Does your mind connect the dots as easily as it once could? Can you find the solution, think outside the box, and quickly adapt to a new situation? Is your memory as good as you remember it to be? When we talk about mental health, often we are talking about your emotional state and how physical changes in the brain can reflect of cause them. Here, however, we’re going to look at cognitive health. Specifically, we’re going to look at different factors that can make it harder for you to think as clearly and sharply as you once did.
You’re not feeding it
Just like any part of the body, our brain is made up of what we feed it. The brain is a rather complicated organ and different foods can affect it in different ways, as you can see at BBC. Whole grains will help glucose release slowly in the brain, giving it energy to burn which improves your focus. Oily fish and coconut oil, with their highly healthy fats, can help improve and maintain hormone balance in the brain. Blueberries can help improve and maintain your memory. Most people don’t consider their brain at all when putting together a diet, but it can make a real difference.
You’re not using it enough
If your diet is one of the contributing factors to good brain health, then it should be no surprise that exercise is going to play a role, too. We’re not talking about physical exercise, however. Not yet at least. Rather, we’re talking about the real exercise routines you can give your brain. It has been well demonstrated that brain training can improve your mind’s processing speed and how long it takes you to find a solution to certain problems. Apps like Lumosity can help you track your brain’s workout over time that you can keep ramping it up and keep seeing better results as you go. Of course, daily puzzles like sudoku have been praised for their mental exercise benefits as well.
Your actions are all jumbled
If you are constantly feeling distracted from the moment and like you are unable to decide what to do, it may be a matter of putting your house in order. If your mind has to constantly track lots of different information, then it should no surprise that it’s eventually going to start dropping the ball. If you have a hectic work-life and lots of different things to accomplish, then simply getting organised can benefit your brain a great deal. Commit your tasks to paper or to the monitor, whichever works better for you. If you rely on your brain to organise a busy work life, it’s going to start letting you down at some point.
Your thoughts are all jumbled, too
Of course, our mind will automatically and naturally try to organise itself and to make sense of things, as well. If you have too many problems and questions to worry about, it can start to get really stress-inducing. Just like a little organisation helps you put your to-do list on paper and to make sense of it, you can set aside your thoughts and try to make sense of them as well. Meditation has a lot of different benefits and uses. One of the most valuable, in terms of helping ease the effects of stress on the brain, is the perspective it gives you on your thoughts. You look at issues with a little distance, compartmentalising them so they’re not quite as stressful while potentially giving yourself the space you need to find a solution you might not see otherwise.
You’re not getting enough sleep
Many people would call it the “third pillar of health”, just after diet and exercise. However, the sheer importance of sleep is starting to be more widely appreciated and more are thinking that it is the foundation that supports the other two pillars. Sleep deprivation affects your brain dramatically. You can easily feel that you’re more mentally sluggish and less inclined to focus when you don’t get a good night’s sleep. However, studies have shown that sleep deprivation actually causes you to lose neural pathways. Astrocytes in the brain naturally clean out old and worn-out cells, preparing the brain for regeneration. A lack of sleep, however, makes these cells go berserk, eating much more than they’re supposed to and impairing mental function as they do.
Your habits are holding you back
Almost every unhealthy modern habit you can think of has some negative long-term effect on the brain. In moderation, caffeine can improve function and memory skills but can lead to anxiety and sleep deprivation if you go overboard. Nicotine can disrupt hormone distribution in the brain, leading to imbalances of dopamine, insulin, and adrenaline. Alcohol is the worst of all, however. Dependence on alcohol kills brain cells at an alarming rate, and if your consumption is reaching critical levels, the sooner you look into alcohol addiction recovery, the better. Learn more about ARC here if you need help managing your most dangerous habits. Otherwise, make sure to keep it in moderation as even short-term bouts of binge drinking can have long-term effects on your brain.
You’re not moving enough
We did mention that we would be looking at the impact of physical exercise on the brain. One of the immediate benefits of exercise to the brain and to any organ is that by speeding up your blood flow, you can improve the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain, which is vital to its function. The benefits of a 30-minute light workout can see your brain operating much more efficiently for over an hour after. Exercise has also been shown to play a role in slowing and preventing neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
You could engage it more creatively
Creative thinking has real benefits for the brain. We’re not just talking about thinking outside the box when it comes to problems. Actually, getting creative with a hobby, like painting, writing, or learning an instrument, also act as a workout for the brain. They provide a different kind of exercise as opposed to regular brain training. From reducing stress to improving productivity. To take a specific example, learning and playing an instrument has been shown to promote brain growth in the areas most closely associated with motor skills, hearing, audio information storage, and memory. Finding a creative hobby can also help you “switch off” the work side of the brain so that you get the same kind of distance that meditation provides.
You’re stuck in a rut
Do you feel like you have a “brain fog” that seems to slow down all your thoughts and often keeps your memories just out of reach? Besides the other factors mentioned above, it has been suggested that feelings of boredom and of monotony can play a role in this. Living a life that feels repetitive and rarely engaging is the opposite of a workout for the brain. What’s more, it can even affect how you experience the passage of time, making it seem like you’re losing it more rapidly. Introducing new experiences and trying new things can do the opposite. Getting into new hobbies, learning new things, and traveling to new places or even eating new foods can all make time feel like it passes at a more relaxed rate and constantly engages your brain with new information and challenges.
You’re stressing out
While a little stress from time to time might feel like it kicks you into overdrive and make you work much more efficiently and with better concentration, it has dangerous implications if it becomes a long-term part of your life. Stress has been shown to drastically impede our ability to make decisions, as you can see at Express. The sense of urgency and fear that stress creates makes us much less likely to think “clearly”, and our brain kicks into autopilot as a result, leading us to choices that might not be the optimal solution if we had a little more peace and quiet to think about it rationally.
You might have a deeper problem
If you feel like a mental “fog” or a sluggishness are much more common and pronounced than they should be, it may be worth going to talk to a doctor about it. Having trouble making decisions or remembering things can be a sign of emotional health issues like depression or anxiety. They can also be one of the first signs of mental health conditions like bipolar disorder. You shouldn’t always assume that it’s just a temporary or a relatively unimportant issue. It could be the symptom of something much deeper that could go on to have other negative effects if it’s not treated.
It can be hard, in the moment, to tell whether or not your mind is as sharp as it used to be. However, by changing even few of the contributing factors above you can feel the clarity, speed of thought, and motivation that comes with them.