The fourth in a series on the journey for better brain health.
This past April 7 was World Health Day and acted as a welcome reminder that we need to be intentional about fostering well-being in ourselves and others. This year, there was a focus on global environmental justice ― something that can only happen when we are mindful, collectively and as individuals, about pursuing actions that will promote health for all humans and other life forms that share our planet.
According to the American Psychological Association, 66% of adults in 2020 cited health care as a significant source of stress. And ironically, stressing about one’s health packs a double whammy, because chronic stress is itself a health inhibitor, affecting all systems of the body. Stress is the black cloud that makes every bad situation worse.
This underscores the value offered through the Center for BrainHealth® course my cohort and I are engaged in, and the section focused on strategies we can deploy to battle stress. A key tool we can all use at any time is deliberate mindfulness ― which they define as being present in the moment without judgement. It can take the form of simple breathing exercises. Or being mindful about engaging all our senses in the act of eating. And of course, there are more formal meditation exercises and countless apps that help to keep us focused.
But what I find interesting is that science shows that a combination of mindfulness, meditation, and regular sleep can actually regenerate brain power. Neuroplasticity, our ability to form new neural connections, and neurogenesis, the actual growth of brain cells, are both promoted by the behaviors we use to mitigate stress. Mindfulness actually beefs up the physical paths through our brains’ white matter to connect those critical little gray cells for increased speed and productivity. The habit of mindfulness also helps manage stress because it reduces activity in the amygdala, the stress region of the brain that triggers a fight-or-flight response.
I remember being told as a young man to count to ten before speaking in anger. Interestingly, one of the stress-buster tools is to slowly inhale for five seconds and then slowly breathe out for five. On World Health Day, I made a plan to put this into practice and work on being mindful to reduce my stress levels. I suspect that this will help reduce stress levels for everyone around me, too.
Reminder: If you want to embark on your own personal BrainHealth journey, you can sign up at thebrainhealthproject.org
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