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Neuroscientist Says When You Travel, Your Brain Reacts In A Special Way

Neuroscientist Says When You Travel, Your Brain Reacts In A Special Way

Everyone loves a change of scene or an exciting trip away, but did you know that spending time in a new location will literally change your brain for the better?

If you’ve ever suspected that traveling doesn’t just further your personal growth but actually makes you healthier, you’ll be pleased to know that you have research on your side.

Your Brain and Traveling

According to University of Pittsburgh neuroscientist Paul Nussbaum, traveling can stimulate your brain and encourage the growth of new connections within cerebral matter.[1] The key concept is the link between new experiences and the generation of dendrites within the brain.

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Dendrites are branch-like extensions that grow from brain neurons. Their role is to facilitate the transmission of information between different regions of the brain. In brief, the greater your number of functioning dendrites, the better your brain will perform. This aids in maintaining cognitive functions such as memory and attention.

Nussbaum points out that when you travel to a new location, your brain is forced to make sense of new stimuli. This triggers the production of new dendrites. In Nussbaum’s words, your brain “literally begins to look like a jungle.”

Your trip doesn’t even have to be relaxing or go according to plan for you to enjoy the benefits. Although we would all prefer that our flights be on time, and our rental or hotel to be perfect, a degree of stress and anxiety can play a positive role in promoting dendrite growth.

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This is because when we come up against an obstacle or problem, our brains are forced to process the situation at hand and devise a solution. This promotes dendritic growth, and also gives our general problem-solving abilities a boost.

Nussbaum also explains that if you cannot travel, you can still employ these basic principles to stimulate your brain. Think about how you can take steps to break free from your usual routine and encourage your brain to view life from a new perspective. Consider changing the time you wake up in the morning, the route you take to work, where you eat lunch, and the kind of reading material you usually use to pass the time on your commute.

If you are serious about stimulating your brain, take up a new hobby, or even go back to school and get a new qualification. Even if it doesn’t lead to a change of career or promotion at work, the challenge it will present to your brain make it time and money well spent.

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Moreover, classes and community-based hobbies give you the chance to meet other people. Not only will this increase your motivation, but it will also allow you to rethink your existing attitudes and opinions. When we take time to talk with other people, they often surprise us with their own unique outlook on the world. Forcing your brain to make sense of someone else’s thoughts can be stimulating.

If you don’t have the time or resources to invest in a new pastime or class, consider at least making time on a regular basis to try some puzzles. Wordsearches, crosswords, logic puzzles, and number games are all excellent ways of giving your brain a workout.

So if you haven’t already booked your annual vacation yet, consider making it a priority. If you can’t get away for even a few days, at least shake up your daily routine or take up a new hobby.

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Not only will you have a bank of positive memories from which to draw on more mundane days, but your brain will thank you.

Reference

[1] Chicago Tribune: Travel as a health regimen

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Jay Hill

Jay writes about communication and happiness on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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