RE YOU STRESSED OR BOTHERED BY ANXIETY? Do you feel like too many information streams are bombarding your brain? I recently ran across this fabulous title in the New York Times: This Year, Try Spring Cleaning Your Brain.
This well-written article examines ways you might soothe your brain. Today, I will focus on three means to soothe your brain.
I want to review these approaches to stress reduction, with an eye to the underlying evidence suggesting we can benefit from the practices.
1. Stress reduction: Reconnect
Are you bombarded with information? From the Internet, television, the car radio, and more? If so, you may be suffering from information overload.
Combining social isolation, a common phenomenon during the COVID pandemic, we get a toxic combination with information overload.
If we feel disconnected from others, we may experience a faster cognitive decline rate than those who don’t feel lonely. Loneliness also makes us more likely to lose the ability to care for ourselves and can be associated with early death.
People who feel lonely (disconnected from others) have faster rates of cognitive decline than people who don’t feel lonely. Loneliness also raises our risks of losing the ability to take care of ourselves and early death.
How might loneliness do its dirty work? Here are some potential mechanisms:
- an association with physical activity
- poorer sleep
- higher blood pressure
- elevated levels of inflammation
2. Stress reduction: Practice mindfulness
With the ongoing pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and inflation soaring, you may be experiencing higher stress levels. If you want to drop the stresses of daily life, you might want to try mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness practices can reduce stress by facilitating our return to the present (when we are distracted).
We have long known the benefits of meditation. At Harvard Medical School, Dr. Herbert Benson taught about the benefits of mindfulness — including lower blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity — as early as 1975.
In 2011, Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar was the first to document that mindfulness meditation changes the brain’s structure, including the gray matter and regions associated with the sense of self, memory, and the regulation of emotions.
In the New York Times article, Nkechi Njaka suggests that we “take advantage of the transitional moments of the day to practice mindfulness — when you wake up, right before or after a meal or when you change your physical location, for example — so that you can start to form a routine.”
3. Stress reduction: Reduce information overload
I sometimes get caught up in a seemingly unstoppable news cycle. Do various media bombard you? It might be time to reconsider your news consumption in this noisy world.
Here’s the recommendation of Cal Newport, the author of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World:
Pick one or two reliable sources of information and read them at a specific time each day. He adds that we should take a 30-day break from technologies [such as social media].
Instead of scrolling through Tik Tok videos, consider listening to some of your favorite music or taking a walk amongst the trees.