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Be Kind to Your Mind: The Mind-Body Connection

A Personal Perspective: Part II of III: How to be kinder to your mind.

Part II or III: Being kind to your mind means coming to the present moment. Here are additional tips to get there.

  1. Move. Yoga, meditation, walking in nature, singing, dancing, and prayer are all powerful ways of coming into the now. What works for you may not work for others; make this part of your routine.
  2. Sleep. Another important way to be kind to your mind is to get the sleep you need. We live in a sleep-deprived world with an over-focus on achievement. Capitalism fosters a “work and spend” cycle that leaves feelings of burnout and dissatisfaction. Studies have shown that increases in your income do increase happiness, but only up to about $100,000 a year. After that, money means less. Money can buy cars, homes, and handbags, but you will need other ways to cultivate more happiness in your life. Seven hours of sleep for men and eight hours for women is about what most people need. There are some people who have a gene that allows them to sleep three to five hours a night, never feeling tired. For most of us, this will have negative mental and physical health consequences.

    Proper sleep hygiene can improve the length and quality of our sleep. The advice sounds simple, but few actually follow it. Use the bed for the three S’s: Sleep, Sex, and Sickness. Train your bed the way Pavlov trained his dogs. Bed equals sleep. Stick to the same sleep and wake times every day. Make sure the room is cool and dark. Try a weighted blanket if you are a restless sleeper. Avoid screen time at least an hour before bedtime. Don’t sleep with electronic devices. Preferably leave them in another room. Avoid caffeine after 2 pm. Coffee or tea in small amounts may be fine for some people but in excess, they can cause anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. If you have a specific sleep disorder or excessive daytime fatigue, address this with your physician.

  3. Eat Right. Our brains need energy. You can’t trick it for long by running on low-quality food and too much coffee. This only leads to a crash afterward. You need high-quality foods like berries and green leafy vegetables. Foods rich in omega fatty acids like salmon, anchovies, and walnuts are also important.

    Junk food is called that for a reason. “Fast food” just shouldn’t be. Eating stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system nicknamed our “rest and digest.” This part of our nervous system allows us to feel calm. When you eat, it is the optimal time to feel relaxed and enjoy this part of the day. You may have noticed that you get tired 30 to 60 minutes after eating. This is your body’s way of allowing you to slow down. We need to live with our nervous system in balance. All our activities stimulate our sympathetic nervous system; remember to eat and stimulate the opposite side.

  4. Avoid Toxins. We live in a society that over-emphasizes and glamorizes alcohol. There is another side to that story. More than 140,000 Americans a year die every year of excess alcohol use and every day about 28 Americans die in drunk driving car accidents. Moreover, a recent study of over 36,000 participants showed that as little as one drink a day can shrink your brain. I am all for shrinking my waistline but Not My Brain. Many people use alcohol to tame anxiety or lift their mood but it doesn’t work. If you want to be kind to your mind, let it do what it does naturally and avoid these and other mind-altering substances.
  5. Detox from Excess Stimulation. Our brains were not designed for this 24-7 world we are living in. In fact, they were designed to do far less. We are overusing them, and that is what is contributing to the rise in mental illness. Our brains are designed to sprint, then rest. When we constantly bombard ourselves with input, we are failing to ever truly rest. Integrating a workout, meditation, a nap, yoga, or listening to music into your day will actually make you more productive, not less.

    Watching the news is particularly toxic, as it causes us to release too much cortisol. Reading news is less stressful and limiting your intake to what you really need to know is helpful. You don't want to be uninformed, but you also don’t want to be strung out on cortisol all day. Sites like The Skimm or Axios are helpful in providing a quick overview and then only go deeper if you really need to know something. Avoiding news before bedtime is also important so you can get a good night’s sleep.

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