I can recall sitting in psych classes at Bowling Green State University back in the early 80’s and hearing the professor basically say that people are just stuck with the brain they have. In other words, the teaching then was that brain plasticity – the brain’s ability to modify its connections or re-wire itself, was just not possible. I remember wondering what people were supposed to do that suffered with significant psychological issues that impaired their ability to think, work or have healthy relationships. It seemed a depressing piece of information.
Fast forward… the last 20+ years of neuroscience – brain research- tells us that our magnificent brains are plastic- and that we actually possess the power (with using the right tools) to greatly influence our brain’s rewiring process.
In laymen’s terms – you are not stuck with the brain you have! This is really great news, because you have been through a lot in the last year, and so has your brain.
Let’s talk about this in practical ways. Every time you’ve worried about catching the virus, losing your business or job, wondering if you can balance working from home and homeschooling kids, you likely felt the stress of those thoughts, and so did your brain.
Our brain has reserves- something we are born with, however things like brain injury, stress, toxins, poor diet, smoking, alcohol or drug overuse or abuse, lack of sleep, exercise or social support can deplete those reserves making our brain more vulnerable to the onslaught of stress that often coexists with challenging circumstances.
Think of your brain as a “reserve bank account”. If you make too many withdrawals- chronic distress, too much alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, lack of sleep, you may have felt the depletion from your bank.
Excessive “withdrawals” can manifest in everything from irritability, swings in blood sugar levels, anxiousness, worry, short attention span, high blood pressure, weight gain, inability to think straight (brain fog), memory issues and more.
The demands and distresses of the last year of the pandemic have created an even greater burden on our brains.
Here are some ways you can intervene to up the ante on your brain reserves, strengthen beneficial neural connections, extinguish the ones that are not serving you well, and improve your overall brain health and wellbeing.
Get Plenty of Shut Eye. In order to have good brain function, you need good blood flow which occurs when we get over 7 hours of sleep. Aim for 7.5 to 8 hours if you are an adult. Conversely, less than 6 hours or so of sleep, results in reduced blood flow which is bad for our brain so don’t skimp on sleep!
Get Moving- Movement is great for your brain. Any type of fitness that gets you up and going is great for enhancing blood flow, oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain. Additionally, exercise enhances BDNF- Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which is like fertilizer for your brain. BDNF enhances neuronal communication, promotes neuronal survival and improves learning.
Eat Healthy and Organic- Food is fuel, so every good thing you put in your body- lean sources of protein, organic plant based foods, adds a variety of nutrients which are good for your brain. Organic ensures you are not adding toxicity to your brain through ingesting hormones, pesticides and other poisons.
Engage in Mindfulness Practices- Take an intentional pause out of the routines of your day and engage with yourself, your senses and your surroundings to help your brain. Try pausing several times a day to breathe deeply, noticing the sights and smells around you. Prayer, Meditation, Yoga and Thai Chi, are all good ways to increase mindful states and become more fully present.
Mind Your Thinking- When you are aware that your thoughts are going down the dark road of negativity, criticalness, worry or anxiety, see if you can catch them. Then acknowledge what you are feeling and show yourself some compassion. Additionally, practice questioning your thoughts frequently to stop ruminating over thoughts that drag you down. Ask yourself- is that thought really true? Can I know with 100% certainty that thought is true? Then consider some additional possibilities.
If you want to experience life with better health, job performance, satisfying relationships, joy and fulfillment, striving to improve your brain health ought to be at the top of the list.
Want to know more? Give us a shout at Lesli@livewellkitsap.com or meet us in the community group to continue the conversation.