“YOU LIKE THAT!” Do some High Stakes Performers respond differently to overarousal? By Lorie Hood

Kirk Cousins is a High Stakes Performer. There I said it.

I have been watching Cousins and his performance for a long time. He is what I call a disparate High Stakes Performer (dHSP) meaning that his development has been qualitatively different that of most High Stakes Performers (HSP). So what is different about Kirk Cousins? He has had a more difficult time training and un-training his reptilian brain than many QB’s his age. The good news? If he remains healthy and takes advantage of the latest science on training and un-training (what I call “training around”) his reptilian brain, he will only get better (and better, and better).

So, why has Cousins had more difficulty maintaining an optimal level of arousal? Most likely because his line between optimal arousal and over arousal is very thin. And why is his line between optimal-arousal and over-arousal so thin?  There could be myriad reasons, however, the reasons aren’t as important as the difference it necessitates in his training. Getting to his reptilian brain and engaging it differently will be the key to Cousins meeting his potential.

The current research in neurobiology, psychology and human performance shows that the shape of a specific individual’s arousal-performance curve depends on intervening variables. This is much more nuanced than the long-standing (yet still very relevant) model published over a century ago (Yerkes and Dodson 1908). Some of the “intervening variables” that has been identified in the trauma and human performance research literature impact how quickly an individual responds to stress (becomes aroused), how high their arousal peaks and how slowly it returns to normal. This has huge implications on training and performance.

Who are the other QB’s who have likely struggled with this same issue? They are Dan Marino, Tony Romo, Boomer Esiason, Joe Montana, Steve McNair, and Ken Stabler. Who are those who may have benefited from paying closer attention to their optimal level of arousal and training their reptilian brains differently? They are Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Chad PenningtonJeff Garcia, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Ryan.

Interestingly, a number of these quarterbacks were not immediate starters in the NFL however, once they did become starters they improved quickly. Perhaps the psychological benefit of becoming a starting QB and the support that came with it leveled their arousal curve and allowed them to play more often within their optimal level of arousal.


Diamond, D. M. (2005). Cognitive, Endocrine and Mechanistic Perspectives on Non-Linear Relationships Between Arousal and Brain Function. Nonlinearity in Biology, Toxicology, Medicine, 3(1), 1–7. http://doi.org/10.2201/nonlin.003.01.001

How Long Does It Take Great Quarterbacks To Break out?



If You Really Listen: A message from a critically ill child – By Lorie Hood


If you really listen you can hear me. If you look beyond what your eyes are telling you and what you think I need, you can see me. I know it’s hard because I know how much you love me. I know how much you need me but you see, right now, I need you.

I need you to remember that there is a me. Yes, I came through you and in this world you and I are connected but I am not you.

Don’t lose me. Don’t lose me in your pain and fear. Don’t let me become another expression of your needs or perceived failures. Try, please try.

Try to see past the blinking lights and monitors; the therapists and nurses. Try to see me. I am looking for you and I am trying to help you see me. I am not just this body with its secretions to be suctioned and lungs that need to be thumped and forced to cough. I am not just my cancer that may or may not come back. I am not just the child on whom you calculate odds so you can plan your life or your grief. I am here and I am trying so hard to communicate with you.

Look at me. Look at ME. Not my body, not my hand or mouth or other part that needs attention. Look into my eyes and let me look back. I need to look back. I need see that you see me.

Listen with your eyes. Listen with everything. Listen carefully with all of your senses. I am trying to communicate all the time. I am forcing myself to stay awake despite being so sleepy. I am forcing myself to stay awake just so I can catch your eye but when I do, it’s only for a second and you flit away to attend to another body part of mine or monitor or to discuss me or my progress with someone else.

Please listen. Please see me. I miss you and I feel so alone.

Making Art Reduces Stress Hormones For Everyone


Whether you’re a stick-figure sketcher, or a Leonardo da Vinci, creating art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body, according to a new study from Drexel University.

Researchers from Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions thought that past experience in creating art might amplify the activity’s stress-reducing effects, but their study found that everyone seems to benefit equally.

Girija Kaimal, EdD, assistant professor of creative arts therapies, said:

“It was surprising and it also wasn’t. It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting.

That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”


Biomarkers are biological indicators, like hormones, that can be used to measure conditions in the body, such as stress.

Cortisol was one such the hormone measured in the study through saliva samples. The higher a person’s cortisol level, the more stressed a person is likely to be.

For Kaimal’s study, 39 adults, ranging from 18 to 59 years old, were invited to participate in 45 minutes of art-making. Cortisol levels were taken before and after the art-making period.

Materials available to the participants included markers and paper, modeling clay and collage materials. There were no directions given and every participant could use any of the materials they chose to create any work of art they desired.

An art therapist was present during the activity to help if the participant requested any.

Of those who took part in the study, just under half reported that they had limited experience in making art.


The researchers found that 75 percent of the participants’ cortisol levels lowered during their 45 minutes of making art. And while there was some variation in how much cortisol levels lowered, there was no correlation between past art experiences and lower levels.

Written testimonies of their experiences afterward revealed how the participants felt about the creating art.

“It was very relaxing,” one wrote. “After about five minutes, I felt less anxious. I was able to obsess less about things that I had not done or need [ed] to get done. Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective.”

However, roughly 25 percent of the participants actually registered higher levels of cortisol — though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Some amount of cortisol is essential for functioning,” Kaimal explained. “For example, our cortisol levels vary throughout the day — levels are highest in the morning because that gives us an energy boost to us going at the start of the day. It could’ve been that the art-making resulted in a state of arousal and/or engagement in the study’s participants.”


Kaimal and her team believed, going into the study, that the type of art materials used by participants might affect cortisol levels. They thought that the less-structured mediums, using clay or drawing with markers, would result in lower cortisol levels than the structured, collaging.

That, however, wasn’t supported by the results, as no significant correlation was found.

The study did find a weak correlation between age and lower cortisol levels. Younger participants exhibited consistently lower cortisol levels after they’d created art.

Those results made Kaimal wonder about how young college students and high school students deal with the stress that comes from academia, and how creative arts can help.

“I think one reason might be that younger people are developmentally still figuring out ways to deal with stress and challenges, while older individuals – just from having lived life and being older – might have more strategies to problem-solve and manage stress more effectively,” Kaimal said.

Kaimal plans to extend the study to explore whether “creative self- expression in a therapeutic environment can help reduce stress.” In that study, other biomarkers like alpha amylase and oxytocin will also be measured to give a more comprehensive picture.

Additionally, Kaimal also plans to study how visual arts-based expression affects end-of-life patients and their caregivers.

By:  June 16, 2016

Girija Kaimal, Kendra Ray, Juan Muniz
Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making
Art Therapy, 2016; 33 (2): 74 DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832

The New Nightcap

Ahh, the nightcap. Seems to help you relax and fall asleep but research shows that alcohol actually disrupts sleep. A new review of 27 studies shows that alcohol does not improve sleep quality. According to the findings, alcohol does allow healthy people to fall asleep quicker but it reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. I addition, “We don’t just need sleep, we need high quality sleep” says Lorie Hood who is a human performance researcher. “REM sleep is more mentally restorative and is crucial not only to performance but to basic health, states Hood.


Alcohol tricks people into thinking they are getting better sleep, says Scott Krakower, DO who is an addiction specialist. “People who drink alcohol often think their sleep is improved, but it is not.”

So, what’s a sleep starved gal or guy to do?

Try this blended chamomile latte for a nightcap that actually works.

It packs several ingredients that help promote a good night’s sleep. Chamomile tea is an evidence-based remedy for insomnia. Cherries provide melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel sleepy. And coconut oil and almond butter give us stable blood sugar overnight while almond butter has the added benefit of magnesium and tryptophan to promote sleepiness. Collagen and raw honey can also help us sleep through the night.



  • Freshly brewed chamomile tea
  • Optional: add cinnamon, cloves, and star anise to the tea
  • ¼ cup frozen organic cherries
  • 1 tablespoon sprouted almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon collagen
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon raw honey

Step 1: Brew your chamomile tea. Add cinnamon, clove, and star anise to the tea mixture.

Step 2: While your tea is brewing, add the cherries. You can also buy cherry juice concentrate. Hood recommends Montmorency cherries for their higher concentrations of melatonin and what studies suggest are anti-cancer properties. Add almond butter, coconut oil and collagen to the blender.

Step 3: Once your tea has steeped for a few minutes, add it to the blender and blend.

Optional Step 4: Sprinkle your finished latte with cinnamon powder.