Did you know that your brain is a muscle, weighing in at just over 3 pounds and needs to be worked out just like the rest of the body? The brain has many functions and is the command center for the central nervous system; receiving information from the rest of the body, deciphering that information, and then sending messages on how to respond. The brain also controls such functions like breathing, sight, sound, memory, emotion; maintains blood pressure, and releases vital hormones (chemical signals responsible for proper organ and cell function).
Breaking Bad Habits
When we think about bad habits and breaking them, it is all about how we train our brain. The brain does not automatically put the rest of the body’s best interest first, it wants what it wants and can bully you into making bad decisions. If you are lax with your brain, not training or disciplining it, the brain will run wild like an out of control child having a tantrum. If you don’t workout the muscle portion of the brain, over time it will look like congealed cellulite.
Converting a bad habit into a healthy one takes work, everyday work, especially if you are out of practice. Teaching your brain the difference between needing and wanting is the goal you are reaching for. Tony Robbins says, “to break your bad habits, you need to catch yourself every time you find yourself doing it… stop, take a step back, and force yourself to take the other route with your new substituted habit.”
There are four major chemicals in the brain that influence our mood:
Endorphins mask our perceptions of pain and discomfort, help us to power through difficult situations and help us to keep going when we are ready to quit. For example, when working out, those endorphins push you to do one more or go just a little farther when you are ready to quit.
Dopamine stimulates the reward center in the brain and triggers the anticipation of feeling pleasure. Many good and bad things can trigger this neurotransmitter, from love to exercise to food to drugs and once the brain releases it, it only wants more of what made it trigger in the first place.
If repeating a bad habit triggers the reward center, your brain will crave for that. Replacing it with a good habit and getting the brain to crave that good habit instead, takes daily practice. Low dopamine levels can lead to lack of motivation, fatigue, addictive behavior, mood swings and memory loss.
Oxytocin is released through closeness with another person, whether it is cuddling with a loved one or bonding with a co-worker. NHA states that, “Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin’s role in various behaviors, including sexual arousal and orgasm, social recognition, receptivity, bonding, anxiety reduction, generosity, empathy increase, trust, love, and maternal behaviors.”
Serotonin is needed for your brain and nerve cells to work properly by controlling regulation of mood, appetite, self esteem & confidence, sleep, muscle contraction, memory & learning, and immunity. It has been proven that continued decreased levels of serotonin in the brain lead to depression and high levels of serotonin can lead to a myriad of symptoms ranging from shivering and diarrhea to fever, seizures and in extreme cases, death.
Take Extra Moments Just For You
Find a few moments everyday that are just for you. When you run yourself into the ground, trying to ‘do it all’, you are putting your health at risk, affecting everything and everyone in your life. The only way to be truly effective is by putting your physical, mental, & emotional self first. If you are happy, then everyone around you is happier.
Making time for you is not selfish, it is necessary to be able to facilitate all you do. Find the time, figure it out and put ‘you’ first; this body that you walk around in everyday is the only one you have, nourish it and let it thrive.
Dealing With Stress
Everyone deals with stressful situations on a daily basis but most people do not deal with them well. How do you find time to relax with constant deadlines looming, not enough hours in the day, a boss looking over your shoulder, and colleagues not pulling their weight?
It is important to clear all the junk out of your head, relax your shoulders and breath. Concentrate on the sound of your breath going in and out, extending from the bottom of your gut and not the shallow breath stemming from your chest. Breathe in the white as you imagine the color consuming every inch of your body and breathe out the black that the white light is replacing.
When that stress starts to bubble up, take a quick 10 minute walk around the block to stretch the body, give your brain some fresh air and get the blood flowing again.
Exercise not only jump-starts the metabolism, but is a well-documented stress reliever by emitting endorphins into the system and lowering the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Endorphins are the body’s natural feel-good neurotransmitter providing a sense of overall happiness, combating stress and reducing depression. Plus, muscle burns four times as many calories as fat, adding strength training as well as aerobic activity is a good idea as well.
We live in a fast food nation filled with processed, saturated, sugar-based convenience foods and it is killing us. Everything we put into our mouth creates a cause and effect.
What we feed our body is directly correlated to how we feel, both mentally and physically: our gut is called our second brain and is the only system that sends messages directly to the brain to formulate a response. When we ingest something that is harmful to our body our gut responds first; serotonin levels are interrupted, a message is sent to the brain, causing dopamine and other significant neurotransmitters released to induce some type of emotional response.
95% of the body’s serotonin is found in our intestines and drives:
We are what we eat. If your diet consists of mainly processed, packaged and sugary foods, your brain cannot function; creating negative reactions. If you are feeding your body healthy fats, lean meats and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, your body feels better, which in turns makes you feel better.
According to the National Academy of Health, 50-70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleeplessness and insomnia. Sleep is very underrated compared to the negative effects that can occur. Your brain needs to rest, especially after being pushed hard all day long.
Lack of sleep increases the chance of weight gain and depression, interferes with memory function, and raises the risks for diabetes, heart problems, hypertension and overall bad mood.
Saying you need to get more sleep is not going to make it happen, that will be up to you. Here are some sleeping tips:
- Stick to a bedtime schedule and ritual. This prepares your brain to slow down because it knows it is time to rest soon.
- Indulge in some ‘alone time’ before bed to give your brain time to come down from the day and relax.
- Take 10 minutes and meditate. Concentrate on clearing your brain and listening to your breathing.
- Don’t eat or drink caffeine or sugary, processed food. Alcohol also affects your sleep.
- Try not to use any electronics before going to bed. Do what you have to do and then take the time needed before you lay down.
Join the Crowd
Take some time out of your day or your week to enjoy the company of others. Meet friends out on the town or neighbors for book club, ask a co-worker for lunch or add an extra date night to your week with someone special. Enjoying the company of others is good for the psyche and helps to reduce anxiety.
Training your brain to act a certain way takes work and takes practice and when you are happier, you become more productive, less stressed, sleep easier and the effect of a positive attitude is passed on to the people around you.