Have you ever stared at your computer screen – and nothing comes?
Have you ever felt scattered and not able to focus, but you can’t pinpoint the reason? You’re definitely not alone! And although feeling discombobulated could be related to a number of things, one of the most common reasons is chronic stress.
Short Term v. Long Term Stress
Different than acute stress, which happens in short instances and then ebbs away, the effects of chronic stress are much less immediately obvious. The negative impact of chronic stress happens slowly over time, which means it often goes unnoticed until things get out of hand. This can result in a variety of mental, emotional, and physical problems. Chronic stress is particularly hard on the brain. But why?
Cortisol: Temporary Help v. Long Term Destruction
Stress is hard on the brain due to the stress hormone cortisol released as part of the fight-or-flight response. In situations of actual danger, cortisol is a helpful resource that helps you to temporarily think clearly, and physically remove yourself from a dangerous situation. But cortisol in your body day after day, week after week, month after month, from chronic stress, can be unhelpful and even destructive.
Stress Can Turn Your Brain to Swiss Cheese
When cortisol courses through the body for extended periods of time, a surplus of glutamate is created. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that produces free radicals, and these unattached oxygen molecules break down brain cells. When brain cells are dying, holes in the walls of the brain cells are created—literally turning the brain into a form of Swiss cheese. And the brain’s ability to focus is compromised.
You're Shrinking Your Brain
Cortisol can also shrink your brain. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for decision making, learning, memory and other cognitive function, can literally become smaller as cortisol kills or shrinks current brain cells. Cortisol also prevents new neurons from forming. Obviously, the ability to think and focus is deeply impaired by a smaller brain.
Your Memory on Stress
Research published in the Journal of Neuroscience offers insight into the electrical signals in the brain. During times of stress, the connections of the hippocampus and amygdala portions of the brain changes. This means that the electrical signals to the emotional parts of the brain are increased during stress, while signals to factual recollections and memories are decreased.
Fishing For Info
When your brain is constantly fishing around to find access to information, you become distracted, unable to concentrate, and overly emotional. If you can’t find a simple word you are looking for, then your ability to be productive and focus is significantly impaired. Car keys get misplaced, bills go unpaid, and all of these “minor” episodes combine to keep you from focusing on the important brain-powered activities of your life such as innovation, creativity and problem-solving.
When the brain is filled with free radicals, it functions in a more chaotic manner while fighting off the effects of stress hormones. Trying to focus can feel almost impossible. And just telling yourself that you need to concentrate can actually be counter-productive—causing more stress and exacerbating the problem with focus.
But there is hope. And the solution is simpler than you might think!
Chill Out to Improve Focus
While eastern practitioners have known for thousands of years that meditation and mindfulness produce deep benefits, western science is beginning to catch up to the idea. Many of us have the image of a straight backed yogi, crossing their legs and saying “Om.” There are other mindful ways to chill out and access a deeply relaxed meditative state that can greatly improve concentration and focus. As meditation begins to emerge into the modern world as a respectable intervention, studies are beginning to show the positive effects of meditation and mindfulness practices on the brain.
Chilling Out through Meditation Can Prevent Brain Deterioration
Sadly, our brain starts deteriorating once we reach the age of 20. One recent study compared the brains of older people who meditate regularly with people who do not. These findings demonstrate that the meditators have reduced deterioration on their brains—meaning that their brains have better functionality when compared to those who do not meditate. In areas such as attention, processing speed, executive function, memory, and cognitive flexibility, people who meditate consistently had preserved their brain resources more effectively than those who did not meditate.
Build Your Brain Strength
According to a study performed by UCLA, meditation can thicken parts of the brain—which is a good thing, in case you weren’t sure. People who have meditated consistently for many years had larger portions of the brain’s cerebral cortex and more connectivity between brain cells. The cerebral cortex affects attention, consciousness, memory, and thought, all of which are connected to a person’s ability to concentrate and focus.
Another interesting part of this finding was a direct correlation between the number of years spent meditating and the thickness of the brain. This means that the sooner in life that you begin meditating, the greater impact it can have on your life for years to come.
Clear Your Brain to Focus
In one study, after training in meditation for just eight weeks, participants clearly show a significant reduction in brain waves. This allows the brain to clear itself of all of the “noise” and refocus on the most important aspects.
Mindfulness and Meditation for Life and Health
Mindfulness and meditation are much more than simply sitting cross legged in a dark, quiet room with your eyes closed! Some people find that they are able to catch on to practicing mindfulness without much effort, while others require more training and guidance. Some find it helpful to begin with a short amount of time of just a few minutes, creating a daily habit. Then, they can add on more time as they develop their abilities and begin to recognize effectiveness. There is much freedom within this practice.
Training Your Brain
The purpose of meditation is to be present with yourself in the moment, focusing on breathing and harnessing your attention. Your brain will learn powers of observation rather than simply reacting to outside forces. Your body will follow along with the health and wellness that comes from reducing stress. The intentionality you use in your mindfulness and meditation will be rewarded in a myriad of ways as it boosts your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Step into the world of stress-busting chill out meditation and clear your mind of the clutter that impedes focus and productivity. Given the attention and space it needs, your brain has the power to go beyond expectations and perform at peak levels. When you learn to chill out, you can open up your brain to produce extraordinary ideas, foster ingenuity, and unleash your potential toward transformational success!
Be Well, Be Joyful, Be Inspired…
Have a Beautiful Day…