Mental Wealth

How Small Investments Create Big Returns

9 Resolutions that Invest in Your Mental Wealth

Think of these 9 New Year's resolutions as contributions toward mental wealth.
Juliana Breines
This post is a response to How to Trick Yourself Into Making Your Resolution Stick by Juliana Breines, Ph.D.

Natural brain health
Natural brain health habits pay dividends
I know resolutions are supposed to be concrete and associated with specific goals, but today I’d like to present some holistic resolutions that have the potential to cause a shift in everyday mentality, habits and lifestyle choices.  Here are some “mental wealth” dos and don’ts to keep in mind as we gear up for 2014.

1. Make your work environment as natural and as physical as possible. Do realize ancestors did not sit in chairs, and that doing so weakens your core, while strengthening the spinal muscles helps support higher brain centers. If you have to work at a desk or computer, do vary your position as much as you can by sitting on a ball, using a “standing desk,” or sitting on a kneeling chair. Do get up and stretch, move, and walk around frequently. Do see if you can arrange days where you don’t sit at all. Don’t be afraid to do some manual labor to provide deep sensory input and increase blood flow to your limbs. Do go outside during your lunch or other breaks to get some sunshine. Do use healthy lighting—natural lighting is best, followed by incandescent bulbs.  Don’t turn on fluorescent overhead lights if a room is already well-lit from big windows. Do make the temperature comfortable and use a humidifier if needed—a lot of offices blast air conditioning unnecessarily, which reduces blood blow and dries out the eyes and skin. Do use wired desktops only to avoid manmade EMFs from Wi-Fi and laptop/tablet/smartphone batteries. Do put greenery all around you—it helps naturally restore attention (even pictures of greenery help!) and reduces air pollution, including electro-pollution.  

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2. Commit to two types of hobbies—one creative, and one physical. Do consider gardening, as it potentially meets both of these criteria (plus, as I mentioned, greenery rejuvenates attention.) Do make your hobbies something you like or love to do. Don’t worry if you’re good at it. If you’re not sure what you like, do try some things out before deciding they’re not for you. Do try tennis; it’s one of my favorite (and most rewarding) interventions in my practice—it strengthens the cardiovascular system, provides resistance, gets your body moving in a variety of ways, keeps the brain stimulated, is played by every age group at every level, and provides social interaction. Do try to think of things you can do with your hands, as fine motor activities are good for cognition.

3. Exercise in nature. Don’t drag yourself to a gym (with fluorescent lights) and run on a treadmill (exposing you to EMFs from the motor) if you hate going. Do walk outdoors; brisk walking provides almost immediate benefits in cognition and brain blood flow.  Do consider taking up running if you feel you can’t concentrate or are forgetful as it provides even more dramatic effects on brain health (“Running is the best for the brain, while walking is the best for the body.”)  Do visit beaches, lakes, woods, mountains, deserts etc whenever possible.       

4. Eat natural foods. Do eat more like our ancestors did, meaning eat things you can “hunt, pick, grow, or fish” in as natural a state as possible.  Do eat good fats, like avocado, olive oil, and nuts, as fats help insulate the brain’s networks and keep cell membranes fluid. Do cut down on animal fat, especially from red meat. Don’t count calories (did our ancestors do that? Of course not…and they actually ate around 3,000-5,000 calories a day!) Do realize you’ll probably need to cook more, grocery shop more, and spend more, for healthy brain eating. Do eat organic as much as possible. Do eat seeds and nuts, which lower risk for cerebral vascular disease and dementia. Do add cilantro to meats and fish; cilantro is a natural chelator, which means it can remove heavy metals from the brain. Do eat a “rainbow” of colorful fruits and veggies to lower brain inflammation. Don’t skip meals, eat fake foods (artificial sweeteners, margarine, etc), or believe that packaged diet meals will serve your health in the long run. Do try to remove aspartame from your diet altogether—it’s a neurotoxin. Don’t use Teflon pans or plastic containers, and don’t microwave foods. Don’t drink carbonated beverages, especially if osteoporosis runs in your family, as anything carbonated leaches calcium from your bones.

5. Natural learning, playing, and relating in a real, three dimensional environment is best. Don’t believe that there are any apps, games or software that can make you or your child smarter or make your life better.  Don’t worry that you’ll be left behind if you don’t have the latest gadget. Don’t look at Facebook if you’re depressed or if it makes you jealous (studies show Facebook worsens depression), and don’t believe that others are living fun-filled glorious lives based on Facebook pages. Do relate to your spouse and family without gadgets around.  Don’t believe your child is only capable of being interested in electronics—they’ll naturally expand their interests if technology distractions are removed. Don’t let your child Skype, chat on Facebook, or text while doing homework—despite what they tell you, it does not help them work faster.   

6. Engage in a spiritual practice.  Do consider taking up yoga, meditation, or a religious practice. Do appreciate that yoga pays off HUGE dividends for mental, brain, and body health—studies show it fights depression and anxiety, increases physical and mental flexibility, reduces trauma symptoms, lowers blood pressure and other stress responses, improves cognition and memory, and slows a frenetic mind. Do realize creating a habit takes about 3 weeks. Do experiment with different styles (e.g. of yoga or meditation, both of which can vary a great deal) until you find a good fit. Don’t automatically say “I hate yoga!” –there are different kinds and there are shorter routines you can start with if it makes you antsy. Do consider using DVDs to help establish a daily practice.

7. Resync your body clock with nature.  Do read the book Healing Night by Rubin Naiman (Syren Book Company, 2006). Do realize our ancestors used to wind down then go to sleep after sundown. Do acknowledge that as recent as a hundred years ago, people ate dinner and then maybe read or talked by candlelight, then went to bed.  Do try to match your sleep-wake cycle with nature, and get some sunlight right when you wake up. Do try to wake up without an alarm if you can.  Do appreciate that being de-synced from our natural rhythms is strongly associated with both physical and mental health issues, including depression, bipolar disorder, and ADHD.

8. Promote brain integration.  Do engage in activities that use alternating sides of the body to help integrate and strengthen connections between and within brain hemispheres and lobes (think tennis, yoga, or dancing). Do use your non-dominant hand for things like eating or brushing your teeth to force your brain to learn new things. Do build right brain strength with movement, creativity, holistic thinking, music, and empathy. Don’t use electronics for entertainment, especially if you’re on the computer a lot for work, as this reinforces the overused left brain and suppresses the right.   Do realize that engaging in 3-D (real life) provides better brain integration than engaging in 2-D (with a screen.) Do try new things: new foods, sports, crafts, board games and book genres stimulate new brain networks and enhanced interconnectivity.  

9. Practice love and compassion. Do learn that putting our heart in a coherent rhythm pattern influences and syncs brain activity, and that we can put ourselves in a state of coherence by thinking loving and/or compassion thoughts or memories while doing heart-centered breathing. (Do check out the research on www.heartmath.com/about/research-information.html --it’s fascinating! ) Do learn this technique, and do remember it’s an incredibly powerful self-healing you can practice at any time—including when you’re frustrated with your health or healthcare. Do realize the heart emits a strong electromagnetic field that extends out around us by several feet, which means if we are in coherence then others near us are more coherent as well.  Do realize we can create virtuous cycles instead of vicious ones by altering our energy, and that positive emotions literally improve heart and brain health. Do “pay it forward,” even if you don’t get credit.

Lastly, do realize we’re all on a journey, and just reading this post plants little seeds in your mind, even if you don’t implement any of it yet. And do pass this on if you found it helpful!

Happy holidays!   

 

 

Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., is a board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in treating children with complex diagnoses and/or treatment-resistant conditions.

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