Let me guess: you regularly wash your face and clean your teeth. You polish your shoes when they get dirty. You also bring your car to a carwash from time to time. You may also be going to a gym or jog, to keep your body in shape. These things are important for you, because they add comfort to your life, improve your image, and make you feel good. But what do you do for your biggest asset – your brain?..
It gives you the most precious things: consciousness, emotions, communication, imagination, the functioning of your whole body. It is so important that… we take it for granted. The best of what many of us do for the brain is good sleep or a weekend rest. But most often we just expect it to work daily without any maintenance. It is really sad to realize that some of us spend more time and effort on a household or our car than on our brain.
Figuratively speaking, our brain too needs regular maintenance. Just as a house, it also needs regular cleaning, renewal, and care. When it is not done, it loses its shape and functions at a low-level capacity. Gradually or suddenly, we become distracted, easily irritated, our mind gets foggy, we cannot get things done, get tired quickly, and even a night of good sleep may no longer give us good mood and concentration. Anxiety and depression come over, and only then many of us wake up to the alarm. Have a look at the anxiety and depression statistics in the western world and realize the scale of the problem.
There are multiple reasons why the “hygiene of the brain” today requires more attention than before. The modern man spends most of life sitting; our nutrition raised in calories but reduced dramatically in nutritional value; we consume so much information daily that an ancient man probably didn’t consume throughout his entire life span; the modern economy offers no certainty for the future; with hyper-connectivity, we became more socially disconnected than ever before; the speed of the economy has put big pressures on us at work. All these factors have presented serious challenges to our bodies and minds. And while there is no shortage of information on how to sleep and eat well, the mind part is still neglected. So let us see how you can get the best ‘user experience’ out of your brain and keep your mind healthy throughout the lifetime.
DO PHYSICAL EXERCISE
It is essential for the health not only of your body but also of your brain. Multiple studies demonstrate that those doing regular exercise have better cognitive performance, better memory, higher emotional resilience, and are also under much smaller risk of an age-related decline.
MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONS AND PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Emotions accompany us daily and the way how we manage those impacts us in a very powerful way. No juice that can detox you from toxins of negative emotions; it has to be done by you. In modern culture, we have learnt to ignore and suppress them. Too many repressed emotions may cause tension, physical pain, and lead to many other physical or mental problems. Learn emotional hygiene by living your every negative emotion, no matter how bad it is: recognize its right for “bothering” you, feel it in your body, stay with it at least a few moments, and then let it go.
Gratitude is one of the healthiest and beneficial emotions accessible to every human being. Multiple studies demonstrate that gratitude lowers stress, alleviates depression, reduces pain, improves emotion regulation, and more.
Self-awareness, or mindfulness, is a precious key to managing stress and a great tool for self-development.
There is emerging evidence that mindfulness meditation brings changes in the structure and function of brain regions involved in the regulation of attention, learning and memory processes, emotion regulation and perspective-taking. With mindfulness, we learn to respond instead of reacting and we set a firm ground for self-regulation and a solid sense of self.
Begin cultivating mindfulness by learning to observe your thinking patterns and emotional reactions, notice your breath, give space for both positive and negative emotions.
HYDRATE AND OXYGENATE
The brain is approximately 85% water but it does not have any way to store it. It needs water to produce energy for neurotransmission, production of hormones, thought, and memory processes. An abundance of water will help you think faster, be more efficient, and have greater clarity.
Another essential substance for the brain is oxygen. It is wrong to believe your regular breath provides enough oxygen for your brain (and muscles). In addition to the polluted air and predominantly indoor lifestyle ripping us off of quality air, commonly high levels of stress also cause us to breathe shallow. Since breathing is an unconscious process we may not even notice how shallow our breath is and how much our brain and muscles miss it. So go outside and breathe deep.
TAKE CARE OF THE GUT
Beware that even if you eat healthily, you may still have your gut microbiome out of order. Microbial disorders have become extremely common; therefore check if you don’t suffer from them. Then beware about the gut-brain axis – the direct connection of the brain to the gut via the vagus nerve. To keep this link healthy, practice the points 1-4 above.
Keep your diet diverse, including fermented foods, eat local, organic, and together with someone. Reduce your consumption of processed foods, processed wheat, and sugar, as they increase risk of inflammation, anxiety, and other disorders.
ALWAYS LEARN AND TRY SOMETHING NEW
Openness to experience and mental flexibility is extremely beneficial for the brain. We already know that the brain keeps on changing throughout the lifetime. Exposing yourself to new things makes your brain fit for learning, helps you grow new neuron connections, and maximizes your cognitive function. It is likewise recommended to give your brain regular mental exercise by switching to learning something new as soon as you reach a level of mastery in something you learned.
SOCIALIZE AND FIND A PURPOSE
Socializing is central to human survival and wellbeing. Loneliness is a risk for loss of cognitive function in older adults. Regular social interaction reduces stress, combats depression, enhances intellectual stimulation, prevents memory loss, and age-related degenerative diseases. Likewise, having goals is an important source of meaning providing better mental and physical health and increase life expectancy.
DO A DIGITAL DETOX REGULARLY
Technology became our basic need. However, there is evidence of harm that digital devices cause to our brain. The screen light disrupts the production of sleep hormones, social networks, and games cause addiction, digital devices emit electromagnetic radiation and heavy information stream leads to loss of focus and mental noise. Therefore give your brain a break by turning your screens off at least at weekend or on vacation, do not use it before sleep and keep it away from your bed.