L O V E. This month somehow requires me to address this topic right?! Writings on ‘self-love’ have most definitely saturated marketing, blogs, magazines and social media worldwide during the past weeks, so I’ve been led to take a slightly different angle this time. An area and a perspective that is growing people’s curiosity daily.
Now I’m not an expert with my own original research in this field, but I have passionately studied a number of other world-renowned experts in this field for a number of years now. Along my journey I have discovered some very simple, yet profoundly effective tips and recommendations common to them all – all based on research evidence over extended periods of time.
So I’m going to share in brief 7 tips right here that, when applied consistently, will help you on your way to better brain-wellbeing. This particular summary of tips originates from Dr Sarah McKay, an Australian neuroscientist, who is doing incredible work in the field of neuroscience. I have also added some of my own thoughts, ideas and experiences in the tips to follow.
Sleep, good sleep every night is something to be considered a priority, not a mere luxury. I know as a mum I can absolutely attest to how differently I feel once I’ve had a run of good, solid nights sleeps.
Research has shown that even just a few hours of sleep deprivation per night can have a significant impact on our thinking, our mood, our ability to remember and recall even the simplest of things, and ultimately it can lead to chronic disease. But I also know how sometimes there are situations when our sleep is interrupted that are outside of our control (ie unsettled babies, night feeding routines, waking children etc). This is where a good ‘nana nap’ during the day can also do us the world of good!
In recent years I have personally journeyed through chronic disease myself, which sleep deprivation played a huge part in. Thankfully, I can say that I have found my way back to health, and now place incredible value on a regular good night’s sleep.
Amongst many neuroscientists it is agreed that the best exercise for your brain is actually physical exercise. Doing this DAILY actually increases blood flow to our brain, which in turn reduces our risk of many chronic lifestyle diseases, including dementia, and plays an enormous role as a natural anti-depressant, and mood regulator.
I value a regular morning movement routine which ‘wakes up’ my body and sets a positive tone for my day. I am always grateful for pushing myself through the ‘tiredness’ I might wake with at times. It gets those ‘happy hormones’ flowing, allowing me to be ready for whatever my day brings.
A happy, healthy brain is dependent on a well-nourished body. There is a great deal of advice around to help with educating ourselves in understanding good nutrition. It makes sense that a largely whole-food, mostly plant-based diet, with some meat and good fats makes for optimal brain health. It is even said that coffee and wine in moderation actually help prevent cognitive decline and memory loss!
My naturopath has been such a God-send to me as I’ve been on my ‘healing journey’ from chronic illness. Her evidence-based knowledge and understanding of the human body, and the effects of different foods, herbs, vitamins on my body etc have helped me more than I could ever have known possible. Her motto, “Food is medicine”, is one I’ve adopted myself as I continue to move forward into a place of optimal health.
Finding a moment of ‘calm’ in our everyday cannot be emphasized enough. Life for most of us moves along at a relatively relentless pace in this modern world. So it’s important for us to be ‘intentional’ about factoring those moments into our day to keep all of that excess stress hormone from flooding our brain and body, which in turn affects our ability to function at an optimal level.
Now please understand that not all stress is bad, but chronic stress, especially life events that may often be out of our control, can actually change the wiring of our brain, which in turn can significantly reduce our ability to learn and remember.
So find something you enjoy doing, something pleasurable. Whether it be reading a book, taking a walk or a nap, practicing mindfulness, prayer or meditation. The most pleasure can be found in doing something you’re actually quite good at, but that also carries some degree of challenge for you.
Regardless of who we are and what personality type we identify with, we are all born with a fundamental need for human warmth and connection. Again, research worldwide has proven time and time again that having supportive friends, family and/or social connections in your world can help you live longer, happier and healthier lives. Healthy social interaction reduces the effects of stress. It also demands many complex functions such as thinking, feeling, sensing, reasoning and intuition. Loneliness and social isolation have shown to have comparable impacts on health and survival as smoking.
Each of us will have a different abilities and capacities when it comes to connecting with people. Although we’re designed to be in healthy connection with others, that will look different for everyone. Personality does play into this. But if you find yourself isolated and feeling alone more often than not, there are deeper things that need to be explored for you to find warmth and connection in human company again.
Keeping our brains mentally active, regularly challenging our minds with ongoing education and mentally challenging work actually helps to build our cognitive reserve, so that if any brain cells are damaged or die, we have a greater reserve to draw on.
Choosing mentally challenging activities that you can practice regularly, with some level of complexity that takes you out of your comfort zone, will help to keep your brain active.
Personally, I never want to stop learning. I don’t think I could. I value what learning brings to my world, – new perspectives, new understandings, new skills and new opportunities – and I’m also passionate about modelling that to my children so they have the tools they need to live their best lives.
This one may be the last on this list of tips, but I wholeheartedly and passionately agree that one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and our wellbeing is to set out to discover our purpose in life – our passion, our calling etc. Research again has confirmed that people who rate high in knowing their life purpose in fact live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives.
Don’t limit yourself. Learn to face your fears. And you will do extraordinary things.
In my own work as a counsellor and therapist I passionately encourage a holistic approach to Mind Health, which undoubtedly includes all aspects of wellbeing – nutrition, movement, exercise, meditation/prayer, mindfulness, healthy relationship, challenge and purpose. Our mind exists within our brain and is connected to and plays a vital role in how we live life in all facets of our being.
So to truly LOVE ourselves, we need to know that intentionally nurturing the wellbeing of our brain (as mentioned in all of the tips above) is of vital importance. We cannot nurture our brain which contains our ‘mind’ if we intentionally (or even unintentionally) abuse, neglect or deny any one of these things. It can and most likely will be a process to implement them all (if you haven’t already). Don’t stress yourself out by trying to change everything at once. But know that as you work toward adding each of these aspects to your life, that you will be well on your way to LOVING you and your brain to a more meaningful, fulfilling existence.
With you on this journey,