Do you feel like your brain is slowly turning into mush while stuck inside? You’re not alone. It’s so easy for us to sink into a lethargic lifestyle that leaves us more forgetful and frustrated. However, with a little extra effort, we can all spend this strange time not only maintaining our brain power, but making it even stronger than it was before.
Vernon Williams, MD, a sports neurologist and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, shared his tips for stopping our brains from melting away while in quarantine with US News & World Report. “I don’t want to diminish the very real burdens carried by exhausted frontline workers, shuttered restaurant and retail businesses, and the lonely who’ve abruptly seen their social and sports gatherings banned,” he writes. “The grief you’re feeling is real, and it matters. I feel it too.”
But despite the unprecedented situation we’re all in, and as someone who spends his whole career looking into how our brains’ tick, Dr. Williams couldn’t help but wonder if all this time indoors could be more of a benefit than a setback. He asked himself, “What might we do to emerge with more powerful brains and, perhaps, a resiliency that can carry us through a lifetime?”
Williams’ recommendations: Prioritize sleep, exercise every day, and meditate mindfully. Sure, we know these practices can help us stay healthy on a regular basis — but think back to your pre-quarantine life. How many times did these ideas take a backseat to things like busy days, stacked social calendars, or long commutes? That’s exactly why Williams says we should take this “new normal” as an opportunity to really embrace each of those elements.
“Think of sleep as food and water for your mind,” he writes. “During sleep, our brains perform the ‘housecleaning’ of clearing toxins and waste products (like the lymphatic system’s actions in the rest of our body).” Williams also reminds us that it’s not just brain power that gets boosted by a good night’s rest, but our immune system, too — something that’s definitely important for us all right now.
Of course, sleep is something most of us struggle with on a good day, and maybe even more so now that time seems to have lost all meaning. Williams suggests trying an interesting twist on our morning alarm: “You may be used to setting an alarm to wake up. Try setting an alarm to remind yourself to go to sleep at the same time each night.” We would have never thought of something so simple, but it makes a lot of sense! You can also use a few of our favorite tips to keep you from tossing and turning at night and actually get the seven to eight uninterrupted hours of snoozing that Williams recommends.
As for exercise, you might be struggling to get yourself moving just to keep your body healthy with gyms and workout classes canceled. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with gaining a few extra pounds in quarantine, but according to Williams, it’s not just our physique that will benefit from breaking a sweat. He says “the brain loves exercise” and calls it the “secret weapon” to dialing up your mind’s ability to function. So the next time you start debating whether you really care about bothering with at-home exercise, remember that your brain will thank you for it just as much as the rest of your body.
And we’re all obviously feeling a lot more anxious lately. That’s why Williams includes mindful meditation as one of his keys for increasing our brain power. “Achieving control of your thoughts that your thoughts don’t control you can be a super-power for many people,” he explains. We can’t argue with that logic, but understand that mindfulness isn’t the easiest asset to attain. Try one of our favorite guided meditations or a quick 10-minute practice to get you started.
There’s no contest to see who comes out of lockdown mode with the most benefits, but it also shouldn’t stop you from trying to be the best version of yourself you can be!