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One Step Forward And Two Steps Back From Stress

Patricia Faust

Brain Health Expert: Patricia Faust

The experts that Jack has assembled for Kuel Life have done a magnificent job helping us look outside our COVID stress and remember what it is like to take care of ourselves and thrive during this tumultuous time.

This is extremely important right now because we have been weighted down with worry. It is being reported that our isolation has put a few pounds on us over the last year. We looked for outlets to help us feel better and we made food choices that would release dopamine and make us feel better. Now that some of the pressure is starting to lift, we are faced with the consequences of our lifestyle decisions throughout the last year.

Relaxed Brain:

Are you still struggling with a stressed-out brain? Getting out of the chronic stress loop can be difficult. The difference in your thinking and decision-making when your brain is relaxed as opposed to when your brain is all tied up in knots is stark!  Relaxed brain – you use your rational thinking skills to make decisions. Your prefrontal cortex is back in charge with planning, decision-making, and rational thought. Your stressed brain just skips over the prefrontal cortex and goes directly to the amygdala with emotional responses. You end up reacting, not thinking. Even though our environment may be slightly easier to contend with, our brain might still be wired to expect the worse. So, what can you do?

Relaxed brain – you use your rational thinking skills to make decisions.”

Think In A Positive Manner:

Our brain naturally skews to the negative side of life because that is how it monitors for threats. Changing our brain to the more positive side of things requires us to work on seeing the positive. You have to notice the positive aspects of life that might pop up. It is unique in that many of these positive things are in front of us all the time, but we can’t see them. We have to make an effort to look for positive occurrences. Then, we have to think in a more positive manner. If you normally make statements or judge something to be negative – it will be negative. If you turn that around – through intentional effort – and make statements or judge something to be positive – it will be positive. You attract the energy that you put out! It does take some effort and practice, however.

Worn Out From Worry:

Now let’s take a look at how your brain is functioning right now after a year of turmoil. Are you physically worn out from worry? Now let’s take a look at how your lifestyle might enhance your brain or hurt your brain. A couple of the side effects of chronic stress are depression and anxiety. Many, many people are struggling with depression and anxiety. The circumstances of the pandemic set up an epidemic of mental/behavioral health problems. Isolation from family and friends caused catastrophic problems. The vaccine is offering hope that we can start getting together again. Enjoying a nice dinner in a restaurant or going to a friend’s house to socialize and laugh will do wonders to soothe the soul. We have to let go of the fear we feel just going out of the house. Connecting with other people is critical to brain health. It actually builds cognitive reserve – extra brain cells that can protect the brain from cognitive impairment. 

Our Brain Is An Energy Cannibal:

Getting up and moving is beneficial to our brain health and physical health. When we move – we increase the flow of blood, oxygen, and carbohydrates to the brain. Our brain is an energy cannibal and requires large amounts of blood, oxygen, and carbohydrates to power the prefrontal cortex. Our brain does not have its own energy source to draw from, so we have to get it from increased heart rates. Exercising will increase our metabolism and help us keep those extra pounds off. Exercising also releases BDNF in the prefrontal cortex and that spurs the growth of new brain cells.  Sitting around doing nothing will kill cells but moving will grow new cells. This seems like an easy choice to make but many times it is just too much to commit to.

Shake Up Your Brain A Little From Stress:

End result? You don’t get anything done. Your brain feels dull and foggy.

Did you get stuck in a boredom trap when you were home? Boredom takes the sense of purpose and joy right out of your life. Everything becomes an effort and that is hard to break out of. You have so many projects at home that need attention but instead, you push it off another day. End result? You don’t get anything done. Your brain feels dull and foggy. Oh, that is an awful way to feel. Shake up your brain a little. Pull out something challenging to do.  Even a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle can stimulate your brain.  Give your brain a break and find something to do.  

Be Intentional With Your Lifestyle Changes:

And, what about the weight gain during lockdown? Stress eating, hunger because of lack of sleep, a chocolate fix, and anything salty you pop in your mouth to appease the brain. A glass of wine each night increases to two or three glasses each night. This has become a problem. It is time to step back and take a critical look at the lifestyle habits you are now living with. Be intentional with your lifestyle changes but don’t try to do everything at once. All of your bad habits developed slowly over the last year. Your comeback should be slow and steady. Even though it is easier and maybe it is initially more pleasant to live with your old habits, your brain will appreciate the changes you are making. Slow and steady wins the race.

Patricia Faust is a gerontologist specializing in the issues of brain aging, brain health, brain function and dementia. She has a Masters in Gerontological Studies degree from Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Patricia is certified as a brain health coach and received a certification in Neuroscience and Wellness through Dr. Sarah McKay and the Neuroscience Academy. My Boomer Brain, founded in 2015, is the vehicle that Patricia utilizes to teach, coach and consult about brain aging, brain health and brain function. Her newsletter, My Boomer Brain, has international readers from South Africa, Australia, throughout Europe and Canada. She has also been a frequent guest on Medicare Moment on WMKV and Cincy Lifestyles on WCPO.