Ep 66: You can change your brain to reduce your stress

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Did you know you can change your brain? We tend to think we are stuck with the brain we’re born with. But apparently brains love to change, grow and regenerate.

There is so much you can do to set your brain up to help you respond to your challenges.

Learn about a couple of ways to do that in today’s episode.

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Full transcript 👇

Ep 66: You Can Change Your Brain to Reduce Your Stress

Hi. I’m Lori Miller and this is your Mental Health Moment.

If you were like me you grew up believing that you were born with only so many brain cells.

If you destroy them, through drugs or alcohol, for example, you don’t ever get them back.

I’m not sure exactly how many brain cells I was born with, but I’m not keen on losing any more than I have to.

Thanks to some diligent science people, however, we now know that idea was wrong.

Your brain can change and compensate for many things life throws at it.

It turns out, your brain is highly flexible and constantly works to adapt to the new requirements placed on it.

The clinical term for this is neuroplasticity, and you see it all the time in real life.

  • Recovery after a stroke is the brain adapting and making new connections to relearn some basic functions.
  • Sudden loss of hearing in one ear may strengthen hearing in the other ear to compensate for the loss.
  • Phantom limb sensation experienced by amputees is plasticity at work.

Apparently your brain learns how to rewire itself, change directions and find alternate pathways all the time.

But plasticity isn’t just limited to injuries or damage. There’s a very practical side to this that can help you in your daily life.

Your brain can also adapt to new ways of thinking and behaving.

You might think you can’t change some of your behaviors related to depression or anxiety, but you can set up your brain to help you be more successful in your efforts.

The patterns and thinking habits that have been with you since you started using reason and logic as a wee youngster are ingrained as pathways in your brain. It’s what you learned from your earły environmental influences.

It’s just how you’ve “always been.”

You can play a role in getting your brain to change those pathways in a few simple ways.

What do you pay attention to?

What you focus on is a stimulus to your brain.

Think about that for a second.

Every time you give your attention to something, you are stimulating your brain toward some action.

You can’t choose the thoughts that pop in your head. But you can choose how long you focus on those thoughts and how you decide to handle them.

  • If you are struggling with depression, and you focus on a negative thought or situation, your brain just keeps going down the path you take it.
  • If you’ve been struggling for a while, your brain doesn’t have to work that hard to take you down the familiar path.
  • It’s been in this part of the labyrinth before.

Your brain likes this path of least resistance because it can conserve energy for something else.

But when you choose to focus on an adaptive thought, or a positive thought, your brain lights up.

It now has to fire differently and make new neural connections to accommodate the new activity.

It’s like when you suddenly realize Google Maps is taking you on a detour and you don’t know where the next rest stop might be…and you just finished a Big Gulp.

In order to meet the new demand, your brain has to entertain the thought of a different path and determine what resources it needs to get there.

If you manage to keep your focus on more helpful, adaptive thoughts, your brain gets comfortable with that path and it’s easier to override the negative, now less used, paths.

And you just mastered a new thinking skill that will help improve your mood.

Move your body

I know I bring this up a lot, but you have to move your body every day to even have a shot at feeling better. You have to disturb your homeostasis. Here’s another compelling reason why.

Exercise prevents shrinkage. 😳 Okay, what?

  • If you’re still alive, then your brain is aging
  • If you’re not exercising, then your brain is shrinking.
  • The gray matter, the part we laymen call “brain,” is reducing in volume.
  • Exercise increases the volume of gray matter in your brain and reverses that shrinkage.
  • Apparently size does matter. 😜

This gray matter growth also can contribute to the formation of new blood vessels.

And the best part: exercise can help your brain regenerate new cells, a process called neurogenesos.

All this adds up to improved cognitive function.

Studies show one of the best ways to prevent age related cognitive decline is to exercise.

Higher intensity is best but anything will help.

So there you go. Time to take your shrinking brain to the gym. 🏃‍♀️

The research is still a little back and forth on this one, but meditation appears to have significant changes on the brain.

Apparently just one session can improve blood flow into the prefrontal cortex, which is where all your thinking and planning lives.

But over the long term, meditation may provoke some structural changes in the areas that regulate emotions and assist in learning and memory.

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Meditation doesn’t necessarily mean a long, drawn out session. You can find a space somewhere in your day and meditate for just a few minutes.

This can lower your fight or flight responses, which can help you manage anxiety and depression.

There are a gazillion meditation apps for your phone. Try one and see if it doesn’t improve your focus and increase your ability to handle the stuff in your day.

And remember, over time, your highly plastic brain will come to consider this more calm, relaxed state as the norm.

Your brain is a marvelous machine.

You get to carry it around in your head all the time. Only you know what’s truly going on in there.

Please know that at the end of the day, you can change and control what you do with your marvelous brain. It can be shaped and molded to help you be at your best every day.

Make an intentional and purposeful effort to change your brain and see what happens!

You can catch episodes of Mental Health Moment by visiting mymentalhealthmoment.com. Don’t forget to subscribe to Mental Health Moment on Amazon Alexa, Apple podcast, Google podcast and Spotify. Just search for “Mental Health Moment with Lori Miller.”

If you want Mental Health Moment delivered right to your inbox, visit mymentalhealthmoment.com to sign up to get these delivered to your email every day.

If you’re STILL wanting for more, you can find articles and videos about stress and mental health, by visiting my website at LoriMiller.me.

Thanks for listening!

I’d love to hear what you think!

  • Leave a note below or ask me a question in the comment section below.
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