NANCY G. SHAPIRO

FINDING CALM IN THE MIDST OF CHANGE

Take a Brain-Body Break

November 24, 2009

 

Too much to do? Feeling ragged, exhausted, confused, a bit grumpy?

 

Yesterday was one of those days. After a morning of errands and lots of driving, I couldn’t think, nor did I have the energy to do anything. I gave my brain a break and went for a long walk — uphill. Happening across  a dance class practicing in an outdoor pavilion, I stopped to watch before continuing up a narrow alleyway full of stairs. Much later, walking back home in the coppery glow of the sunset my legs felt tired yet stronger, and my brain felt relaxed.

 

The human brain can only focus well on one thing at a time. Any project, circumstance, or challenge that requires complicated thinking — problem-solving, creating something new, formulating a cohesive view from many smaller parts, or trying to fit 25 urgent and necessary errands into the day before you catch that flight to visit family — can’t be accomplished well when there’s too much vying for your attention and “thinking power.”

 

The prefrontal cortex (the brain’s problem-solving area) uses an immense amount of physical energy in the form of glucose. Answering emails or juggling too many important phone calls first thing in the morning will use a lot of this precious ‘thinking fuel.” Remember that old phrase, “Put on your thinking cap?” It’s a good image to remember…use your thinking time wisely by focusing solely on one project, and let your body refuel between thinking times.

 

Doing tasks that you already know how to do automatically—such as filing papers, doing the laundry, making appointments, or paying the bills online —gives your body time to produce more glucose so you can move onto the next “thinking cap” period. Healthy snacks every two to three hours helps your body produce glucose without the roller-coaster highs and lows of high-sugar drinks and snacks. Some quick stretches and three deep breaths every so often keeps the body limber and refreshed. If you use a computer all day remember to stretch out your hands and shoulders, and look out a window now and then—let your eyes re-focus on a new perspective…let them stretch too.

 

And sometimes, even when the thinking cap is waiting, with those hours cleared and your brain fueled and ready, it’s still the best decision to go for a walk. Even if it’s up the stairs to the roof and back. Or around the block. Our brains need rest—and activity. So do our precious bodies. As Helen Hayes put it — ”If you rest, you rust.”

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