Spring is in the air, and everyone is preparing to throw all their junk on their lawns or driveways to sell to their neighbours.
Ah, spring cleaning.
There’s nothing quite like clearing out that huge pile of crap in your home that’s been building itself up all winter, then standing in the middle of a de-cluttered room wondering why you still feel anxious, troubled, or distracted by something.
I don’t know about you, but by winter’s end, I usually end up feeling like a sunlight-deprived, confused and super groggy grizzly bear who just woke up from hibernation and is wondering where all the fresh fish and berries are at.
It’s time to stop burrowing my human self in my snuggie and GET EXCITED about LIFE.
There’s really no reason why you and I both can’t freshen up our moods and cognition to ring in the new season.
Besides, we could all use a little mindful rejuvenation to forget about every dark, cold, and lousy thing that stressed us out this past winter.
Let’s make a pact to try to do some of the following a few times every week this spring.
1. Get outside and surround yourself with nature.
In the winter, it’s dark for a good chunk of that whole 24-hour period in the day, and lots of people admit to feeling more tired during the winter months due to lack of natural sunlight and vitamin D intake, sometimes even resulting in a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
A nice healthy dose of vitamin D from the sun helps normalize hormones and improve your quality of sleep, and there’s evidence that people who spend more time outdoors and in nature tend to be a lot happier and healthier than those who don’t.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health looked at over 300,000 people’s medical records and found that those who lived about a kilometer away from a park or wooded area were less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression compared to those who lived farther away.
In that particular study, it turned out that people who lived in urban areas suffered the most from both physical and mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
Getting out for a short nature walk can help you clear your mind and catch a break from the hustle and bustle of life.
2. Do some fun but challenging brain training activities.
There’s a lot of speculation over whether or not brain training games actually work to do the things they claim to do — like improve your memory, concentration, verbal reasoning, or spatial awareness.
Whether they do or not, I can at least recommend them for being fun when you’re really bored and need a game on your phone to waste some time.
Lumosity is one of the most well-known brain training activity apps out there.
Unfortunately, the app has received some bad feedback in the past, and some people have pointed out that you’re just better off doing something practical that develops your skills and experience in an area of interest.
So if staring at a glowing screen isn’t your thing, try picking up that old trumpet, dusting off that pile of books, or breaking out the sketch pad and pencil set to rediscover old hobbies you once used to indulge in all the time before life got in the way.
Personally, I love to read music and figure out how to transfer that information from my brain, to my fingers, to the piano.
I can also easily become obsessed with spending hours trying to complete one of those huge 1,000-piece box puzzles.
Music and puzzles are two of the most delightfully mind-challenging yet rewarding forms of brain training that I do, but you should pick something that you enjoy doing and that you want to get really good at.
3. Practice mindful meditation.
Meditation isn’t just for extremely religious or spiritual people who spend way too much time doing yoga.
In fact, when done right, it’s one of the healthiest and most effective ways to get rid of stress and anxiety.
There are lots of ways to meditate, but one of the most simple and common forms involves sitting quietly, usually with your eyes closed, focusing on the present moment and your breathing.
When you learn how to meditate effectively, your brain activity decreases and stops processing as much information as you do in a normal state.
You can feel the calming effects immediately, and regular meditation can even enhance creativity or productivity throughout the rest of your day while also working to keep stress levels low.
The Stop, Breathe & Think app is one of the best apps I’ve found that can teach complete beginners how to meditate.
4. Exercise in the morning.
We’re all pretty aware of the physical benefits of regular exercise, but there are too many people out there who don’t keep up a regular exercise routine for long enough to experience how it acts as a natural mood booster as well.
Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in your body similar to the effects of morphine.
People who exercise first thing in the morning report that they’re able to remain more focused throughout the rest of the day, and maintain enough energy so they don’t feel drowsy or crash later in the afternoon.
There’s also proof that the hippocampus — an area of the brain that supports our learning and memory functioning — experiences an increased growth rate of neurons when you put your body through endurance training, so you’re actually helping your brain grow by doing activities like long distance jogging, biking, or swimming.
Regular exercise will do more for your state of mind, in addition to your physical fitness, than you’ll ever know.
Some people can even push their state of mind so deeply into their exercise that it essentially becomes a form of meditation form them, too.
5. Focus on nutrition, and eat real food.
Living on a complete diet of delivery pizza and Starbucks cappuccinos may have seemed like a good idea during the winter, but now that it’s spring, perhaps a salad should be in order?
Society is so obsessed with counting calories and limiting carbs and going gluten-free that we tend to completely ignore the fact that we really need proper nutrition, too.
Lean sources of protein, whole grains, complex carbs, leafy greens, fibrours fruits, and other whole foods provide us with the necessary nutrients that our brains and bodies need to function optimally.
One 4-ounce serving of wild sockeye salmon is one of the best sources of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which you should aim to eat at least 2 to 3 times a week.
Blueberries are another ridiculously delicious and powerful superfood, and consuming about a cup of every few days may help prevent age-related deterioration of the brain later in life — including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and general memory loss.
Other brainy foods to fit into your diet this spring should include:
- nuts and seeds;
- whole grain bread and rice;
- various types of beans, like lentils and black beans;
- pomegranate juice;
- green tea; and
- dark chocolate.
6. Listen to good music.
There’s no denying the incredible power of a really good song and the fact that it can instantly put you in a great mood just seconds after hearing it.
You may have heard that listening to classical music while working can enhance your ability to stay focused.
It works for some, but if classical doesn’t line up with your personal taste in music, then there’s no need to force yourself to listen to something that doesn’t truly move you.
The brain can benefit from listening to whichever artist, band, or genre that you love the most.
Listening to music that you love stimulates the nucleus accumbens to release dopamine — the feel-good, reward-motivated chemical that can also be triggered by eating good food, exercising, having great sex, and even taking drugs.
Ambient music set to a moderate volume has been proven to help support the creative process, and I personally love to listen to this style of music whenever I sit down to write.
7. Regulate your sleep cycle.
People tend to brag about how little sleep they can survive on these days, but sleep deprivation and an irregular sleep cycle can cause all sorts of serious health problems.
And besides, who actually likes being tired all the time anyway?
Humans can’t survive without sleep.
Sleep is needed for the brain and body to repair itself, and a shortened or disrupted sleep pattern will limit the body’s ability to be adequately refreshed for the next day.
Research has found that lack of quality sleep actually shrinks your brain over time, impairs memory, and increases stress levels.
Most of us need about 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep every night to have enough energy and function optimally during the day.
Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, supports your natural body clock — helping you fall asleep faster at night, waking up more easily in the morning, and even regulating your hunger for appropriate times to eat.
Follow these 7 tips and give your brain the springtime refresher that it deserves.
I usually have no big problems with winter most of the time, and despite still being a groggy bear close to the end of it, I really do enjoy snowshoeing every once in a while when it’s not too cold, and I’m a big fan of winter foods like soup, chili, and anything made with cabbage or squash.
But every spring, I look forward to incorporating some form of rebirth into every area of my life that I can — including my environment, my relationships with other people, my body, and of course my mind.
If everyone did this around this time of year (or any time of year, really), we’d suffer from a lot less health problems and adopt a much better attitude toward life — even while putting yourself through the stress of setting up a yard sale this spring and trying to make more than $20 in profit.
Photo #1 via storebukkebruse
Photo #2 via Sébastien Bertrand
Photo #3 via Jonathan Kriz
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