How to Get Your Brain in its Best Shape Ever

By Chanel Dror

Editor’s note: Today’s post is brought to us by Minaa B., author of Rivers Are Coming, founder of the digital mental health magazine Respect Your Struggle, and a licensed master social worker.

When I was 22 years old, I was diagnosed with severe depression. Through therapy, I learned how to create self-care rituals to help alleviate my sporadic bouts of sadness, and exercising was one of those tools. Working out became a necessity for me, and proved to be an invaluable way to lessen my anxiety and to help with managing my depression.

I do my best to head to the gym, go for a walk, or ride my bike every day, but when unexpected circumstances come up, I end up putting the gym on the back burner. That decision is then followed by a wave of regret over missing the opportunity to burn off some calories, and release tension from my body, and on those days, my mind fills with negative thoughts. Recently I realized that not only do I need a fitness plan to reach my summer body goals, but I also need to pair that with a mental fitness plan.

Through my journey I’ve discovered that as humans we are powerful and resilient; but it is the mind that plagues us and causes us stress. So, here are a few ways I’ve discovered to get your mind in its best shape ever.

Exercise positive affirmations

Often, the mind is wired by negative thinking. Self-pitying, self-shaming, and judgmental thoughts constantly interfere with our ability to accept ourselves for who we are and stand tall in our worth and glory. Negativity has a way of sticking to our minds because our brains are actually much more aroused by negative stimuli, which is why it’s important to balance out those negative frequencies with positive ones. Filling your mind with positive affirmations is a great way to reshape your internal world and rid yourself of negative belief systems. Begin your morning by affirming that you are loved and that you are enough. Exercise your right to live a wholehearted life.

*photo from Oh Happy Day

Exercise your brain

How do you keep your brain stimulated? Netflix is great, but you might not want to make soaking up hour’s worth of television the whole goal of your wellness plan. Doing things like reading books or writing is a great way to enhance memory and brain activity. Problem solving such as exploring new ways and opportunities to diffuse difficult or stressful situations is also a great way to self reflect, and offers a greater sense of self awareness. Playing strategic or tactical games such as Sudoku, chess, or crossword puzzles can add some fun to the moment while also giving your mind the space to absorb knowledge and not sit on autopilot.

*photo from Teva

Get enough sleep

Depression has always been rough on me and a few years ago after being a victim of hurricane Sandy, I developed PTSD and my depression began to trigger my sleep, causing me to develop insomnia. Because my wellness is important to me I am currently on medication for my diagnosis and my depression meds help with my sleep activity. But it is also important for me to make sleep a priority, because a lack of it can have tremendous affects on the brain – and that is a struggle that I can’t afford to play with. Sleep deprivation can impair your judgment; it can cause you to develop false memories, and terrifyingly is can actually trigger psychosis. And if you are like me and you struggle with depression, a lack of sleep can enhance its symptoms. Your sleep is giving you the rest and relaxation that you need for a new and better day. Don’ take it for granted. Get those 6-8 hours!

*photo from Soux Style

Be mindful of what you are absorbing.

Everything that you partake in is either uplifting or detrimental to your spirit. It’s important to silence the inner and outer negative critic – and what you are allowing in your atmosphere can actually play a role in shaping your mindsets and beliefs, which in effect disrupts your actions. Everything from conversations, music, movies and more, can alter your worth from the inside out. Your mind is a very fragile and sacred place. The same way you watch the foods you eat because you are trying to take better care of your health and body, be just as mindful when it comes to who and what you invite into your atmosphere that can bring a plague to your mind.

*photo from Who What Wear

Practice developing resilience.

As I mentioned before, humans are resilient. We are powerful. And we have the ability to bounce back from anything as long as we put our minds to it. Our thoughts are a major component to how we heal. Developing a resilient mind starts with learning how to cope with difficult strategies, and unlearning anxious behaviors. Reflect on how you emotionally respond to situations that you cannot control. Pay attention to your thoughts and recognize the ones that make you feel anxious vs. the ones that bring peace. Begin to eliminate the thoughts that are consuming, toxic or simply not helpful so that you can begin the process of shifting your perspective and strengthen your mindset.

*photo from Vogue

Find balance.

I have a tendency to carry my work life with me everywhere I go because I work at home full-time, and there was a time where it was hard for me to find a work/life balance. Going to the gym helps me with separating myself from my work. But finding balance helps me with separating myself emotionally from my work so that I am not feeling stressed and overwhelmed even during my off hours. Your mind can only carry so many thoughts and when your thoughts are running rampant, that leads to stress. Find techniques such as journaling to help with putting your mind at ease, this way you can have your thoughts documented and check back in with yourself to clarify what exactly is causing you stress and how to fix that.

*photo from Peel

Remember to honor your feelings.

It’s important to remember that above all else we are human, and we are wired to have feelings. It’s OK to feel waves of sadness and worry. That does not take away your value. However, it’s not OK to give your sadness and worry authority over your life. Understand that you have permission to feel what flows through the body; don’t run from it. Give yourself that space that you need to heal before you jump into the next big thing. No physical work out can take away the fact that honoring your feelings is what makes you feel more alive.

*photo from Garance Doré