With the focus on Mental Health Awareness Month, you may be wondering how brain health and mental health are connected. Brain health is the state of your brain’s function across many areas, like cognition, social-emotional connections, behavioral and motor functions. Mental health is an important component of brain health. Better understanding the role mental health plays in your brain health can help you take steps to maintain and improve your well-being over time.
What is Mental Health?
According to the CDC, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. If you’re concerned and want to check in on your mental health, these tests are a good place to start. Managing stress and seeking medical attention for any symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns can help protect your brain health and keep you sharp later in life. Research shows stress and aging don’t work well together, making managing stress critical to maintaining your long-term health and well-being.
How to Manage Stress and Protect Your Brain Health
There are many common causes of stress, including illness, caregiving duties, loss, grief, loneliness and boredom. From disrupted sleep, unexplained crying and more subtle signs, like irritability and trouble concentrating, stress also displays in a variety of ways.
The good news is there are several ways to reduce stress that will help improve your overall mental health:
- Eat well: Following a healthy, balanced diet can boost your immune system, help combat the effects of inflammation, and fuel positive physical energy. Eating consistent meals, and incorporating good-for-you snacks of fruits, vegetables and nuts, can help prevent bad habits, like crashing and overindulging in a bag of potato chips or pint of ice cream.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water leads to many health benefits, including improved brain performance. While we’ve all heard the adage to drink 8 glasses of water a day, even adding an extra glass or two a day can help keep you mentally sharp. Plus, staying hydrated leads to better digestion, eases headaches, and boosts energy, too.
- Exercise: Not only does regular exercise help reduce blood pressure, ease pain, combat chronic illness, and lift your mood today, it can also delay the onset of cognitive decline (including dementia) later in life. You don’t have to start running and training for a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise, even gentle movements, like tai chi and yoga, can make a world of difference.
- Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential to physical and mental health. During sleep, the body and mind restore by rejuvenating cells, consolidating memories, processing emotions, and cleansing toxins from the brain. Good sleep can help you regulate your emotions better and may improve cognitive skills like, learning and attention.
- Meditate: Engaging in deep breathing, positive visualization, and other mindfulness activities can help calm racing thoughts, slow a rapid heart rate, relax tense muscles, and create an overall sense of well-being. There are many different types of meditation. Take time to explore them all and decide which are right for you.
Practicing the activities above will help reduce stress and maintain cognition and brain health later in life. Even better, you don’t have to try them all or do all of these activities at once. Start with one or two approaches that are interesting and realistic for you. You may be surprised by the immediate benefits and want to try more down the road.