Strengthening Your Brain

(This workshop recap features advice from Sandy Pricer, founder of RiseUP and mom to six spunky, fun-loving, kindhearted, and faith-filled children.)

Stress has countless negative effects on the brain. The differences between the MRI scans of a healthy brain versus a stressed and depressed one are dramatic.

The two kinds of stress are regular stress and chronic stress. Regular stress is good in small doses. Think of a dangerous situation, such as facing a bear. Stress will prompt you to act quickly and keep you safe. However, chronic or prolonged stress is unhealthy. It can be caused by a lot of things, including work, school, and drama at home or in your personal life.

Chronic stress essentially causes the brain to freeze. As MRI scans show, some areas of the brain almost completely shut down under stress; it actually appears to shrink. The production of new brain cells also halts, and thus there are fewer connections in the brain. Vital chemicals such as serotonin (for happiness) and dopamine (for motivation) are depleted. This reduces a person’s ability to balance their emotions and use critical thinking. It also causes forgetfulness (losing car keys, misplacing items, etc.), constant fear and anxiety, and—if sustained for long enough—can also lead to depression and Alzheimer’s.

It also affects the whole body. The lungs, heart, liver, digestive system, and blood pressure are all negatively impacted.

Needless to say, stress can take a toll on your mental health. It can make you feel inadequate, which prompts you to go into survival mode (prolonged fight vs. flight response). In turn, this will cause a person to make bad decisions, which will then lead to anger, frustration, and insomnia. A brain under chronic stress launches a domino effect on everything in your life.

By contrast, a healthy brain can solve problems, feel happy, be creative, and improve the overall health of the body. To keep your brain healthy, you need three basic things: oxygen, nutrients, and practice.

In order to get more oxygen, make time daily for deep breathing exercises, meditation, and exercise. This will increase your heart rate, calm you down, and improve your general health.

The right diet is also crucial. Certain foods can increase concentration, emotional stability, and memory. Some good examples are broccoli, avocado, tomato, salmon, oily fish, blueberries, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate. You can easily google other brain foods, too.

Practicing good habits is also important, because although the brain is very flexible, a message that is sent over and over becomes ingrained. This is how habits and mindsets are formed. Practice positive self-talk and healthy habits. Challenge your brain, learn new things, drink plenty of water, and establish a healthy sleep schedule. These habits will go a long way toward strengthening your brain!

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