Mind Matter – your mind requires engagement

Just as your body needs physical stimulation to stay fit, your mind requires engagement to maintain edge. Activate your neural center with fun activities that flex your brain.

  • Tax your cerebral connections. Try Bingo. An English researcher found that senior citizens who played the game experienced fewer memory problems and better hand–eye coordination than those who didn’t. Do brain teasers like crossword puzzles, word searches, and Rubik’s cubes, or play Scrabble and chess. Recite the alphabet backward, or count down by 4s starting at 100.
  • Surprise your synapses. Brain injury victims must relearn many daily tasks. Simulate the same recoding by changing your normal operations. Take up a foreign language. Learn to play an instrument like drums or piano, which require performing different actions with your hands and feet. Or just practice patting your head while rubbing your stomach. Use your opposite hand to brush your teeth, eat, dial a phone, or maneuver a computer mouse. The switch can force your brain to invent new pathways for manipulating and controlling physical movement.
  • Stimulate sensory perceptions. Try closing your eyes while brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Activate multiple senses simultaneously, for example rolling balls of clay while listening to an audio book, or tapping your fingers while listening to raindrops falling.

A Gratitude Attitude – take a deep breath, and count your blessings

Everyday life can wear down anyone; sometimes it seems you’re facing an insurmountable series of burdens. And when stress swirls, it’s easy to lose perspective. If negativity begins to overwhelm you, try this: Pause, take a deep breath, and count your blessings.

Research shows those who practice gratitude are more optimistic, feel more energetic, have stronger immune systems, handle stress more easily, and are less prone to depression. If you feel like your glass is half full, consciously decide to flip your mood; you may find your cup runneth over:

Start a gratitude journal: Keep a list (at least 5 things a day) of all you’re thankful for, from the mundane to the extraordinary — like a good friend, close relative, or pet; a day of nice weather; natural beauty… even just the comfort of a warm bath and bed.

Express it: Reach out to those who’ve inspired you. A university professor studied students who were required to send real letters of gratitude to mentors. The results: Many students showed stronger feelings of happiness the more often they wrote.

Make new habits: Be optimistic in the face of adversity. Find the good in every situation. This may seem unnatural, but with practice and retraining your thought process, you’ll learn to accentuate the positive.

Deception Deficit

Lying is more than just an ethical misstep. Deceit gobbles up energy while inducing emotional and mental stress. And while you might think fudging the truth is sometimes necessary, guilt can creep in, ruffling your spiritual feathers. So before you weave a tangled web, try these tips for sticking to the facts:

  • Swap shoes. Philosopher and theologian Augustine of Hippo said, “I know many who have deceived but I know no one who wishes to be deceived.” Before launching into a lie, consider your reaction if the tables were turned. It’s easy to discard or justify dishonesty if you’re doling out the fib, but think twice about how you’d feel on the receiving end; the shift in perspective may encourage more truth.
  • Assume a charitable stance. The truth doesn’t have to be in your face. If you need to redirect a misguided friend, lead the conversation with positives, and use I messages to convey your feelings (ex. Red is a great color on you; I feel like that yellow shirt isn’t as flattering).
  • Hold your tongue. Withholding the truth is not necessarily the same as remaining quiet until you have all the facts. If you’re unsure of an answer or feel your real story lacks substance, don’t be tempted to contrive one. Sometimes the best approach is simply silence.

Under Pressure?

About 1 in 4 American adults suffers from high blood pressure (hypertension). While the causes behind 95% of these cases are unknown, it’s certain the condition can wreak havoc. Hypertension is a leading cause of strokes and can damage your brain, eyes, kidneys, and heart. Here are simple prevention steps:

  • Track your numbers: Get ahead of the game by monitoring your blood pressure and keeping up with regular doctor visits.
  • Watch your weight: Those with a higher body mass index have a slightly higher chance of developing hypertension.
  • Exercise regularly: 30–60 minutes of exercise several days a week will contribute to weight loss and likely lower your blood pressure.
  • Don’t smoke: Tobacco use greatly elevates your blood pressure.
  • Limit alcohol: Most daily recommendations say no more than 1 drink for women and 2 for men.
  • Change your diet: Limit sodium; eat high–fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. Also include antioxidant–rich foods like berries, spinach, grapes, and tomatoes.
  • Take your vitamins: A daily multivitamin ups your intake of likely blood pressure fighters such as vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, calcium, and potassium.

Decaffeinated Boost

While a caffeine jolt can resuscitate your sluggish battery, it’s not always a good call. The stimulant may cause jitters and may subject you to withdrawal symptoms when you go without. So before you trudge off for a coffee break, consider some of these noncaffeinated shots in the arm:

  • Flip on the lights. Illumination naturally arouses your mind and body. Pull the curtains open or turn on another lamp. Better yet, get outside and soak up a few sunrays to kick your engine back into gear.
  • Get enthusiastic. Dwelling on negatives can sap vigor. In the midst of a power down, think about something you’re genuinely excited about: going out to dinner this weekend, a new CD waiting to be played on the way home, or the upcoming holiday. A positive outlook can activate the release of endorphins, recharging your psychological and physical battery.
  • Dunk your head. Take a shower if you can to reactivate your oomph. Or fill a bowl or sink with ice cubes and water and take the plunge — there’s nothing like a splash of cold water on your face to help rinse away lethargy.
  • Hit the play button. Athletes get pumped using music, so why not you? Cue up your favorite upbeat tunes to vanquish the sloth within.

Work Stress

Unresolved job stress can lead to poor health and increase the risk of tobacco and alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Job conditions that can lead to stress include excessive workloads, conflicting expectations, infrequent breaks, hectic pace, management style, poor social environment, job insecurity, and dangerous working conditions, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Common warning signs of job stress include:

  • Headaches
  • Absenteeism
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Short temper
  • Upset stomach
  • Depression
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Low morale
  • Apathy
  • Cynicism.

Wipe out work stress by:

  • Exercising. It’s great for all parts of you, including your mind.
  • Managing your time. Tell your boss if your workload is unmanageable, and discuss ways to set priorities.
  • Getting more sleep. You need 7–9 hours of shuteye nightly.
  • Striking a balance. Schedule time for fun, friends, and family.
  • Taking breaks. Your anxiety level can heighten after consecutive hours of nonstop effort; make time to stretch, take deep breaths, and walk.
  • Remaining calm. Caffeine and nicotine will make you jittery, no matter the workload; when stressors start to swirl, stay relaxed by breathing deeply and slowly.