It might seem like our brains can take care of themselves, but let’s not forget to help a brain out! If you’re feeling foggy, stressed, forgetful, moody, sleepy, or just not as sharp as you used to be, your brain might be trying to tell you something.
“Your brain needs just as much fuel and activity as the rest of your body, if not more,” says Lilly Graziani, CREATION Health Education Manager at Florida Hospital. Your brain is always working. It’s your center- directing every single body system. If you are not giving it what it needs to thrive, it will cry out for help.
Here are some things your brain might be saying, and some tips on what you can do about it.
“Hey, I’m on empty!”
“The only nutrient your brain thrives on is glucose, a form of sugar,” says Graziani. Glucose is the main source of energy for every cell in your body, but because the brain has so many nerve cells, it needs the most energy out of any other organ in your body.
Graziani adds, “If your brain is low on glucose, you might start to feel distracted or less focused.” She says that reaching for that extra cup of coffee – as many people do – will only ramp your brain up even more, leaving it further depleted. Instead, she suggests eating some “brain food.”
Brain food provides the healthiest nutrients for optimal brain function. Here’s a list of go-tos to start:
- Sources of omega – 3 fats (salmon, flax seeds, chia seeds)
- Whole-grains (Brown rice, quinoa)
- Any fresh fruit or vegetable (especially spinach, tomatoes, onions, and apples)
It’s important to note that the brain’s need for glucose doesn’t mean soda or cookies qualify as brain foods. In fact, “Processed grains and added sugars or syrups can backfire on your brain by interfering with your normal metabolism and blood sugar levels,” informs Graziani.
“I’m drying up here.”
Did you know that your brain is 80 percent water? All 100 billion of your brain cells need water to receive energy. Being the slightest bit dehydrated can affect your brain cell and cognitive function.
Graziani suggests, “Reach for water- not sweet treats or caffeine – if you’re feeling mental fog set in.” Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout your day, especially when you are doing something mentally or physically taxing.
“Give me a break!” Your brain never sleeps, but it does need to rest to rejuvenate at night. “It’s recommended to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep for brain health, but 40 percent of Americans get less than six hours,” Graziani states.
When you are not getting enough sleep and you feel tired, your brain will still try to run at full capacity. To get a quick energy fix, the brain signals the release of a stress hormone called cortisol. This hormone is important, but it’s not good in high and frequent quantities. Your brain might also tell you to eat that donut for a quick burst of fuel. If you’re getting adequate sleep, however, these triggers are less likely to occur.
Graziani says, “With children, we are good about telling them to go to bed because they “need sleep,” but somehow adults start to deprioritize it.” If you have a brain, (yes, adults, that includes you all too) you must give it a solid break.
“Ah! O.V.E.R.L.O.A.D.” The brain does not function well under physical stress. In fight or flight mode, it is focused on one thing: survival. This may sound silly, because being stressed over a project deadline at work isn’t really “survival,” but your body doesn’t know that – it reacts to any perceived stress the same way.
Graziani suggests, “The best way to break down and reduce the manifestations of stress in your body is to identify your stress triggers and feelings. When you say “I’m stressed” you’re not usually talking about your body’s cortisol levels rising or your heart beating faster- you’re usually talking about a feeling. Take control over and manage these feelings before they trigger physical stress responses.
Multitasking too much can also short circuit your brain. Graziani adds, “When you start to do too many things at once, you are setting your brain up for failure.” Try to focus on one thing or person at a time, and live in the moment as much as possible to prevent your brain from yelling “Ah!”
“Umm, what a bore.”
Just like you must work your muscles, you must work your brain. Graziani says that it’s important to keep your mind busy with stimulating activities like learning a new language, doing puzzles, reading, taking a course or playing board games.
This keeps gray matter active in the brain, which is the center for memory. She adds, “Try to get at least 10 to 20 minutes of brain stimulating activities in at least five days per week to keep the neurons firing and the brain from getting bored.”
“Can you repeat that?”
“When we age, our bodies age right along with us,” says Graziani. Some natural decline in mental sharpness can happen over time, but stay on top of it with activities that work your mental recall, like writing things down, asking people to repeat important pieces of information, saying things out loud or playing memory games.
“When we are happy our bodies release a flood of chemicals that help us to think more clearly and be more creative,” says Graziani. Simply put, when you are happy, you aren’t stressed, which means that your brain can focus on the positive things around you- not just how it’s going to survive the moment. “Having a more positive outlook actually helps us to be more productive and manage stressors when they appear in our lives,” she says.
“Help, I need a jump-start.”
If you’re at your desk with midafternoon sleepiness, think about giving your brain a fitness break. Even a short spurt of physical activity can increase the flow of blood, oxygen and glucose to the brain- giving it an instant jump-start.
Graziani references one recent study, which analyzed two groups of school-aged kids on their tests performances. One group had physical education class and then took their test; the other group had the physical education class after their test. Not surprisingly, the group of kids who were physically active right before their test scored better compared to the other group. “Case in point: physical activity can boost your brain performance,” she says.
Your brain is a remarkable organ, and sometimes, it just needs a little love. “Pay attention to what your brain might be telling you,” suggests Graziani. You might be surprised at what a little extra attention to your brain health and fitness can bring into your overall health, productivity and happiness.