Keeping your brain in good shape is just as important as taking care of your body.
The biggest obstacle to maintaining a healthy mental state for most of us is stress. So can we train our brains against stress?
The brain releases cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’, in individuals who are in a state of stress and anxiety. Cortisol plays a significant role in triggering the fight or flight mechanism that helps us survive dangerous situations. The elevated cortisol levels associated with chronic stress, however, can interfere with learning and memory, increase your risk of depression and contribute to other health problems.
Luckily, there are simple changes you can make to your lifestyle that can rewire your brain to respond more calmly to stressful situations.
Mindfulness allows you to be aware of your thoughts and emotions, so they don’t overcome you and is a technique for training the brain to focus on the present moment. You train your mind to control where your attention goes in stressful situations, instead of letting your mind control you, often lapsing into its default mode of fixating on the past or worrying about the future.
The key to training your brain to focus on the present is meditation, and simple techniques for mindful meditation is easy to practise at home daily.
Just as constantly being exposed to stress increases cortisol levels, engaging in enjoyable and relaxing activities reduces cortisol levels.
Physical exercise is also essential for keeping your brain in top condition. When stress affects the brain, the rest of the body feels the impact as well. Therefore it makes sense that if your body feels better, your mind should too. Exercise produces endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and improve sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
Studies show that regular exercise can reduce the mental fatigue and diminished concentration often associated with stress, as well as elevate and stabilise mood, improve sleep quality and improve self-esteem.