While sometimes it may be tempting to do this when someone mentions gratitude, the benefits are greater than you think!
How being thankful can make your brain happier
It can seem obvious, being thankful for what you have. But it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘I’ll be happy when…’, waiting for the stars to align and make ‘everything perfect’. In reality this very rarely happens, and we can make ourselves pretty miserable waiting for it.
Comparison is the thief of joy. If you are always looking at what others have or have achieved, it can be very hard to celebrate your own wins or be grateful for the good things in your life. The grass is not really greener on the other side!
How your brain will thank you
Being grateful can make massive changes to your life. It can help you express more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. It does this by affecting how your brain is functioning- when you express gratitude it affects your hypothalamus (where your stress response is triggered), and your ventral tegmental area (the part of your brain responsible for your reward mechanism that can produce feelings of pleasure). People who have practiced gratitude for as little as 3 months have huge changes in their brain on functional MRI in these areas and others, most to do with pleasure, positive emotion and lowered stress response.
Sometimes it can be easier to recognise what others do for you, before you can see what positives you already have. So, make a start by thinking about the people in your life that help you or do nice things for you. If you are really struggling with this, try to flip around any negatives you notice about people. Rather than picking on what they have missed or could have done better, say thank you for your effort and thanks for making my life a bit easier.
There have been studies that have shown that acting happy can actually make you happy. Smiling has the same effect on your brain whether you want to smile or not. So, you can try a little bit of ‘fake it before you make it’ to help you start.
How to be grateful
There are so many strategies that you can implement to help you show gratitude. Keep it simple and find what works for you. This shouldn’t be a hard or laborious task, so if you’re finding it difficult, start small and make it easier on yourself.
Gratitude is more than just being optimistic or looking on the bright side. It is looking at what you have worked hard for, what you have achieved, how much you have in your life. Even if you first think there is nothing, when you start to look a little deeper there is usually much more than you expect. It is easy to get caught up in the negatives, what you don’t have and what you can’t do, that it can be tricky to appreciate what you can do. Be thankful for what is in your life right now, even if it is a bit challenging, and look forward to everything coming your way in the future. Try it out, if nothing else your brain will thank you for it!
Our brain is incredible. It orchestrates our every movement, thought and deed, and through the spinal cord reaches every part of our body. So what can we do to look after our brain and keep it performing at its peak?
Why look after our brain?
Our brain is central to everything we do, it is the master controller of our bodies. There is also the issue of cognitive decline as we age, with diagnoses of dementia, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, very common in our aging population. While the jury is still out on what causes these syndromes, it makes sense to do as much as you can to look after your brain from a young age. When our brain is functioning well, it is easy for us to work, and play, at our best.
One of the most hyped ways to stave off cognitive decline is brain training apps. These puzzle apps are designed to keep your problem solving skills in use, and, in theory, keep your brain more active than it would otherwise be. However, studies into these apps have found no specific increase in brain power with these apps, in fact, smartphone use is being linked with increased inattention and shorter attention spans. So while these apps may be fun, don’t expect any big results from playing the puzzles regularly.
Variety is the spice of your brain
Whatever you do regularly is what you will be good at. If you do crosswords all the time you will find them easy but would be very challenged by a Sudoku. To keep your brain functioning at it’s best, you can challenge it in different ways. There are lots of different kinds of puzzles that can help your mental gymnastics, for some inspiration, have a look at our Facebook page this month (June 2019). But there are lots of other ways to challenge your brain. Trying a new game or sport or a new exercise. Challenging your balance or fine motor skills. Meeting new people or reading a new book. Change is the key. There will be some activities you enjoy more than others, but you never know, you could find your new passion while trying something new and different!
Nourish your brain
Like everything in your body, your brain relies on what you put in your mouth to eat. Making the effort to eat nourishing wholefoods will pay big dividends where brain health is concerned. You wouldn’t put hot chips in a car engine and expect it to run efficiently would you? Your brain and body are no different. Healthy fats like avocado, fish and nuts are beneficial for your body to make hormones that help your brain function.
Sleep it off
Sleep is also vital for brain function. We all know how hard it is to focus and concentrate after a poor nights sleep. When we sleep, our brain has a change to ‘clean’ itself and flush out any waste after our big day of thinking. It is crucial to get a good nights sleep, and you can optimise your sleep by have good ‘sleep hygiene’. A few examples of this are: Going to bed at a regular time, minimising light and screen exposure in your bedroom, allowing yourself to wind down before bed.
One surprising thing that kept coming up was the importance of social connection for brain health. When we get out and socialise, it stimulates our brain like almost nothing else. Having other people to talk to and feeling part of a community were big predictors of cognitive function into older age. So get out and meet your friends for coffee, or go for a walk together, your brain needs you to!
Physical activity and exercise are crucial to brain health and preventing cognitive decline. The more active you are, the more input your brain receives, dusting out those cobwebs and keeping everything functioning at it’s best.
Learning new things is one of the best ways to ‘train your brain’! Make it challenging, change it up, and keep it fun! It doesn’t matter if it is a mental or physical skill, just keep learning.
So, the best way to train your brain? Exercise, sleep, good food and social connection. And learning new things- have a look at our Facebook page for puzzles every day this month!
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At Ballarat and District Chiropractic we know you want to be empowered when it comes your health so we want to help you by sharing all our knowledge about Chiropractic.