When you’re under the pump, working too hard and can’t wait for that moment of respite, your system is under stress. It’s the time when chronic fatigue creeps in, you notice you’re a bit flat and everything feels a drudge.
How you manage your state of mind at this time is critical. Prolonged stress dampens our immune system, and we become more susceptible to falling foul of the latest virus doing the rounds. It also dampens our mood. We are more irritable, our enthusiasm has washed out to sea and we are more prone to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This is where maintaining your brain health is so important. Following a healthy brain lifestyle incorporates those activities to help build your stress resistance, providing that extra coating of Teflon to ward off the impact of excessive stress.
When teaching brain fitness I use the NAMES® acronym as a reminder of what counts. There is no single food, exercise or activity that guarantees freedom from stress. It comes from implementing a smorgasbord of healthy nutrition, keeping a positive attitude, stretching our mental muscle, getting enough exercise and enough sleep.
It's well known that aerobic exercise helps to boost our mood, by stimulating the release of dopamine, the neurochemical associated with our reward circuitry, endorphins – that runner’s high and a couple of neurotrophic factors BDNF and IGF1 that help keep our neurons in fine fettle and facilitate the process of neurogenesis.
Neurogenesis is the production of new neurons that occurs in the area of the brain known as the hippo-campus, responsible amongst other things for learning and memory.
Regular aerobic exercise has been shown to improve our mental health and wellbeing, boost memory and our attention.
That's why "finding thirty" is a must not a maybe.
Being prescribed regular exercise as part of a treatment program for managing symptoms of anxiety and depression is not uncommon these days because it works and can be used along with or as an alternative to mood stabilisers and antidepressants such as the SSRIs.
Getting out into a green space is associated with an elevation of mood while being in a blue space (close to water) also has a calming effect.
Back in 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the Mindfulness Stress-Based Stress Reduction to help those dealing with the trauma and stress of severe illness. Since then the 8-week MBSR program that combines mindfulness and yoga has been taught around the world as a highly effective way to combat stress.
Knowing that aerobic exercise and meditation can both help in alleviating depressive symptoms, what about combining the two together?
This was the question a group of researchers set out to answer. They looked at the impact of what is called MAP training, to examine the effect of a combination of mental and physical training on treating depression. Two groups were compared, 22 people with major depression and 30 who were mentally healthy The findings published in Nature revealed the MAP combination can significantly reduce rumination and depression while enhancing overall brain synergy.
In this study, undertaking two sessions a week of 30 minutes moderate intensity aerobic activity plus 30 minutes of focused attention meditation over 8 weeks was sufficient to reduce depressive symptoms by 40%. Plus the mood in the "mentally healthy" group improved with higher levels of focus and motivation reported.
The implication here is that keeping a schedule that includes regular aerobic exercise and meditative practice will help us to stay well. It's an easy, low cost way to maintain our mood and motivation while also providing significant benefit to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression if our wheels start to slip off track.
Is regular exercise and meditation part of your brain fitness routine?
Does your workplace encourage (and provide) a variety of stress management solutions?
Have you used these or other strategies to help you effectively manage your stress?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.