Recovery: A Non-Negotiable for Your Brain

December 21, 2018

 

Our bodies need recovery after exercise and they often tell us so; we oblige, fuel them appropriately and prepare for the next session. What many of us don't realise is that our brains also need recovery and fuel and there are often signs at the end of the year that indicate we haven't been allowing adequate time for either.

 

Rather than easing into our holidays, too many of us are going full throdle right up until the final hour. Sound familiar? Correspondingly we're left with a sort of 'neuronal' hangover for days (if not weeks). Signs of a neuronal hangover include emotional and physical exhaustion, poor decision making and problem solving abilities, little focus, discipline, and/or willpower, a low tolerance threshold del and irritability. Prolonged stress and being constantly 'on' can lead to this hangover, in addition to anxiety, depression, weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure and damage to our brains.

 

So what can you do to recover appropriately and adequately over the next few days and into next year?

 

Switch Off ~ despite the fabulous advances within AI and technology, it's a fact that we have been drinking too much of the Kool-aid and straight from the fire hydrant. That constant scanning that you're mindlessly taking part in on your mobile and in your browser has been taking it's toll on the executive centre of your brain (prefrontal cortex) and negatively impacting your attention span, focus and memory. Research further implies that we also pay a significant emotional cost when constantly checking our phones, resulting in negative mood states. Limit your technology time, particularly mobile use over the holidays and see how it improves your relationships and your state of mind.

 

Get Outside ~ science tells us that getting out into green space for as a little as a few minutes a day has a positive influence on our brains and ultimately our bodies. Spending time outside has been shown to not only improve our mood, but also our memory, our sleep, lower our blood pressure and decrease the amount of the stress hormone cortisol. The holidays can be a really manic time and by making time to get outdoors, you'll be doing yourself (and your family!) a service.

 

Get Active ~ we all know that physical activity boosts our endorphins (feel good hormones) and provides us with a lift in our mood, but did you know that it can also fuel the prefrontal cortex of your brain and contribute to building new brain cells? Despite using energy, exercise also produces energy which we all need more of at this time of year.

 

Eat & Drink Mindfully ~ the holidays are a time of indulgence but this isn't doing our brains (or our bodies) any favours, food comas are not healthy! Be conscious of the type and amount of food and drink you're consuming. Balance your days out with healthy options and moderation. Our brains respond well to water (2-3L/day), leafy greens (try a green smoothie for breakfast), oily fish and seeds and nuts. Ensure you're still including these in your daily intake and limit the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates.

 

Time with 'Loved' Ones ~ occasionally we have obligations over the holidays to spend time with people who may test our patience. It's important to not let inherent beliefs and and differences of opinion get under our skin. Acknowledge beforehand that you'll be in this situation and think about reframing your negative thoughts and biases. Get curious and attempt to refrain from judgement.

Do make time for those you love and offer them your full presence. Start new traditions that evoke positive emotions such as curiosity, joy, inspiration and love. Show gratitude and savour those positive experiences. Positive social activity improves brain function, our health and our psychological well-being.

 

Rest ~ give yourself permission to be lazy, watch a funny movie, get a massage, have a lie-in. Allowing time for rest periods throughout your day will fuel your brain and elevate your mood. Try meditation ~ it actually decreases brain activity and can offer you a healthy perspective, along with more empathy [1,2] which is always useful this time of year! Don't over-commit to social 'expectations' and make time for that self-care you've been neglecting for the past eleven months.

 

Our brains consume 20% of our energy and 1/3 of that energy is for 'housekeeping'. You can facilitate that housekeeping by participating in the above, and by doing so on a regular basis, ultimately improving the fuel efficiency of your brain. Finish the year by implementing healthy brain practices and start 2019 off with these high performance habits. The return on investment will be prolific!

 

Kirsten works with individuals and organisations in developing their potential through creating high performance habits. Contact her today to see what possibilities are in store for you.

 

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23724462

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation

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