As so many people have started working from home during the pandemic, more companies are moving toward continuing remote work, at least part-time, even after it hopefully becomes safe to convene in larger gatherings again.
In order to ensure a healthy work-life balance, we need to rethink how we support brain health and build long term cognitive skills. According to the American Heart Association, when your brain is healthy, it has the blood flow required for peak performance. When you keep your brain healthy, you’re better able to focus, solve problems, communicate, and generally function better overall. Conversely, lack of mental stimulation can lead to mood swings, inability to think clearly, and trouble focusing and sleeping.
Your brain health is just as important as your physical health, especially during these trying times. When setting up your workspace at home, it is helpful to have a dedicated area with all of your necessary office supplies close by, similar to how you would work when in an office. This enables you to stay productive, minimizing distractions, and helping your brain focus on being in “work mode.”
Being in a creative industry, like marketing and advertising, it is essential to stretch your brain function, not only to combat boredom but also to keep your creative juices flowing. Because I love to paint, I launched my own business this year, to add color to ordinary things and share that outside of my own bubble. This enabled me to use my creative outlet to share fun and happy gifts and keepsakes with others.
Here are seven tips to help stimulate your brain and keep you feeling a bit more in control while in a situation that gives us very limited control over current daily life:
Stay mentally active. Mentally stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles, playing games, and learning to play a musical instrument, are all great ways to boost your brainpower. his is just as important as physical exercise – you have to use it or lose it (your brain). Mindfulness activities, like meditating, deep breathing, practicing gratitude, and journaling, are all good ways to calm the body and the mind. Getting a good night’s sleep is also important in managing stress and fending off age-related decline in brain health.
Socialize regularly. Despite the social isolation required to stay healthy from the coronavirus, It is important to maintain social connections to stay healthy mentally. Social isolation, which can cause both depression and stress, can also contribute to memory loss. Some socially-distant, yet acceptable, options include:
- Walking at a social distance (6 feet apart)
- Calling, or scheduling virtual video meetings
- Playing online games and coming up with new digital activities with your loved ones.
- If you’re celebrating the holidays with colleagues, friends or family, there are sites like drawnames.com for anonymous group gift exchanges.
In the work environment, it is still important to stay connected with colleagues as that is a major source of socializing for a lot of people who spend so many hours at their workplace. According to a CNBC article, “Virtual happy hours, team yoga sessions: How coworkers are staying connected while working from home”, it’s important to find fresh ways of carrying out traditional activities.
Keep a schedule. Maintaining a routine is helpful to adjust to this evolving “new normal,” while ensuring we have some control over our day.
- Write down tasks, appointments, and other events in a special notebook, calendar, or electronic planner. Even writing down virtual online appointments with friends gives you a sense of the importance of the event. Checking things off your list is very gratifying.
- Repeat each entry out loud as you write it down to help cement it in your memory.
- Designate a place for your wallet, keys, and other essentials to make them easy to find and saves lots of time.
- Limit distractions. Setting timers or alarms for breaks is helpful for staying on task. The Pomodoro Technique is a good way to stay on track for getting things done and taking needed, and frequent, breaks.
Improve memory and attention. Simple activities like assembling puzzles and making dinner can be exercises in attention and memory.
- For a new recipe, read the 3 or 4 steps and see if you can commit them to memory. Then review before doing to be sure you are correct.
- Focus on the information that you’re trying to retain. This helps eliminate distractions that can cause you to forget things.
Challenge yourself. Try something new. Or a new way to do something you’ve done in the past. The more challenging the activity the more likely it is to sharpen underlying cognitive ability.
- Start a new hobby or research a new interest.
- Experiment with different types of music, art, or drama.
- Learn a new language. There are many free apps to help practice language regularly.
- Try different types of exercise. Alternate them on different days to keep things fresh.
Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet is as good for your brain as it is for your heart and the rest of your body.
- Besides eating your full servings of fruits and veggies, choose low-fat protein sources and omega-3 rich fats, such as fish, lean meat, and skinless poultry.
- Food rich in antioxidants can help fend off the harmful effects of oxidation in your brain.
- Despite the attraction to have more virtual happy hours, limit alcohol consumption as too much alcohol can lead to confusion and memory loss.
Include physical activity in your daily routine. Physical activity increases blood flow to your whole body, including your brain. It stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood, and thinking.
- For most healthy adults, reasonable goals would be 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging.
- Check with your health care provider if you’re starting anything new that might be a big change for you to avoid any strain or overuse of the body.
- If you don’t have time for a full workout, squeeze in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day. It’s often helpful to set an alarm for regular breaks from sitting at the computer (or binge-watching the myriad of streaming platforms).
By implementing some of these tactics, you’re charging the ultimate powerhouse, your brain, to help support and adapt to almost any work environment and various activities. This can help maintain and possibly improve your brain health. As Danny Shea says, it’s not just about improving your diet, or meditation. It’s about finding the balance across our individual wellness to support cognition. “Sleep, nutrition, meditation, mindfulness, movement, exercise – all of these things drive brain health,” explains Shea, the Head of Global Expansion at Thrive Global.
When life gets back to “normal,” it will be a new normal, not the way things were before coronavirus. And that’s okay, because we will continue to adapt and stay healthy and productive, even better into the future.