Your brain can’t tell you what it needs, but neuroscience can speak for it. Studies show that a healthy and happy brain needs certain things to function optimally to help you build a viable career. The more you accommodate those needs, the more productive, healthy and successful you can be and the longer your career trajectory. Here are 10 things your brain would ask for to stay healthy if it could speak.
- Send me more blood so I can function to my full capacity. Studies show that exercise boosts blood flow to the brain. Your brain needs blood to keep up its energy, to think and be creative. Exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, new research shows. Short bursts of physical activity increases blood flow which, in turn, energizes you and clears your mind. According to The VibrantDoc, exercise also triggers the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that keeps the brain resilient and growing stronger. So if you’re work fatigued or frustrated, drop to your office floor for a set of push-ups and sit-ups, change into your workout clothes and hit the gym to lift weights or jog around the block and let off steam.
- Give me plenty of breaks so I can think more clearly. The 20-20-20 rule says for every 20 minutes spent looking at your screen, you take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles for 20 seconds and gives the brain a much-needed respite. Taking short breathers throughout the workday absorbs the cumulative effects of stress. Studies show when you take a Microbreak between meetings—stretching, glancing out a window, eating a snack, walking around the block—it keeps stress from building and the brain a chance to reset. Plus, studies show that short breaks help your brain learn new skills.
- Show me the big picture so I can keep a positive perspective. According to research, a broad perspective allows your brain to build on the positive aspects of your workday. Think of a camera. You can replace the zoom lens which focuses on the stressors by putting on a wide-angle lens which allows you to see bigger possibilities. Avoid blowing disappointments out of perspective; look for the upside of a downside situation; underscore positive feedback instead of letting it roll off; focus on work solutions instead of problems; pinpoint opportunity in a work challenge.
- Talk to me so we can continue to work together for our mutual interests. At first this might sound odd, but it’s not. Well established science has shown that first-name self-talk—the way you speak to someone else, referring to yourself by name instead of as “I”—is a self-regulatory mechanism that creates psychological distance from anger or frustration. Engaging this way in dialogue with your stressors makes you feel calmer and more clear-minded.
- Smile more to trick me into feeling good. Smiling can trick your brain into happiness, simply by how you move your facial muscles, according to University of South Australia research. We feel bad not just because facial expressions reflect how we feel, but they contribute to how we feel. When you feign a smile, it stimulates the amygdala—the emotional brain center, which in turn releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state. When your muscles say you’re happy, you’re more likely to see the world in a positive way.
- Provide me with meditation and spirituality to preserve my performance. Studies show that spiritual fitness keeps your brain sharp and prevents its decline. Scientists say the most effective way to build spiritual well-being is practicing mindfulness using techniques such as meditation and conscious breathing. Meditating as little as 12 minutes reduces risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease and benefits cognitive performance. Deep breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth and focusing on each inhalation and exhalation—following your breath through to a full cycle from the beginning when the lungs are full back down to when they’re empty—keeps you in the here and now as you move through work routines.
- Rewire me by changing your thoughts. Your brain has the ability to change its own structure when you take a different action in response to a changing circumstance. Studies show that new practices have the potential to reshape nerve cells and change the way your brain works. If you’re in the habit of hitting the ground running every morning, for example, a rewiring could happen by intentionally activating your parasympathetic nervous system—your rest and digest response—with such relaxing and calming activities as meditation, yoga, tai chi, deep breathing, massage, and so on. In as little as five or 10 minutes a day, these practices benefit your parasympathetic nervous system, and over time you can train your brain to stay calm even under turbulent circumstances.
- Give me a vibrant diet because I use more energy than any other body part. Without enough fuel, my neurons can’t properly communicate with each other, impairing function, and then I’m short on necessary resources. According to The VibrantDoc, you need Omega-3s: “DHA is the primary omega-3 fatty acid in the brain, and people with neurodegenerative diseases have low levels. Start with at least 2,000 mg of EPA/DHA daily from fish or krill oil, for maximum brain health. Look for high-quality, mercury-free supplements.” Nutritionists also emphasize that the most important strategy is to follow a healthy dietary pattern that includes fruits, green leafy vegetables, legumes and whole grains. A recent study showed that people who ate 470 grams of fruits and vegetables daily had 10% lower stress levels than those who ate 230 grams of fresh produce a day. The nutrients and vitamins in fruits and vegetables reduce stress, and they elevate mood and improve mental well-being.
- Keep me socially engaged with others to improve my health. Studies show that people who volunteer, attend classes or get together with friends at least once a week have healthier brains. Social engagement gives your brain more robust gray matter to prevent memory loss and dementia. It allows you to recognize familiar faces and emotions, make decisions and feel rewarded when you relate to others. To avoid social isolation, it’s important to keep your social relationships alive, maximize connections and reach out to others.
- Make sure I get plenty of shut eye because I work 24/7 and get irritable when I don’t get enough sleep. Even when you’re asleep, your brain never is. It’s listening, sensing and dealing with stressors to keep you safe. It’s resolving solutions, making decisions and thinking about possibilities even when you’re not aware of it. This “always on” organ is so devoted, it never takes a break or a vacation. Although it’s still on the job, sleep is one way your brain cleans up after a full day, and it triggers healing and repairs for the brain. Most experts recommend getting eight hours of high-quality sleep at night. Studies show sleep deprivation impairs your ability to stop intrusive thoughts from popping into your head. Plus, research suggests sleep disruption hampers your ability to deal with stress and unleashes anger in your everyday life. It’s as if your brain gets mad when it doesn’t get the rest it needs.