So you think you’re in good shape?
You take care of your body and workout everyday (or most days). You do your cardio for the health of your heart. You lift weights to strengthen, tone and build your muscles. You may even do yoga to increase your flexibility. Eating clean is how you nourish yourself and keep the fat at bay. Good for you!
With all of this it might appear to the average onlooker that you really take good care of yourself. But do you?
Is it possible that you could be neglecting one of the most important parts of your body? Well, if your mental health is not on your list of priorities then you most definitely are.
Your brain is the power source of your entire body. The absolute motherboard of it all. Yet, so many of us neglect to train and keep this precious organ healthy.
Putting effort into making your body operate at its optimal level is a wonderful and commendable thing to do, but what about from the neck up? Think about how much of an impact your mental health plays on your day to day life. Without getting too technical, your brain is responsible for the motivation you need to get out of bed in the morning. It’s responsible for the ability of all movements of your body parts, your emotions, your memory, digestion and ummmmm……your breathing!
Need I speak more to the importance of maintenance to this priceless machine? I didn’t think so.
So, we now know that we’ve been neglecting a very significant portion of our being in our quest for overall health, but how can we start to take care of it so that it too, is as fit as the rest of the body?Below are a few ways that you can train your brain to be at its best.
1.) Mental breaks– Don’t ignore the signs of mental exhaustion. Your brain needs a rest every now and again too. If you are unable to jet set around the world and lounge on white sands, or relax in a hot spring in Iceland, don’t fret. Taking a simple day off from your normal routine (i.e. utilizing that personal day at work, taking your Saturday to do nothing at all, or even sitting still a while without worrying about the laundry, the bills or the roof caving in) can really give your mind an amazing and much needed reboost.
2.) Sleep– I know it seems like such a simple thing to do but most of us get way less sleep time than our brains require to properly function. So put down your cell phones and laptops, shut off your t.v. (matter-of-fact, get it out of your bedroom altogether) and get the most of those zzz’s.
3.) Speak to a professional– Address anxiety, depression, and any other mental disorders you believe you have with your doctor. Don’t just power through them. Know that it is normal to feel down at times, anxious at others and irritable too, but if the negatives outweigh the positives then it’s time to reach out for help.
4.) Challenge yourself– Learn something new everyday. Just because you’re a sports fanatic doesn’t mean you can’t dabble in the fine arts. If you love rock music try listening to some Bach or Beethoven every now and again. Turning off your usual Friday night viewing of Law & Order to see what the history channel has to offer might prove to be an interesting leap.
Keep your mind open to new things and old things alike. Break free from the monotony of your life and realize that there is a whole world of knowledge and exciting things that are yours for the taking.
5.) Read– Delving into a good book can actually provide a mental escape from whatever might be going on in your life at the time that seems like a bit too much to handle. It’s a mental transport to a different environment, one of your own choosing. Make it a good one!
6.) Laugh– Nothing feels better than a painful belly aching laugh. No matter what is going through your mind if you can laugh even a little you are giving your brain a moment of happiness. Talk to your funniest friend, put on your favorite sitcom or watch some good stand up. Smiling releases endorphins in the brain that literally tricks it into happiness.
7.) Unlearn Multitasking– Research shows that the brain is biologically incapable of focusing on more than one thing at a time. We just rapidly shift our focus from one thing to the next, making it appear that we are simultaneously concentrating on multiple thoughts when we are actually just dropping one and picking up the next.
Learning to complete each physical or mental task and focus entirely on it while doing so will be more beneficial to the outcome of whatever that task is. This in turn will also allow for our brain to have a little break from the incessant juggling. Remember, “a jack of all trades is a master of none”. One thing at a time!
8.) Acquire new info- Learn a new intstrument, pick up an old one, or discover a talent you never knew you had. Developing new abilities and learning new things literally changes brain functioning, rewires neurons, and improves memory.
9.) Find beauty in everything– Lets face it, everything is not entirely beautiful, but there is beauty in everything. Just the other night I was walking through a darkened littered tunnel over train tracks heading to my car after work. Coming out of the tunnel on either side of me was city junk. The subway cars covered in graffiti, trains and tracks, empty beer cans, rubbish everywhere and a typical dirty water filled channel underneath the bridge below my feet where the homeless find refuge along its rocky and debris filled shore. As I looked over into the murkiness below I saw two ducks side by side floating happily together as if they were basking in the sun while floating on a crystal clear lake up in the mountains instead of under a darkened night sky drifting along with pollution of every kind. They were at peace in their own beautiful way despite their surroundings. Their serenity reflected on to me, if only for a moment. This was a diamond in the rough kind of moment.
10.) Eliminate toxicity– Just as you would eliminate cheeseburgers and pizza from your diet, you should also eliminate any toxic relationships that you have for the sake of your mental well being. You don’t have to think too long or too hard to figure out who in your life leaves you feeling more depleted than fulfilled after even a simple conversation. Friends, foes, or family alike, everyone is human and all are subject to the traits that can make them toxic. Identify these people and distance yourself for your own sake.
11.) Replace the “C” in medication with a “T”– Of all the mentioned brain training activities on the list, this one is by far the most effective.
In medical science medication has its place and has helped numerous people with all types of disorders. Yet, it appears that more and more doctors these days would just assume dismiss you with a prescription (I like to think of this as “bandaiding” the bullet wound) instead of getting to the root of the problem and working on it from the inside out, healing the ailment.
This is where meditation comes into play. During meditation you are learning to calm your mind, sit with your thoughts, except things for what they are, releasing all expectations, and just being present in the moment. You learn to deal with internal and external conflicts with a more productive and rational approach.
Upon starting the practice it is very hard to silence the mind from the persistent thinking that it is so used to, but there are many helpful aids that you can use to assist you. The Internet is filled with all sorts of videos and audios of relaxing music and guided meditations.
12.) “Progress not perfection”– This last one I dedicate to someone I love very dearly. This amazing individual often replies to my possibly annoying and frequent reminders of behavioral change with the phrase “progress not perfection”.
In hearing this I am always reminded that perfection is unattainable and that as long as we know this we won’t get caught up in taxing and sometimes impossible expectations, relieving our minds of unnecessary stress. This a good way to remind your brain that you appreciate it and all that it does to keep your entire self whole and sustained.