Rewiring Your Brain
As I slowly creep past a mama bear and her two cubs on my morning run, I’m struck with panic, “oh crud, I need to finish that stress blog!” Enter my fight-or-flight response; clammy palms, racing heart, a sudden inability to make decisions and a desire to elongate my short run into a long run. Let me clarify- I’m not stressed about seeing the bears (which would be classified as acute stress), I’m stressed about finishing this blog by my deadline (chronic stress).
Let’s review the effects of chronic stress on the brain:
- Increased size of the amygdala and decreased size of the hippocampus, thus making us more emotional and less logical with our decisions
- Brain connections are being severed without gene expression occurring, making us less sociable and more irritable
- Hardening of brain connections that keep us in a stressed state
If this doesn’t sound familiar check out this blog that breaks down all the physiological effects of chronic stress on the brain.
Can we heal our brain from all the damage caused by chronically high levels of cortisol? YES, with a little thing called neuroplasticity! Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to create and form new neural connections. The old adage of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is complete rubbish! Your brain is highly resilient! Let’s discuss the 4 ways you are going to re-wire your brain:
- Physical Activity
- Social Connections
First, deep diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, when stimulated, will enact the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This in turn will lower your heart rate, blood pressure and help your heart and organs slow down. This is exactly what your body needs when it’s in a chronic state of stress.
Second is physical activity and you want to make the time for it now! Make it a genuine part of your daily routine- I promise you, you’ll thank me when you do. Why am I pushing so hard for you to get outside and move? Because when you start breathing hard from exercising, you automatically stimulate the vagus nerve! Also, when you exercise, your body starts to secrete endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling in your body (runner’s high). If that’s not enough to entice you to start exercising daily, I want you to think back to a time when you worked really, really hard. Do you remember how you felt after you finished the workout? I bet you felt invincible or at least stronger and more confident than before completing your workout! Do something daily that you enjoy and you’ll start to see your inner super woman/man shine.
The third thing you want to focus on next is mindfulness! So often, humans act out of instinct instead of mindful movements and thoughts. You can practice mindfulness in many different ways: Yoga, Tai Chi, prayer, meditation are just a few examples. All of these practices stimulate the vagus nerve! These practices also help us work through our stress-addled brain and start to create a plan for how to handle stressors in the present and future. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes, start building this into your daily routine.
Lastly, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Despite what your brain may be telling you- you are not alone in this struggle. We have all struggled, or are currently struggling, with chronic stress. So, reach out instead of closing yourself off. Share your struggles with a loved one and know that everything will be ok. And never, ever hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional!
Now that you’re motivated to tackle your own stress, DO IT! Make the time for the exercise and movement that you enjoy. Find mindfulness in activities that resonates with you and what you need. Reach out to your loved ones for support and comfort. And lastly, don’t forget to breathe.
Fact: Genes do not determine the fate of our brains.
Awareness Challenge this week: Challenge yourself with a new activity or practice. Routine activities do not challenge the brain. Keep the brain active and creating new neurons.
Tune in next time; we’ll discuss your emotions and gut health!
In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about living a healthier lifestyle, reach out to us for our professional guidance and support. Give us a call!
“The mind of man is capable of anything.” – Joseph Conrad.
Blog Photo Credit: Fitness over 40
Cover Photo Credit: Hopes.Standford.Edu