I spoke to an audience of women recently about selfcare. Many in the audience were mothers. We talked about the challenges of motherhood and how some challenges are made worse by the stories we tell ourselves.
I asked these women how many of them tell themselves the story that they “don’t have time for selfcare.” Nearly every hand went up.
Somehow many women received the message that to be a woman, wife or mother means you must give your time to your family, friends, kids, partner or spouse, and your job until you collapse.
I mused that the gold standard woman/mom badge means doing everything for others at one’s own expense of ignoring selfcare. This has been the unspoken expectation for many women sometimes as a result of early childhood learning and messaging, and sometimes self imposed, or both.
One of the problems with a lack of selfcare is it’s bad for our health, immune system, energy levels and bad for our brain. (This is true for men and women alike.)
Our brain does not care that you are going for the mom/ greatest worker/best wife or partner badge. It does not care that you equate self-esteem with being busy and doing too much.
Our brain and body need what they need. If we want the best life possible – we need the best brain.
For such an integral part of our body – our brain, i.e., command central – it is surprising that so little is spoken of it, and it’s thought about even less.
Rarely do most of us stop to question, what have I done for my brain health today?
And yet, the health of our brain, as well as the health of our thoughts is often the difference between health or sickness, energy or fatigue, clarity or confusion, chaos or calm, and happiness or unhappiness…
Command central ought to be front and center. Our brain deserves a lot more attention and care than we realize. So, if you are ready to embark on some new adventures and abandon the old scripts that no longer serve you, here’s some ideas to form new brain health habits.
1. Foods good for your body are also good for your brain. Consider that when you eat good fats; fish, avocado, nuts, as well as plenty of plant-based foods, this is also great for your brain health. Additionally, avoiding or minimizing sugar, processed foods, fast foods, all of which are nutritionally devoid, is also beneficial. In the US, avoiding anything with gluten is wise as gluten sparks an inflammatory response. If there is inflammation in the body, there is inflammation in the brain. Eat more of the good stuff and less of the bad.
2. Get those ZZZZZZZ’s . We know that sleeping soundly for the same number of hours nightly is good for the body and the brain. Aiming for 7-8 hours is the average amount of sleep most adults need. Research tells us that sleeping less than 6 hours reduces blood flow to the brain – something that is crucial for good brain function.
3. Move your body daily doing something fun. You may have heard it said that prolonged sitting is just as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes. We know it’s bad for the brain too. When we move our body engaging in some form of fitness we benefit from the increased blood flow as well as having our brain bathed in “happy” neurochemicals. This improves energy, mood, cognitive function and helps us enjoy a better brain.
4. Learn something new-often! Like the old adage “use it or lose it” we keep our brain sharp when we make it work. Reading, learning to dance, playing an instrument or learning another language are all great ways to challenge our brain and keep it spry. And if we are doing something enjoyable, we are producing dopamine, which is involved in novel experiences. If we are having fun while doing something new, we are also more likely to be motivated to repeat that experience. Win-win.
5. Learn to question your thoughts. Many of us do what we have always done based on the messaging we received growing up, the modeling we saw from our parents or older sibs, and the stories we have practiced thinking. The brain is not necessarily interested in the truth – our brain will believe whatever we tell it- especially if it’s a thought that gets repeated over time which occurs with rumination, an anxiety-driven behavior. Question your stories for accuracy.
6. Replace your inaccurate thoughts with more accurate ones. This takes practice and is a worthwhile exercise. If you grew up being told that you “never do anything right”, then replace that inaccurate thought with something more realistic and truthful. It might sound like “I’m going to try something new and enjoy the journey to see if I like it. I’ll practice if I want to get good at it.” The more we speak accurate thoughts to our brain, the more we form new neural pathways which help solidify the new message and behavior.
7. Be aware of and avoid toxins. Since toxins are all around us; in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the household and garden products we use, we need to take great care to clean out the old chemical-laden products and replace them with more natural ones. Our precious brain does not do well with toxins, especially an accumulation of them so avoid paint and tire stores, hair salons as well as eliminate harsh chemicals for the household and personal care products.
8. Be sure to get a diagnosis and treatment for any brain health/ mental health issues you may be experiencing. Things like depression, ADHD, or anxiety don’t just go away and rarely get better on their own. The sooner you get diagnosed and seek appropriate treatment, the sooner your brain can begin to heal and function better. Additionally, not all brain health issues require medications, so be sure to do your research once you are diagnosed to seek out alternative treatments that may offer less toxicity to regain brain health and function.
9. Take some necessary selfcare time. Brains need breaks. We all need time to pause, allow stress hormones to die down, and experience the feeling of calm.
Slowing down accesses your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as “rest and digest.” When we engage in selfcare such as reading, walking, hiking, getting a massage, or sipping a cup of hot tea, we produce different hormones than when we are rushing around, stressed and trying to get the next thing accomplished. When stressed, we are in our sympathetic nervous system which often manifests in shallow breathing, tight muscles, headaches or fatigue. Our body was not meant to stay in sympathetic mode longer than it takes to decide if you will flee from a tiger in the jungle or beat it over the head, yet many of us live in our sympathetic nervous system all day.
The beautiful thing about our brain is what neuroscientists refer to as neuroplasticity. It basically means we are not stuck with the brain we have! By cultivating these nine important brain-healthy habits, we can help ourselves improve our brain health and function daily.
The more we intentionally practice new brain habits, the more the old neural pathways break apart as they are no longer needed. The brain is always changing. Be intentional to shift your brain habits in the right direction and enjoy the benefits of knowing you are not leaving the quality of your life to chance.
You are in control of command central. Create a healthy brain for life!