The last two years haven’t been particularly kind to our brains and now with the threat of the Omicron variant, it looks like our noggins will be put under strain once again! We’ve dealt with the stresses of living through this pandemic and some of us haven’t been particularly concerned about our health whilst trying to survive it. When we finally finish for the day and put away our laptops, we’ve spent a lot of time on our sofa, eaten foods that are bad for us, drunk too much and let our lives become ruled by Netflix. None of these activities are particularly good for our synapses and it looks like we may be embracing them again over winter, just when we were trying to re-establish some healthier habits!
So what can we do to improve our brain health without adding additional stress to our already busy lives? We need some quick wins and some good advice to adopt in case we wind up with a barrage of new restrictions on our lives. In today’s blog, we’re going to look at ways we can make some small changes to our habits to help our brain stay happy and healthy in these uncertain times.
Now, how will getting vaccinated help my brain stay healthy, you ask? Well, apart from reducing your worry about getting ill over the winter or passing something on to your elderly loved ones, some vaccines have actually been known to help our brain health. For example, according to a study by the University of Texas Health Science Center, the flu vaccine has been associated with a reduced likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease in people between the ages of 75 and 84. Further research suggested that those between 65 and 75 who had the flu jab were 30 percent less likely to develop the disease.
Science is moving forward every day and vaccines that have been rigorously tested to help us to stay healthy and safe can actually have a positive affect on our health in the long run. We recognise that getting vaccinated is a personal choice and there are many, many articles out on the internet providing all kinds of information on vaccines and their after-effects. Do yourself a favour and ignore social media, search for the credible scientific articles and make an informed choice.
Cut Down on Sugar
Christmas time comes with it’s own set of ‘fuck it’ rules. We tend to throw diets to the wind, reach for all the treats we crave and over-indulge on sugar. There are so many sweet treats available that we can’t help but casually pop half a dozen chocolates in our mouth during the day ‘for energy purposes’ and think nothing of it.
What many of us fail to realise is that sugar can have a negative affect on our brains. High consumption of sugary sweets and drinks can lead to a spike in our blood sugar and trigger our body to over-produce insulin which in turn can trigger chronic inflammation in our brains. Make sure you exercise moderation and try not to overindulge, even if it is the most wonderful time of the year!
Focus on the Positive
Thoughts absolutely do have power and focusing on the negative can actually have an impact on your brain’s functionality and affect your memory. Some scientific journals have reported that studies have shown people who tend to dwell on negative thoughts have more tau and amyloid deposits in their brains, markers linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Whilst having negative thoughts is completely normal, if you’re having them regularly then you may want to think about working towards changing your mind’s response to them and putting some psychological defences in place.
Try turning that negative thought upside down and look at the positives of a situation. Practice writing down 5 things that you’re grateful for every day. Experts believe that practicing gratitude mantras or making lists at the start of every day can set you up with a positive psychological attitude and reduce the impact of negative thoughts that you may have during the day.
Establish Regular Sleeping Habits
Sleep is so important for our brain’s health. During the last two years, repeated lockdowns have led to our routines becoming repeatedly interrupted. As one day merged into the next, we found ourselves staying up later, waking up during the night, taking afternoon naps and suffering from occasional bouts of insomnia. It was a shit show.
This winter, give yourself a fighting chance and don’t let restrictions interfere with your beauty sleep. Just because you don’t have to drive to the office tomorrow, it doesn’t mean that you should stay up two hours later to finish bingeing that boxset on Netflix. Instead, set yourself a regular bedtime, stop looking at your phone at least an hour before you go to bed and get some decent shuteye. Your brain and your mental health will thank you for it in the long run!
The worst thing for those who couldn’t work last time we locked down was having no sense of purpose and not being able to go out and do anything. Being free from responsibility and having no work to complete sounds like a dream but the reality is quite different. Having a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning actually contributes to healthy aging. Let’s face it, most of us know of at least one sad story about a person who retires and then a few months later starts to experience a rapid decline in their health. The same is true for people of any age.
Purpose keeps us healthy. If you find yourself lacking a sense of direction or structure this holiday season then you really need to find yourself one to keep your brain healthy. Indulge in that hobby that you’ve had no time for, start writing that book that you’ve had in your head for years or consider volunteering at your local vaccination centre. There are plenty of charities crying out for help over the winter months and by volunteering you’ll be making a difference to those in need and to yourself.
We hope that these tips will help you to make some quick and easy positive changes to your brain health and keep you feeling merry and bright this winter. Change doesn’t have to be scary and hard. Sometimes the smallest things can have the biggest impact on our lives.