We live in stressful times these days, for sure. There is so much uncertainty going on that many don’t know what to do, or how to proceed. The result is stress, which is not good for one’s emotions and body.
Leaders are more prone to being under high stress with the shift and viability of business occurring. One fact many don’t realize is that the brain, and cognitive skills, are adversely impacted by stress. In fact, the brain tends to shrink under prolonged stress.
Do you ever feel foggy or forgetful? Do you tend to make decisions hastily or procrastinate on tasks you should be doing? Are you more irritable or having problems sleeping? These are just some of the effects that stress can have on the brain.
Losing cognition skills doesn’t have to be inevitable. In fact, by making some simple life changes now, you can help your brain to stay healthy and focused:
Drop the Stress
Chronic stress can damage your brain. Start with an honest evaluation of your tiggers and what stress you can erase – you can always learn the skills to manage it better. Self-care is most important – if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to be there for others.
Get in Motion
Exercise and regular physical activity are not only good for your body but brings your mind to peak condition as well. If you don’t have a gym, or it’s not for you, get out and walk, as being outside is so good for you; marching or dancing other easy ways to get the heart and endorphins going. Try exercise that requires you to concentrate for added benefit.
Try Something Fishy
Those omega-3 fatty acids are good for you. Eat salmon, tuna, or some other kind of fatty fish every week if you can. You can take a supplement, as well.
Drop the Sugar
It’s a known fact sugar isn’t good for you but did you know eating a lot of it will lead to inflammation in the brain, inhibiting brain function? Now is the time to find other, healthier snacks, like veggies or nuts. It won’t be easy but start small, eliminating one item at a time.
Spend Time with Friends
Getting out with people you enjoy spending time with keeps your brain engaged and challenged in positive ways. In the times we are living now, it’s not easy to visit in person but there are ways, such as Zoom, Facetime, or seeing each other while social distancing.
Nothing is quite so good for your brain as engaging it and challenging it with new information. We can strengthen our brain (neuroplasticity) and even create new neurons (neurogenesis) – take a class as there are many free or low cost ones available; learn a new language, or take up a hobby you have always desired. There are many opportunities with online sites available.
Drop the Toxins
Things like smoking, alcohol, and constant exposure to toxins in the environment will impair your brain function. Clean up your environment. Quit smoking. Limit alcohol consumption. Doing all these things will help you to stay sharper longer.
Pay Attention to your Vitamins
Making sure your nutritional needs are in balance will keep your brain functioning at its best. The important ones for brain health? B-12, B-6, magnesium, and folate. In a healthy diet, you would normally get most of what you need. You can also add a supplement of Vitamin D if your levels are low (sitting the in sun for 10 minutes is the best).
In the end, making sure you get enough sleep is one of the best things you can do for your brain (and your general health). Make sure you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep at night, in an environment optimal for sleep. Stress will mess with sleep cycles so creating a sleep ritual will have you nodding off quickly, such as meditatitation, journaling, and inviting sleep in.
When under stress, most people aren’t breathing properly; they tend to clench up in trying to hold it together. This is the worst, as the cortisol (stress chemical) that is released is the culprit to your physical and emotional problems. Deep breathing is the best way to immediately relax; use the 4-7-8 rule: breathe in slowly for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, then breathe out slowly for a count of 8. This will calm the brain and body. The more you practice this, the easier and more automatic is will become.
One final suggestion is to be solution-focused; this will lead your brain to focus on the present and not worry about your situations. The brain likes to solve problems so let it. Leaders need to be think clearly daily so they are on top of their game. Some attention on your brain now will serve you well in your later life. Don’t delay in making these changes. The sooner you begin, the better. Your brain will thank you for it!
If you’re struggling with stress, reach out and get help – let’s talk. We work with leaders and teams on stress management strategies to keep performance and productivity high.