Mental wellbeing and brain de-cluttering

Stress can result from the burden of too much mental or emotional pressure and is the point at which we feel less able to cope with otherwise normal situations. Stress has numerous negative physiological effects that over time may manifest in to something more serious, such as mental illness i.e. anxiety and depression. For this reason, it is very important that it is managed so, we each need to find our own way of offering our brain some time out. Whatever your method of de-stressing, the key is to regularly factor it into your lifestyle. In this blog, I am making some suggestions for removing the excess clutter from your mind.

One of my favourite activities for me to do when I am stressed, is to tidy out some cupboards and/or re-organise my shelves. I have thought long and hard about why this is beneficial and I am convinced that by de-cluttering my house, leads to a de-clutter of my mind. On a day to day basis, when considering family, work, pets and life generally, the brain is in permanent overdrive. Multiple decisions and choices are made and eventually it becomes tiresome – the brain becomes increasingly chaotic and rational thinking and decision making becomes more difficult. This is when I find it is good to have a de-clutter. I target cupboards that are well used and become disorganised over time – like the airing cupboard for example. The act of emptying and re-filling is soothing ointment for the brain (and the glass of wine I may have poured to aid with the decluttering process). In the scientific field, some believe that the brain operates on the brink of chaos and this contributes to its ability to switch mental states and adapt quickly according to environmental changes [1]. Maybe therefore, for me tidying out a cupboard is equivalent to pressing my brain re-boot button to filter out an excess background noise and resume some ‘organised chaos’ again.

I also, like to go for a run when I am stressed or low in mood, the endorphins released by my brain during exercise (my happy hormones) positively affect my brain and I pretty much always come back from my run, lighter in mood. I read an article in Runner’s World that discussed the effects of exercise on stress, they referred to a study whereby stressors such as an argument had a lesser impact on active individuals [2]. This indicates that exercise is potentially able to lower the threshold of the point at which stress kicks in and is useful if you know that you are entering a period of increased pressure. For me running is my go to tool for mental health balance, earlier this year I had a calf injury and I recently blogged about coming out of a period of low mood, likely attributed to the fact I was unable to run. Decision making was difficult, over thinking was a problem, being able to cope with day-to-day mishaps became a real challenge and I was turning molehills into mountains!

My other top tip for brain de-cluttering is to practice the art of mindfulness. Mindfulness brings you back into the present and utilises natural senses such as touch and smell to raise awareness of self and as a grounding tool. It has been suggested by many participants that it aids with psychological and physical wellbeing, in particular anxiety and mood disorders such as depression [3]. I have been practicing mindfulness whilst walking the dogs and I believe that the benefits of the exercise alongside mindfulness, make a huge difference to my mood state. I am still very easily distracted and of course, need to be mindful of my dogs, so it is still work in progress but I am starting to differentiate between different bird calls and smells along the estuary – I am thoroughly enjoying it! Other activities such as yoga and meditation have been shown to offer positive results on mental wellbeing. Yoga is a practice that can be adjusted for most individuals, the art of being aware of posture and breathing is very calming for the mind – just 5 mins of yoga can help to re-set you at any point during the day.

I personally believe that regardless of the activity you choose to do, so long as that action is focused on calming your mind and being very aware of self, it will have a positive effect on your psychological wellbeing. Whether this is mindfulness, yoga, walking, meditation or sat quietly in the fresh air. The act of coming out of your head and the day to day cycles, is like a mini spa break for your brain. Remember our brain never switches off not even when you are asleep! So, whatever you decide to do make sure that you frequently factor in this good quality time for yourself and your brain, because YOU are important.

1.            Kitzbichler, M.G., et al., Broadband Criticality of Human Brain Network Synchronization. PLOS Computational Biology, 2009. 5(3): p. e1000314.

2.            Puterman, E., et al., Physical activity and negative affective reactivity in daily life. Health Psychol, 2017. 36(12): p. 1186-1194.

3.            Hofmann, S.G., et al., The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. J Consult Clin Psychol, 2010. 78(2): p. 169-83.

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