Sowing the SEEDS...
We've all been there. When we have been hungry. Or hangry, that hybrid emotion of being angry because we are hungry (I absolutely cannot stand that word, who comes up with this stuff?) Or when we are sleep deprived. Or when we have been Netflixing and surfing the sofa for a whole day (or a whole weekend, you know who you are) and lose muscle function due to inactivity. When we have been socially isolating ourselves. We become less stress-resilient. We become more prone to being snippy, or quick to anger, or depressed. Our energy declines and cognitive function fades fast. But typically, we generally only experience this over a short-term. We eat, then feel better. We sleep, finally, and feel human again. We hang out with our friends, laugh, and our mood instantly improves. We get up off the sofa and actually move, and become less sloth-like on our hike to the kitchen for fuel.
Over the long haul of life, however, stress has the potential to take its toll on us. On our brains and our bodies. Stress has the potential to increase inflammation in the body which may lead to a laundry list of issues. So what do we do to become resilient to stress? To encourage neuroplasticity? First, we must understand that the brain is not entirely hard-wired, but is soft-wired. We can learn new ways of doing things. We can improve our brain resiliency. And we can start with sowing SEEDS.
Dr. John Arden presented a lecture about The Habits of Stress-Resilient People in which he covered basic biologic information about the brain and its development, and how we can improve our neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to learn new concepts, kind of like pruning our shrubs). He suggested SEEDS which stands for Social, Exercise, Education, Diet, and Sleep.
Social activities are important in that they create a support system and prevent loneliness, which potentially leads to isolation and depression. We learn empathy and produce oxytocin (this hormone turns down cortisol, our stress hormone), and also may lower blood pressure, cholesterol, anxiety and boost the immune system. Hanging out with our friends increases the opportunity for laughter which in turn lowers irritability, impulse control problems, and improves our self-soothing capacity. You know the old adage, laughter is the best medicine!
Exercise is currently considered the best anti-depressant. Several studies have been conclusive in this finding, and the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) has concluded that long-term exercise reduces moderate depression. It optimizes alertness, attention, motivation and cognitive flexibility, improves mood by elevation of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. It must be aerobic, 30 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week. It can be three 10 minute bursts every day as well. This is completely doable!
Education in this context is about learning something new. Working the memory part of the brain. Challenging the brain with memory games, reading, practicing mindfulness (how many times have we driven home from work and not remembered?). Practice the Magic Number 7: remember 7 numbers (like a phone number), a license plate, 7 Wonders of the World, etc. You get it, go learn something. A language, a song, something that challenges you. And make it emotionally relevant.
Diet is extremely important for our brain health and stress-resiliency. A bad diet can deplete the brain chemistry, which can cause our alarm system to overreact. Skipping meals can create less energy and an inability to handle stress and anxiety, increasing the chance for depression. We need to stay hydrated, have adequate amounts of B vitamins, amino acids, Omega 3, and Vitamin D. Eat real food. Eat the rainbow. In other words, get a variety of foods from all the food groups since this allows the synergistic ability of our food to fully function. We need vitamin C in order to absorb iron. We need vitamin D in order to utilize calcium. It goes on and on. Avoid processed foods which negatively affect our blood sugar, and avoid trans fats. Both create rigid nerve cell membranes which interferes with their function.
Sleep. Sweet, sweet sleep. If you ever have been deprived of sleep, you will have a deeper understanding of what good sleep can do to change your life! Deep sleep is restorative. It is important for protein synthesis, transportation of cholesterol, memory consolidation, and improvement of the immune system. Some medications can disrupt sleep (decongestants, diuretics, steroids, heart meds) and some medical conditions can as well (hypertension, hyperthyroidism, fibromyalgia, Parkinson's). A practice of sleepy hygiene can help improve our sleep. Such as: only sleep in your bed (no social media surfing, tv, etc). Eat a light complex carb snack before bed with no sugar, salt, or protein. Lower the temperature of your bedroom. If you toss and turn, get up, go in another room, read. Try again later.
Planting the SEEDS helps with the growth of neuroplasticity, aiding in our ability to become more stress-resilient. Remember to laugh, take a walk, work a puzzle, eat to live, and catch some Zzzz's. It will reduce our chances of becoming Betty White-cranky and heaven forbid have to eat a Snickers. Laughter is the best medicine, and an apple a day keeps the doctor away. And all that jazz.
"Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." Maya Angelou