Dr. David Henderson

In this post, I'm discussing a recent article in the Huffington Post.  The title is quite a mouthful: 10 Surprising Things That Benefit Our Brains That You Can Do Every Day. I’d like to address just five of them. If you’re interested in reading the entire article, you can click the link above.

1. A tired brain is a creative brain. When we get tired, most of us want to veg out on the couch, watch our favorite DVR’d television show, play video games, or surf the internet. If you do, you may be missing out on the creative processing your brain is capable of. Why? Because when your brain is tired, it is more prone to distractions. The decrease in focus allows for the connecting of more random pieces of information, making it more likely to generate new ideas and associations. Here’s what Scientific American had to say about it: “Insight problems involve thinking outside the box. This is where susceptibility to “distraction” can be of benefit. At off-peak times we are less focused, and may consider a broader range of information. This wider scope gives us access to more alternatives and diverse interpretations, thus fostering innovation and insight.” So the next time you feel tired, don’t immediately veg out. Instead, let your mind wander and see where it goes. You might be surprised at the new and exciting ideas that arise. I also think times like this are important for our spiritual life as well. Yes, we need to be disciplined in spiritual practices like studying, prayer, meditation, and worship. But God also encourages us to “be still” and “know” Him. What new insights about His nature might He reveal to you in those quiet moments? You’ll never know unless you try.

2. A stressed brain is a weaker brain. More and more studies are demonstrating that stress has a powerful impact on the body. Remember David’s words in Psalm 32? The Brain is no exception. In fact, it’s the primary organ where these changes take place. There is a correlation between anxiety and the size of the amygdala, the emotional hub of the brain. People with high stress levels tend to have larger amygdalas. We also see an inverse correlation between the amount of chronic stress and anxiety in a person’s life and the size of their hippocampus, the memory processing part of the brain. This makes sense when you consider someone with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and the difficulty they have with memory and concentration. (For more information about stress and the body, click here.) The take home point is this: If you want a strong mind, you have to give it time to rest. Take a vacation, slow down and enjoy your favorite meal, do something fun with a friend, read a relaxing book, write out all the things in your life you are thankful for. If you’ve experienced significant trauma in your life, consider meeting with a therapist to process those life events in a healthy way. Taking care of your emotions is taking care your brain.

3. A multitasking brain is an inefficient brain. I did a radio interview on this very topic a while back. If you’d like to listen to it, you can click here. The book Brain Rules explains how multitasking is a myth: “Research shows your error rate goes up 50 percent and it takes you twice as long to do things.” I recently had a client tell me that he had trouble reading. “I get so distracted by my own thoughts. I think of things I need to buy at the store, a friend who asked me to do something for him, a work project that I’ve been neglecting, a fear that I have about the upcoming work week. After an hour, I find that I haven’t even made it through a single page.” Does this sound like you? It is pretty easy to eliminate external distractions. (Turn off the T.V., close out your facebook account, turn on some quiet music, find a conducive environment.) Eliminating the internal distractions of our minds takes more work, but it is possible to do. Here are just a couple of suggestions. First, remember your priorities for the moment. If you really want to read, then the other activities on your mind need to take a backseat. If this not possible, then maybe reading should be done after you get some of the other projects taken care of. If reading is your priority for the moment, set a time limit and take a break. While reading, keep a notebook by your side and anytime a distraction pops up, remove it by writing it down on the notepad. Tell yourself you will come back to it when you are finished reading and then return to the task at hand. The more you do this, the easier it will be to stay with one task for a longer period of time. You will notice your efficiency begin to improve with time and practice. Don’t give up!

4. A napping brain is a stronger brain. I’m not talking about the 2-3 hour naps we take after a huge Thanksgiving or Sunday dinner. Power naps, as they have been appropriately termed, are no longer than 20-30 minutes and they are like a quick reboot for the brain. When dealing with computer problems at the office, our IT guy has a saying, “If you haven’t first tried turning it off and back on again, don’t ask me for help.” The same is true for the brain. If you are feeling tired or inefficient, if your brain seems to be working slowly, try powering down for a few minutes and then restarting. Studies have shown that your memory, concentration, and efficiency will be drastically improved.

5. A seeing brain is a believing brain. Your vision is the most powerful sense that you have. It trumps all other senses. For example, professed wine connoisseurs have been known to mistake a dyed white wine for a red wine. A picture really is worth a 1,000 words. So the next time you turn on your computer, get ready to watch a movie, or read that book, remember this: ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—[picture] such things.” Fill your mind with beautiful and healthy things and the possibilities for a beautiful, healthy life will be endless!

Question: What changes do you need to make in your life for a healthier brain?