December. It’s a month of family get-togethers, gifts, shopping, and let’s face it, that usually comes with a heightened feeling of anxiety. It’s a wonderful time of the year, but it’s hardly a month that we associate with rest and relaxation. During this busy month it’s important to remember that your brain needs balance and inner peace to keep it functioning at it’s best. While it’s good to actively “exercise” your brain, just like your body, your brain also needs periods of rest in order to recharge. This is because chronic stress is bad for the health of your brain, and peace and quiet helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Neuroscientists are now exploring both religious and non-religious forms of spirituality and how they affect the brain. Practicing meditation can help reduce depression, anxiety and stress, and researchers at the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia found that meditation can even specifically improve memory and concentration (Blumberg, 2014).
In addition to spiritual practices such as meditation, here are some other top tips to ease anxiety and find that inner peace and balance that your brain needs.
- Engage in daily prayer and/or practice complete forgiveness
- Engage in deep breathing (5 min. 3 times daily)
- Focus on and repeat positive ideas
- Practice yoga
- Engage in progressive muscle relaxation daily for 10 minutes (it’s pretty simple. First you deliberately tense your muscles and then simply relax them)
- Muscle relaxation is even more effective if you pair it with visualization and imagery techniques! (create a mental image of a peaceful or attractive environment)
- Give yourself 30 minutes a day to just stop and be at rest
- Play Fit Brains Emotional Intelligence games that are designed to help you assess your mood and put you in a positive state of mind.
What are your favorite techniques for reducing stress and anxiety during this busy time of the year? Share your comments with us!
Fit Brains. Brain Training Success.
- To reduce unhealthy stress levels, take up yoga, meditate, laugh, exercise, or care for a pet.
- The easiest way to challenge your brain is to choose a “word of the day” and then work the word into a conversation. Improving vocabulary is a great way to challenge your brain daily.
- Ten minutes of focusing on the positive and visualizing the future each day can change the way you look at life, opening your mind to new possibilities.
- Take advantage of your natural learning booster by believing something is important. If we try to learn without feeling interested, very little of that information will be saved in our memories. When we tell ourselves that what we’re learning is important, our brains join in, triggering our learning circuits.
- Try making a list of ten things you are thankful for – just doing this daily can make a big difference in your everyday attitude and help manage stress. There is a definite connection between healthy living and having a positive outlook on life.
Click here for more tips to encourage a Healthy Brain Lifestyle…
Spirituality has many meanings and it may mean something different to different people. I am referring to spirituality as one means of turning inward to a peaceful existence and to remove oneself from the hurried society that is modern life. Prayer/worship, meditation, and relaxation procedures are just three examples of spirituality.
Early research on the human brain exposed to life threatening stressors indicates there is similar damage to the hippocampus as is known to exist in animals. Also, humans with chronic anxiety have memory problems again supporting the negative effect of stress and uncontrolled anxiety on brain function.
Research and surveys have reported the following positive effects of spirituality on health:
- An enhanced immune system, the system that helps you defend against colds, flu, and other illnesses.
Reports of longer, happier and healthier lives.
- As part of the daily routine while in the hospital relates to an earlier discharge.
- According to a past Parade Magazine Survey, 95% of the physicians in the U.S. believe spirituality is important to the well-being of their patients.
to learn more about more about Spirituality and Brain Health
It is very hard not to appreciate the necessity of a higher being to the creation and existence of the human brain. Scientists have recently increased study of the relationship between a higher being, God, and the human brain. Why do patients with temporal lobe epilepsy or schizophrenia sometimes report hyper-religiosity, delusions of grandeur, and belief that they are God? Is there something about the Temporal Lobe and appreciation of God?
New research (see March Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) suggests that our own belief systems regarding God trigger different parts of the human brain. It appears that we use our cortex and higher order processing systems to think about God’s thoughts or emotions or even the metaphorical aspects of God or religion.
Of interest is the field of Neurotheology that studies the relationship between our belief systems and brain function. We most likely need to pay more attention to how religious beliefs and practices may help to promote quality of life and then integrate such practices into our standard prescribed health care therapies. For example, even in a brain ravaged with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) the person can sit still and appropriately for nearly 30 minutes to hear a religious service or mass, to sing religious hymns, and to pray. This activity soothes the agitated brain in ways some, if not most, medications do not.
Dr. Nussbaum has used this blog to articulate his five part brain health lifestyle for all to consider. These five components include Mental Stimulation (e.g. brain games), Physical Activity, Socialization, Spirituality, and Nutrition. Research has provided specific activities and behaviors that fall into one or more of the five components of the lifestyle. The critical thing for readers is to review their own lifestyle currently and try to incorporate the research based activities into a proactive approach to brain health.
Spirituality is a broad term that I use to refer to turning inward, slowing down, and introspecting. This process of slowing down may be important to brain health as research indicates animal brains stop developing when exposed to environments that are too stimulating. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are notorious for a fast-paced life with multitasking and stress production. While this type of lifestyle may be necessary at times, it also has its consequences, particularly on health.
Dr. Nussbaum supports 30 minutes a day to slow down, turn inward, and to simply turn off the environmental input. This might actually include turning your phone, ipod, and other communication device off! Research indicates slowing down can reduce stress which may then have positive effects on both the heart and the brain.
Daily prayer enhances the immune system, attending a formal place of worship relates to a longer and happier life, and U.S. physicians indicate prayer is important to the overall wellbeing to their patients. Meditation and relaxation procedures have also been shown to relate to positive health outcomes. These and other ways of simply slowing down are both advised and necessary.
Have a great night sleep!