Train Your Brain in 2017

We put a lot of time and effort into training our bodies, whether it's preparing for a 10k, learning a handstand, trying to lose weight, or slowly carving out that 6-pack (it's in there somewhere!) But we often forget that our minds need just as much training to stay sharp and healthy. Do you have routines in place that improve your mental health? Maintain a calm and focused state of mind? Cultivate a positive outlook on life? These things (like big biceps) don't just happen. You have to give it some effort. 

Let's face it. 

We live in a society today that celebrates a certain level of workaholism, regardless of the toll it takes on our mental health. We are overworked, under-rested, and drowning in toxic information. Our collective mental health as a nation is dwindling, and our stress-related health problems are rising. Even if you're not on the verge of a total nervous breakdown, my guess is that you could benefit from a little brain-care. Here are a few practices that you can adopt this year to help you manage stress, reduce anxiety, improve mental clarity and focus, and increase your overall sense of happiness and well-being.

  1.  Meditation: Recent studies are proving that the positive effects of meditation on health, happiness, and self-confidence are numerous. Even if the practice seems daunting, you can still reap the benefits of meditation with 5 minutes of deep breathing, visualization, or mindfulness practice a day. Try using a meditation app to help keep you focused, such as Headspace, Calm, Mindshift (designed specifically for anxiety), or Take a Break
  2. Gratitude: Gratitude is powerful. Practicing gratitude on a regular basis, specifically in written form, has been shown to improve mental health and even increase feelings of well being in those with chronic pain. Try keeping a daily gratitude journal, and notice how your mentality shifts. I recommend the "5 Minute Journal" app, which serves as a daily journal for gratitude, intentions, and affirmations.  
  3. Journaling:  Life can move so fast that we're often left with no time to process our thoughts and feelings. This accumulation of bottled up emotions can manifest itself in depression, anxiety, anger, insomnia, or even physical pain. Writing can give you a safe outlet to express and process your thoughts, feelings, fears, frustrations, desires, or anything else going on with you. It's also an excellent way to work out solutions to problems you may be facing in your life. So put the pen to paper and just let if flow- there's no judgement from your journal!
  4. Simplify your life: If there's clutter in your home or work-space, there's clutter in your brain. Take the time to keep things tidy, and don't be afraid to throw shit away! Also consider other ways in which to remove mental clutter, such as reducing time spent on social media and watching TV (gasp!). Seriously, give your mind regular breaks from the constant flow of (often unimportant and toxic) information. Your frazzled brain will thank you for it, and you'll probably notice that you didn't miss much anyway!
  5. Let go of perfectionism: If you struggle with any type of anxiety, chances are you have some perfectionistic tendencies. Striving to do your very best is an great quality, but sometimes perfectionism can cause quite a bit of anxiety, guilt, obsessive thoughts/behaviors, and procrastination. Even as you pursue excellence, give yourself permission to make mistakes and not have all the answers. Also, consider changing your inner dialogue from "should", "have to", "need to", to "can", "want to", and "choose to". 

Regardless of what your 2017 goals are, all of the above practices can help you achieve them. Who wouldn't benefit from a calm and focused brain that is happy and healthy?!