I’m a reader – of magazines, newspapers, books, anything interesting about people and about the world. Part of this comes from my having an interest, as a child, in everything from insects to magic. But a big part is my profession. As a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana for more than twenty years, I’ve dealt with literally tens of thousands of people who, in turn, were involved in tens of thousands of different situations. Learning as much as I can about how people react to stress helps me help my bankruptcy clients deal with the decisions they need to make, often under pressure.

The other day I came across an article in, of all places, Harvard Business Review called “The Science of Thinking Smarter”. I found so much in this article that is relevant to my work, it was unbelievable. The writer is brain expert John Medina, a research h consultant to pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms on mental health issues.

Usually, by the time I find people sitting across the table from me in one of my four Indiana bankruptcy law offices, their stress levels have been climbing for months, if not years. As their debt counselor, it’s time for me to discuss all their options with them. They need, to put it unscientifically, a “clear head” to deal with their financial realities. But, according to John Medina, brain research is pretty clear that our brains, particularly under stress, aren’t clear at all. Under stress, our brains aren’t interested in reality; our brains are interested in survival! So the brain, explains Medina, will actually change a person’s perception of reality to stay in survival mode.

This information about how the brain works under stress is just one crucial tidbit I learned from the article, and I’ll probably refer back to Medina’s words in later blogs. But there are two points I need to make now about the connection between brain science and bankruptcy. First of all, preparing to file bankruptcy involves gathering information. Since, as we learned, when matters have reached emergency status, it is not a good time for recalling and organizing information, it would definitely have been a good idea to have kept good financial records all along, even while dealing with financial stress. What do I mean? The moment you begin to make only minimum payments on credit cards, the moment you’re deciding each month which bills get paid and which can wait a month, if you haven’t already been doing this, start keeping a list of all the bills that come in, which you paid and when, whether you paid them early, on time, or late.

Second, as I’ve said in earlier blogs, if a financial adviser such as a bankruptcy attorney, can help, the sooner you seek out that help and get started planning a strategy, the better. I’m certainly no scientist, but what Medina has to say in Harvard Buisness Review really agrees with what I’ve found in my own work. Confronting financial problems takes brainwork, and the our heads are clearest when we’re not in SOS emergency mode.