Your Most Powerful Asset: Train Your Mind To Optimize Your Brain and Well-Being

‘I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.’ — Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Photo credit: Carlos A. Coriano

Increased digitalization in all aspects of our lives has led to the constant bombardment of visual information via smartphones, personal computers, tablets,TV, video games and other media. A Nielsen’s Q1 2016 Total Audience Report revealed that U.S. adults devoted about 10 hours and 39 minutes per day to consuming media during the first quarter of this year — that’s 67% of a typical day if you allow 8 hours for sleeping. Our brain’s constant stimulation and craving for instant gratification — also called “compulsion loop” — can lead to mental health related illnesses caused by information overload or Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS). IFS symptoms include: poor concentration, “plugged-in” compulsion, burnout, brain shut-down, hostility, depression, lower immune system response, endocrine imbalance and multitasking resulting in diminished productivity.

A recent survey conducted by researchers from McMaster University in Canada on correlating internet use with general mental health and well-being on college-aged students found that the excessive use of the Internet may indicate other mental health problems. Presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP), the study found that heavy Internet users had “ significantly more trouble dealing with their day to day activities, including life at home, at work/school and in social settings. Individuals with internet addiction also had significantly higher amounts of depression and anxiety symptoms, problems with planning and time management, greater levels of attentional impulsivity as well as ADHD symptoms.”

As our lives become increasingly interdependent on technology and the concomitant avalanche of digital content, it is critical for us to take control of our minds to filter unnecessary information and create a quiet space for mental relaxation, brain nourishment and well-being.

Ready to optimize your brain health and well-being? Take action and incorporate my recommended practices into your life.

Photo credit: Carlos A. Coriano

The Power of Solitude

Solitude is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. — Deepak Chopra

Solitude enables you to connect with your Higher Self — the truest version of your being, who knows your life path, life purpose and how to achieve it. By tapping into the infinite power of your inner wisdom and listening to your self, you will learn to trust your intuition and inner guidance for living a fulfilling and purposeful life.

Photo by Carlos A. Coriano

The Power of Silence

Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.— Francis Bacon

Studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s Disease display hippocampal atrophy, leading to memory loss and confusion due to the progressive damage to brain cells caused by the disease. However, a 2013 study titled “Is silence golden? Effects of auditory stimuli and their absence on adult hippocampal neurogenesis”, published in Brain Structure and Function, showed that silence led to increased growth of new brain cells, or neurogenesis, in the hippocampus — an area of the brain associated with the formation of long-term memories and spatial navigation.

Photo by Carlos A. Coriano

The Power of Sleep

If you are not getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night, it doesn’t matter if it is interrupted, because if you don’t you might as well be smoking cigarettes or sitting in a couch eating two bags of potato chips every night — it’s the same thing. — Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Harvard Medical School

In a recent interview for the documentary “Alzheimer’s: Every Minute Counts”, produced by Twin Cities PBS, Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Harvard Medical School, longtime Alzheimer’s researcher, ranked sleep as the second most important advice for encouraging brain health, following exercise. Dr. Tanzi further explains, “During deep sleep, it is the only time your brain does not make the amyloids that create the plaques, and it is the only time your brain actually cleans itself out; I call it deep sleep, ‘mental floss’. If you are not getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night, it doesn’t matter if it is interrupted, because if you don’t you might as well be smoking cigarettes or sitting in a couch eating two bags of potato chips every night — it’s the same thing.”

Soak In the Energy and Beauty of Nature

Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost. It exists and it’s called ‘interacting with nature’. — Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, professors of psychology at the University of Michigan, specializing in environmental psychology.
Photo by Carlos A. Coriano

A 1995 study titled “The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework”, by professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, explains the concepts of ‘hard’ fascination and ‘soft’ fascination. “The Kaplans refer to activities like watching TV or sporting events as hard fascination. The stimuli are loud, bright, and commanding. The activities are engaging and fun, but they don’t allow for mental rest,” stated a post on Michigan Today. “Soft fascination, on the other hand, is the kind of stimulation one finds on, say, a stroll along the beach or in the woods. Nothing overwhelms the attention, says Stephen, ‘and the beauty provides pleasure that complements the gentle stimulation.’ The brain can soak up pleasing images, but it can also wander, reflect, and recuperate.”

Photo by Carlos A. Coriano

Another study conducted by the Kaplans found that a 50-minute walk in an arboretum improved executive attention skills, such as short-term memory. “Imagine a therapy that had no known side effects, was readily available and could improve your cognitive functioning at zero cost,” the researchers wrote in their paper. “It exists,” they continued, “and it’s called ‘interacting with nature.’ ”

Rumination — the process of thinking obsessively about one’s problems and feelings without taking any action — is a known factor associated with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, binge eating and binge drinking. However, a 2015 study titled “Nature Experience Reduces Rumination and Subgenual Prefrontal Cortex Activation” demonstrated that a 90-min walk in nature could lead to a reduced level of rumination.

Incorporating a walking routine in nature can be an immediately effective practice to improve your mental health and well-being. On average, the hippocampus shrinks 1–2% in late adulthood. Such deterioration leads to cognitive impairment and increased risk of dementia. Nevertheless, a 2011 study titled “Exercise Training Increases Size of Hippocampus and Improves Memory” demonstrated that one year of aerobic exercise — i.e. a 40-minute walk, three days a week — increased the size of the hippocampus by 2%, thus reversing hippocampal volume loss in late adulthood and lowering the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

It is a scientific fact, that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character…is favorable to the health and vigor of men and especially to the health and vigor of their intellect…— Frederick Law Olmsted, the developer of Central Park in New York City
Photo by Carlos A. Coriano

Shift Your Mind

The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. — Dr. Rick Hanson

Albeit digitalization will continue permeating all aspects of our lives, it is our responsibility to exert self-control over digital media consumption and mitigate information overload. Studies have shown that when you are determined to shift your mind to eliminate any toxic pattern, you will also induce physical changes to your brain cells, called neurons.

According to Metta McGarvey, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, describes the brain as “Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” Dr. Hanson further explains that “negative events and experiences get quickly stored in memory — in contrast to positive events and experiences, which usually need to be held in awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from short-term memory buffers to long-term storage.”

While negative thoughts and experiences have a greater impact on our memories and psychophysiological well-being than positive ones, the good news is that we have the power to change our brains. McGarvey further explains that “our brains can change, physically, as a result of learning. In a process called ‘experience dependent neuroplasticity,’ neural connections grow based on what we’re learning. Repeating the same thoughts, feelings and behaviors increases synaptic connectivity, strengthens neural networks and creates new neurons through learning. In other words, practicing a positive habit can predispose our thoughts to be more affirmative.”

The Choice is Yours

‘I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.’ — Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Empower yourself. Choose YOU. Take control of your mind and train it to create and maintain optimal brain health and well-being.

  1. Solitude — Connect and listen to your Higher Self.
  2. Silence — Create new brain cells.
  3. Sleep — Sleep 7 to 8 hours to clean out your brain.
  4. Soak In the Energy and Beauty of Nature — Incorporate a walking routine in nature and improve mental health and well-being.
  5. Shift Your Mind —Train your mind to optimize your brain through learning by practicing and repeating positive habits.

Cheers to a healthy brain, a clear mind and well-being!

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