Your stress management program is an inside job. In other words, stress is a physiology that exists inside my body. Most of us have learned to link the external world to our physiology, by blaming the outside for the inside.
(For example, I will not have stress when I earn more money. That is not necessarily true).
In order to manage that physiology I am going to have to manage my inside chemistry, which is linked to my perceptions, what I think, how I breathe, my heart rate variability coherence, how I eat...any number of variables.
When I am advocating a stress management plan to my clients, I like to use the brain fitness model, which is based on enhancing the recently discovered capacity of the human brain to grow more neurons.
That capacity is called neurogenesis, and neurogenesis is hampered if not stopped by an exposure to stress hormones, according to Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., authors of the excellent book Brainfit for Life. Evans and Burghardt talk in clear language about the necessary steps to enhancing neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to form new connections subsequent to learning new information, sometimes within minutes.
And Evans and Burghardt emphasize the need to review that new information so your brain solidifies the new circuits and keeps them.
The brain if big user of energy, and very efficient at eliminating unnecessary circuits in order to conserve energy.
But back to the plan to enhance neurogenesis by following a brain fitness program.
We know by now that the reward for following a lifestyle based on attending to the four pillars of brain fitness is a bigger brain through neurogenesis, and I lean to the side of the discussion that says a bigger brain is a good thing.
So what are the pillars of brain fitness?
They are physical exercise, nutrition including lots of omega 3 fatty acid and antioxidants, good sleep, stress management (!), and novel learning experiences.
Evans and Burghart go into great detail about how physical exercise is the most important brain fitness pillar.
And there is good news for you if you think that you will be required to throw around heavy barbells and buy expensive gym memberships just to have new neurons. After all, how important can new brain growth be?
Well, actually the physical activity required for your stress management program and your brain fitness is exercise of the deep breathing kind, and if you are walking around the block, walk a little faster for a little longer to signal your brain that your are serious about the growth of new neurons.
A useful model for you to look at which takes 10-20 minutes per day at home is the High Intensity Interval Training model that 89 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat do to prepare for their overseas travel. You will notice that their physical exercise routine is not equipment intensive, and can be done at home if they choose.
As you might expect, nutrition is very important to both your stress management program and your brain fitness. It is imperative that you quit eating processed food. No way around it, you need the phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, ect. from real food, not food that is designed to outlast the effects of a nuclear war.
Your brain uses about 20% of the fuel you burn daily, so there are a lot of chemical reactions in your head, all of which can release free radicals, which cause the aging process.
Antioxidants sop up those free radicals for you, so eat a lot of fruit and vegetables to keep antioxidants available.
Omega 3 fatty acid is important to your stress management and brain fitness because your neurons are about 70% omega 3 fatty acid and if that supply of fatty acid is not replenished, those neurons get brittle and do not effectively communicate.
Garbled chat between neurons is not good. The best source of omega 3 fatty acid is fish, or you can supplement.
I have been a user and teacher of Heartmath, now called emWave, for about ten years. I love it. Regular practice has given me the ability to manage the inside of my body heart beat by heart beat when I choose to pay attention to the brain in my heart.
What I mean by that is there are still times when I choose to stress myself unnecessarily, and even to keep that distress when I could have the Heartmath eustress. Progress not perfection.
But I was really amazed to see the endorsement of Heartmath by Alvaro Fernandez, who is the author of the SharpBrains blog which tracks all things brain fitness.
So if you want to explore a heart beat by heart beat stress management plan, then click on the Heartmath link below or in the right column..
Novel learning experience is important for bringing those new neurons into existing circuits, where they can begin to help out building cognitive reserve, which is very important if your brain happens to be one of the Baby Boomer brains, or really important if your brain is a Senior brain.
Novel learning experience is usually catagorized for our brain fitness purposes as the kind of learning that happens when you learn a new language or a new instrument.
If you are like me, you do not have time to put into a language or instrument, so using one of the newly minted computerized brain fitness programs could be beneficial. I have used the three below and recommend them.
Can you imagine yourself following a stress management program based on the four pillars of brain fitness? I will take relaxation and a bigger brain as an worthy endgame.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
Would you share your favorite gratitude story by clicking here? Your story may be just what another person needs to renew themselves.
Your story becomes part of this website (which shows the site's most recent pages) and a permanent part of Ask Mike the Counselor2 for others to read!
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