at the community college. ANYTHING, just put youself out there once or twice a week.
    – Meet a friend for lunch. One that doesnt have a clue about this web stuff, that forces you to make conversation about other things altogether.
    – Go to conferences & seminars. Check out PubCon, SES, etc. Educational, insanely motivating, FUN… and a tax write-off to boot 😀

    Reply

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