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Benefits of Taking a Daily Brain-Cation

August 25, 2019

Most of us have felt like our brains are overloaded or overwhelmed at one time or another — maybe even most of the time for some of us. New research shows the benefits of unplugging and letting our brains rest and reboot are even more than we previously understood. If you are feeling burned out lately, then maybe it’s time to start giving yourself a little mental vacation every day, also known as a “brain-cation”. 

A brain-cation means no distractions. No surfing through Facebook or scrolling through your Instagram feed. It also means shutting out distractions from work and just letting your brain rest. How can you do this daily? As it turns out, simple exercise is the perfect way to give yourself the mental vacation your brain craves while also supporting overall physical and mental health.

Here are some specific ways exercise may be the answer to giving yourself the mental break you need to get back on track.

Why Exercise is a Great Way to Give Your Brain a Break 

Exercise Boosts Mood

Regular exercise is always a good idea, and it’s an even better idea when you are feeling frazzled and burned out. Physical exercise can help release feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which can lead to a better mood and improved mental clarity. So, if you started your workout feeling completely fatigued and cranky, there’s a pretty good chance your mood will be ten times better after you’ve gotten your heart rate up and broken a good sweat. And, get this. Regular exercise has been shown to lower the risk of depression; that’s how much of an impact it has on your overall mental health and mood.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) demonstrates that higher levels of physical activity were linked to reduced odds for major depression — suggesting that regular exercise can be a powerful preventive strategy for protecting mental health.

Exercise doesn’t just help prevent depression, it also reduces symptoms of depression. “When suffering from depression, exercise is really, really important. And you don’t have to go all-in joining a gym with hardcore weight lifting right off the bat. Just start with walking, do some resistance band training, or gentle yoga poses.

So, if you feel like you could use a mental break from the chaos of your busy day, take 30 - 60 minutes to focus your attention on a good workout. By the time you get back to your day, you should feel much more positive and motivated.

Combats Stress

We all have stress, but chronic stress can really do a number on our health. Stress can also be a recipe for a bad moods. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed and just downright stressed out, then it’s definitely time for a mental reboot. Too much stress is bad for both your body and your brain. Stress poses major health risks like obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Not only that, stress can lead to:

  • Chronic inflammation, which in turn contributes to diseases such as arthritis as well as heart disease and stroke.
  • Anxiety and depression, which taxes your emotional health and chips away at your mental health.
  • Fertility problems, erectile dysfunction, missed periods, low sex drive, and more. 

When you’re stressed, the hypothalamus, which is the part of your brain that is basically the body’s command center, sends out a signal to initiate the release of stress hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol. These hormones send your body into what’s called “fight or flight” mode. Essentially, your body is ready for battle — your muscles tense, your heart rate speeds up, and your breath becomes a bit more labored. You’re ready and able to react to anything at a second’s notice. And this is all fine if it occurs once in a while, but if your body stays too long in that “fight of flight” mode, that’s when all those health issues like mental fatigue, depression, headaches, digestion issues, and chronic inflammation can enter into the picture. That’s why  it is so vitally important to find time to stress less.

Give your brain a little boost and de-stress with a little cardio workout, and if you’re in the mood then choose something that challenges you. If not, not then a nice walk along the beach is great too! Chances are you’ll be more focused on the movements of the cardio than you will all the stressors from your day. It’s the ideal way to give your brain a little vacation from outside stress and let it naturally focus on something really beneficial to your health.

Exercise Can Help Center Your Body

Relaxing forms of exercise like yoga or Pilates are a great way to take a little mental vacation. Both of these practices can help ground you so that you feel more centered both during and after the practice. Exercises that focus on your breath can help you find your calm. By focusing on your breath, you reduce built-up tension and leave your workout feeling so much better physically and mentally than before you started. 

Gets You Away from Other Distractions

If you are used to binge-watching your favorite show when you feel a little burned out, choosing to exercise instead can pull you away from less healthy distractions. Replacing other habits with a healthy exercise routine is the perfect way to allow your brain to reboot, versus sitting in front of the TV or the computer to veg out for hours on end, which is a poor way to de-stress your brain.  

Try Visualization While Exercising

As an added bonus to help give your brain a reboot, try doing some visualizations while you are walking on the treadmill. Visualizing calming images, when done right, can help calm your brain. Visualization has physiological impacts on your body, and visualizing sitting and relaxing on a beach can actually have some of the same impact on your mental health as actually being at the beach (but if you have a real beach… go there). So, think about your happy place, when you are getting your exercise in for an added brain boost. It could take your workouts to a whole new level.

Additional Recommendations for a Daily Mental Break

  • Take a lunch break! You need time for yourself, not only to eat, but to give your brain a break. Maybe even go outside and take a walk. Choose foods high in protein, Omega 3s and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Listen to music — at work, if you can, and most certainly on your commute home. More than 70% of the working population commute to and from work on their own. This is the perfect time to listen to tunes that lift your spirits and give your brain a break.
  • Focus on one task at a time. It’s been proven… multi-tasking is a myth and will only stress you out more. You won’t no accomplish your goals for the day, but will actually become less productive. Uni-tasking is the new proven method for better results.
  • Get comfortable. Make sure you’re sitting in a chair that doesn’t cause neck or back pain. Step away from the computer to stretch your legs and avoid eye strain. Get noise-cancelling headphones if the constant hum of office chatter stresses you out. 
  • Communicate your expectations with your co-workers or ask your boss to communicate his or her expectations with you. Knowing exactly what is required of you will allow you to better manage your time and your stress levels.
  • Avoid conflict as much as possible. Try and steer clear of any office drama and establish clear boundaries so co-workers can’t add to the stress already on your plate.
  • Socialize. Make time for friends and family, even if it’s a quick walk with a friend. Interacting with loved ones has proven to increase your lifespan and reduce the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Plus, it will give you someone to vent to (not for too long though) and letting go of negative feelings will help you feel less stressed as well.  

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is the brain is not designed to be attentive and laser-focused every waking hour of the day. Like any other part of your body, it can be overworked. Unfortunately, day to day life is often chaotic and society puts pressure on us to keep pushing through, putting more and more time into work. And after work, many of us are then going home only to finish up emails for work, prep dinner, and get everything ready for the following day with no brain-break. We then wake up and do the same exact routine the next day. It’s exhausting, and not healthy or productive pushing our brains 100% the time without a rest.

So give yourself a brain-cation. Schedule time for a mental vacation, and if you can do it for even 30 minutes per day you’ll soon find that it can do wonders for your overall health. Exercise is free, healthy and one of the best ways to reboot your brain. Not only will you feel better mentally, but the physical health benefits of exercise for your heart, and the rest of your body, are critical for a long life.

Challenge yourself to get moving with some form of exercise every single day, and pair it with some centering exercises like yoga. Doing these simple things will provide the ultimate vacation for your brain, providing the balance you need and watch your productivity sky-rocket!

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