updated 1 December 2020
Our brains are overworked and underpaid. We multitask and brainstorm all day along. We text and email and attend Zoom meetings, and even when we lie down at night, we plot and plan the next day’s events—and with the onset of 2020’s pandemic, we worry. Our brains are dealing with a new kind of “busyness” and it’s causing a lot of us to feel mentally fatigued. The good news is that just like you feed your body three times a day, you can turbo charge your brain to help you think, act and even sleep better. Here’s how:
Take a Breather. As frustrating as it can be to wake up with your mind already in turbo-drive, it is actually a natural part of the sleep-wake cycle. Our brains are designed to create a perfect chemical brew of stimulating hormones to prepare us for awakening. Scientists have discovered that the leading “wake up” chemical, Adrenocorticotropin, which prepares the body for stressful events, begins to increase about an hour before we wake up. We certainly don’t want to start the day “stressed out,” so it’s important to take a breather first thing upon waking versus rushing to wake up and get going. To balance the natural stress response of waking and start your day with a sense of calm, take 7-10 long, deep belly breaths before you even put your feet on the ground. On each exhalation say the words “Thank you.” Not only are you oxygenating your body and lowering your stress chemicals, you are cultivating an attitude of gratitude which will promote happiness and boost your immune system. Check out this inspiring Ted Talk from Brother David Steindl-Rast to learn more.
Shake It Up. When your feet hit the floor, tap or shake your body to clear the brain fog. Throughout the night our organs and systems are releasing toxins that we need to shed first thing in the morning. Our nose and lungs have excess mucus, our urine is cloudy, and we may even have slight body odor. These toxins can lead to brain fog. A quick shake or shimmy in the morning can help signal the blood and lymph systems to activate and begin the day clean and fresh. Check out this video for a quick demonstration on how to shake your body.
Pack in the Protein. Eat a protein-rich breakfast within an hour of waking. The brain communicates via chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals are mostly constructed from amino acids. Protein-rich foods contain amino acids. So whether you are a meat and egg Paleo-type or you prefer a plant-based protein shake, your brain needs amino acids and sturdy, long lasting calories (found in good fats) to function optimally all day long.
Stretch it Out. By the time lunch rolls around, most people have been sitting in front of a computer for 4 or more hours. We’ve all heard that sitting too much is not good for our physical body but research shows a sedentary lifestyle may be actually thinning certain regions of our brains linked to memory. So get up and move around! If you don’t have time to fit in a walk or a lunch-time yoga class, try a quick series of neck stretches to create more blood flow to the brain.
Get Out: The sun gives us the vital nutrient Vitamin D, and recent studies show that decreased levels of D in older adults put them at greater risk for dementia and other cognitive issues. Getting your face in the sun and your feet on the ground can have surprising benefits to your overall health and well-being. The simple act of standing or walking barefoot on the dirt, grass, sand or even concrete connects you to the Earth’s vast supply of electrons. These electrons help balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems resulting in an array of health benefits, including reduced pain and better sleep. The technique is called Earthing and there is evidence to suggest that it can help decrease stress, pain and inflammation. Try Alicia’s Qi Gong Walking to learn how.
Take a Break. How often is lunch eaten with one hand on the steering wheel or inhaled in front of a computer screen, catching up on news or reading a book on our tablet? Our brains require more nutrients than any other organ. Keeping it constantly in the “on” position, diverts much needed energy away from the important work of digestion. This can lead to a midday crash and the craving for a quick fix like sugar or caffeine.
Get Yourself Connected. Countless studies show the positive effect social connection and sharing time with others has on our mental health. In today’s fast paced world, the connection has become less and less of a priority. Ironically, our constant connection to the internet can make us feel disconnected from our fellow human beings. So it’s a bit surprising that one form of technology can help us connect even if we live alone. Video calls, like FaceTime, GoogleDuo or Skype, to a family member or friend can be a useful tool for the person-to-person interaction that is essential to our mental health and brain energy.
Elevate to Deflate. We’ve often referenced this simple and profound technique to shift your central nervous system from the stimulating sympathetic to the rest and repose parasympathetic part of our nervous system. Depending on your level of flexibility, you can simply lie on the couch with your feet resting on the arm or lie flat on your back with your legs up the wall. Either way, use this time (as little as 10 breaths or 10 mins) to wind down and assist your brain to calm and prepare for sleep.
Get in Rhythm. Our bodies have a natural rhythm called the circadian rhythm. The Sleep Foundation defines circadian rhythm as “a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It’s also known as your sleep/wake cycle.” To help your body wind down, turn out the lights if you are awake after dark and avoid screen time an hour before bed. Light is the enemy of sleep. It resets your internal day-night cycle and affects internal functions such as temperature regulation and hormone release which in turn affects the quality of your sleep. Sleep is critical to a number of brain functions, including how nerve cells (neurons) communicate with each other. In fact, your brain and body stay remarkably active while you sleep. Recent findings suggest that sleep plays a housekeeping role removing toxins in your brain that build up while you are awake.
Remember, to lift the fog and turbo-boost your brain for sharper thinking, reduced stress and better sleep, take a moment 3 times a day to give your brain the attention it deserves!