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How Your Reduced Mental Clarity Tells Much About Your Health Conditions

How Your Reduced Mental Clarity Tells Much About Your Health Conditions

Ever have those moments where it feels like you just can’t think straight? When it comes the end of a very long day or after an intense mental activity, you feel tired, unfocused, and can’t seem to get your head in the game. That haze of mental obscurity is what many refer to as brain fog.

The most common symptoms associated with brain fog are:

  • Inability to focus
  • Poor memory
  • Trouble learning new things
  • Feeling “groggy” or confused
  • Daydreaming
  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Saying one word but meaning another
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety

The causes of brain fog generally fall into one of two main categories — either it’s lifestyle-related or a side effect of a medical condition or medication. The most common causes, by far, are related to nutritional and biochemical imbalances that affect the brain and central nervous system of the body, which can be easily corrected with a few lifestyle changes.

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How To Prevent Brain Fog

1. Proper nutrition

Refined carbohydrates like sugar and high fructose corn syrup allow your blood sugar levels to quickly skyrocket followed by the dreaded and severe crash. Your brain uses blood glucose as its main source of fuel. This puts your brain on a roller coaster ride — first too much, then too little glucose. Low brain glucose leads to brain fog, mood swings, irritability, tiredness, mental confusion, and impaired judgment.

Another mentally devastating diet fad is one that is too low in fat. Your brain is largely comprised of fat — about 60% by dry weight — and research shows low-fat diets have been disastrous for our brains. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a leading expert in non-pharmaceutical applications to chronic illnesses and author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working, the brain starts to literally “digest itself” for the raw materials it needs to create essential brain chemicals when you don’t eat enough dietary fat.

In order to stave off brain fog, eat foods that are rich in good fats such as oily fish, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Foods rich in vitamin E and antioxidants such as blueberries work wonders in sustaining good mental health both long and short term.

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2. Drink Plenty of Water

Over 70 percent of your body is composed of water and every function in the body is dependent on water, including the activities of the brain and nervous system. Water gives the brain the electrical energy for all mental and processing functions. According to Dr. Corinne Allen, founder of the Advanced Learning and Development Institute, brain cells need twice as much energy as other cells in the body. Water is the most effective and efficient way to provide this energy.

Water is also needed for the brain’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Nerve transmission requires half of all the brain’s energy. When your brain’s water reserves are full, you can process information quicker, are more focused, and experience greater clarity and creativity.

3. Proper Amounts of Exercise

Physical exercise is not only important for your body’s health, it also helps your brain stay sharp. Your brain is no different than rest of the muscles in your body―you have to train it to ensure its elasticity and strength. According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.

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Exercise stimulates brain plasticity by triggering growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.

Another important benefit of exercise and physical movement is, it increases the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain. The brain uses about three times as much oxygen as muscles. Oxygen is vital to brain function and brain healing. Optimal brain function is dependent upon healthy blood flow.

4. Rest and Reduce Stress

Sleep is essential to proper brain functioning and for mental clarity. The brain needs sleep in order to recuperate. When sleep is regularly interrupted or you only get a few hours of shut eye, you are more likely to experience brain fog in the morning and throughout the day. While you sleep, cerebral fluid rushes in, “power washing” your brain, clearing it of debris. It’s during sleep that you consolidate memories so you can recall what you learned the previous day.

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Stress is very powerful and it can negatively affect the body in a number of ways, including causing brain fatigue which gives way to the fog. Being stressed is often equated with being productive, popular, and successful, however that is far from true. In fact, prolonged stress leads to anxiety, depression, poor decision making, insomnia, and memory loss. Too much of the stress hormone cortisol leads to a surplus free radicals ‒ unattached oxygen molecules ‒ that damage brain cell membranes, causing them to lose normal function and die.

A healthy brain begins and ends with a healthy lifestyle. Eating right, staying hydrated, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and reducing stress are the keys to not only avoiding brain fog but ensuring your brain’s overall health long term.

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Denise Hill

Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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