Updated: Dec 1, 2021
Let’s talk about the brain.
I know, it’s not a very sexy topic, but hear me out.
I’ve recently read that the second leading cause of death among Australians is dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the main form of dementia. And although dementia is mostly associated with older age, poor brain function can affect anyone at any time.
And to stay healthy and enjoy your wellbeing, is to live in a healthy body and a healthy mind or in this case the brain. But looking after our brain needs to be as important as looking after our body. No matter the age, or if we worry about dementia or not.
In today’s blog, I want to show you how stress impacts our brain and literally makes us stupid (excuse the pun) and how looking after our brain through sleep can help us to improve our cognition.
Don’t fear, there is a way to take control of our emotions and to get our intelligence back. In addition, I created a downloadable 5 simple strategies to stop worrying and get a good night sleep cheat sheet for you, so you can start your day with your brain.
How stress impacts your thinking
Have you ever said something in anger and regrated later? Or have you ever behaved in a way that you felt embarrassed and wished you didn’t do it?
I did. And as painful as it may be to admit it, I want to add it wasn’t all my fault. Because you see, every time you are under stress, and the stress response (flight or fight response) is triggered, your logical brain shuts down. And your emotional brain takes over.
If we look at it from evolution’s side, it makes sense. Although we’ve evolved, our biological response to stress is exactly the same as our ancestors. All their behaviours were driven by emotions. Primary functions such as hunting for food, steering clear from danger, and staying alive needed a quick emotional response. When presented with danger, there was no time to think what we wanted to eat for dinner, if we went on a date with that boy we liked or if we met our monthly repayments. That’s why our emotional response is milliseconds faster than our rational response. If you ever heard that you should think before you speak, now you know why it is so hard to follow this advice.
But stress has yet another effect on your brain.
As you have just discovered, your emotions take over and your logic goes out of the window. Because your reaction is based on emotions, you don’t think clearly, your solving problem skills are low or non-existing, and making any rational decision is hard.
Next time you’re stressed notice if your first thought is that something bad happened and your partner had an accident because he or she is running late or that she or he was called into an unexpected meeting with their boss, and they didn’t have time to let you know they will be running late.
Our emotions take over before we can access the situation logically. And that’s why anxiety, worrying and depression are the main threats to our cognitions and our brain health.
Take a breath
You probably noticed that not a lot of monks are stressed or overwhelmed. They also seem to be less busy but somehow happier. That’s because they look after their brain through meditation. And part of meditation is focusing on your breathing.
Going back to your stress response, the good news is that you can stop it. You can stop your emotional hijack and go back to rational thinking. Because your stress response is a physiological reaction, the only way to interrupt it is through another physiological reaction.
And you can do it through breathing.
I’m sure when you were stressed or something distressing happened to you, you were asked to breathe. Breathing has calming effects, especially on our nervous system, but there is more to that.
If you recall from earlier, your logical side of the brain shuts down during stress response. It happens because your body takes the oxygen and delivers it to your limbs which need to be mobilised for quick action (either to fight or to flight). This means that less oxygen is being delivered to your brain.
Therefore, you need to deliver fresh oxygen to take control of your emotions.
The more you practice breathing, the more in control of your emotions you will be.
Produce an alpha wave
Stress can alter our logical thinking, but through meditation and taking a deep expansive breath, we can gain control again. The impact of stress on our brain is visible, and to better protect our brain and stress less, we need to allow our brain to rest.
Sleep is truly a great remedy for stress. During sleep, our brain produces waves, four to be exact: beta, alpha, theta, and delta waves. They are responsible for different stages of sleep and our awareness, but producing alpha waves is especially beneficial in managing stress.
Alpha waves are associated with ‘relaxed awareness’. It is a stage when our creativity is high, we are able to fully relax and our memory is improved. Alpha waves help with the reduction of the stress hormone, cortisol, and help balance our automatic nervous system.
Alpha waves are produced during our sleep, that is why getting enough sleep is so important to our brain health. But research also shows that alpha waves are being produced when we are relaxed, engaged in a creative task, or meditating (remember the monks?).
It may seem simple, but next time you feel you’re going down the rabbit hole of worrying, you are letting anxiety get the best of you, or you’re getting angry because you didn’t get what you wanted, take a deep breath.
A deep, expansive breath delivers fresh oxygen into your brain. You will start thinking clearly, you will start seeing new solutions, you will turn challenges into opportunities because your brain will be logically looking for healthier choices.
Looking after your brain, especially by delivering enough rest time, so it can produce the beneficial alpha waves will also help with stress reduction. This not only will help you to control your emotions, but it will help to protect your brain.
So, are you producing enough alpha waves?
And don’t forget to get this downloadable 5 simple strategies to stop worrying and get a good night sleep cheat sheet! This way you can start your morning fresh.
Having problems with managing your stress? Go on: www.annadoktor.com.au to find out more about Anna Doktor Wellness Coaching and how I can help you to beat the overwhelm once and for all. Alternatively, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call to have a chat to see how we can work together tel: 0498016440.
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