Summer is officially here; the season typically associated with recreation, relaxation, and restoration. However, if you are like most Americans, you will miss out on the year’s best opportunity to revitalize the health of your brain.
In fact, according to a survey published on the career website Glassdoor, the average American employee only takes half of their earned vacation or paid time off each year – with 40% of employees reported using less than one-quarter of their earned vacation. Furthermore, of those that take a vacation, 61% admitted working while on their vacation! This has earned the United States the nickname of “no-vacation nation”.
This is a huge mistake in terms of health and happiness.
A growing body of research demonstrates what our minds and bodies already know – staying constantly on-the-go without taking REAL breaks can take a serious toll on physical and mental health.
For example, when the receptors in our brain become overloaded for extended periods of time by excessive amounts of cortisol, your body’s primary stress hormone, cell death happens in your brain. The primary area of the brain affected by the cell death is the hippocampus, which plays a very important role in things like memory and anxiety. Damage to the hippocampus can decrease memory and increase anxiety.
Research has also shown that those who DO take breaks experience a multitude of mental and physical benefits, including:
- Living longer
- Sleeping better
- Decreased risk of heart disease
- Enhanced performance
- More creativity
- Improved mood
- Increased motivation and productivity
So reducing stress and giving your brain a break is critical to optimizing your brain’s health and performance. This does not have to involve an expensive, long-lasting, elaborate vacation. Here are some quick and proven techniques to reduce stress and give your brain a break.
1. Consistent Exercise. One of the most important things that you can do for the health of your brain, exercise will help you manage stress by immediately lowering stress hormones and helping you become more resistant to stress over time. Raising your heart rate through exercise also makes you better handle stress because it raises beta-endorphins, the brain’s own natural morphine!
2. Sufficient Sleep. Skimping on sleep can affect your health in more ways than you might imagine. When you don’t get enough sleep, you have overall decreased blood flow to your brain, which disrupts thinking, memory, and concentration.
3. Spend More Time. With people, not tasks. Never underestimate the power of being around the right people! The health habits of the people you spend time with have a dramatic impact on your own health and habits.
4. Meditate. This is a very effective way to soothe your mind and help you create a state of deep relaxation. Interestingly enough, meditation actually stimulates the brain; increasing blood flow to the areas responsible for attention and forethought, while calming down the areas that perceive pain.
5. Disconnect. From technology, not people! Multiple research studies have indicated that too much time online can lead to stress, sleeping disorders, anxiety and depression.
6. Supplement. If your brain is deficient in key nutrients, it becomes more difficult to deal with stress. Clinical studies demonstrate that nutraceuticals can be used to relax your body and mind and help alleviate the stress you feel on a day-to-day basis.
7. Try Yoga. Many people think that yoga is just stretching. While stretching is certainly involved, yoga decreases stress. Additionally, recent research found that 20 minutes of yoga stimulates brain function more than walking or jogging on the treadmill for the same amount of time.