How to build resilience and boost your brain power to face professional challenges

Article by Natalia Ramsden

scan of a brain, science museumThese recent months have been unusual to say the least. With daily updates on a global health pandemic now married with news of economic struggle, it has certainly been a tense time and sadly much of the challenge still remains ahead of us.

The consequences are plentiful, including that of our physical and mental health – specifically a huge impact on our brain function. During this time, I have been overwhelmed with questions about what individuals can do to not only cope with the surrounding environment from a resilience point of view, but also what they can do to enhance their brain power and perform against some of the professional challenges they are facing.

I work with senior executives, entrepreneurs and HNWIs to enhance cognitive performance, through the application of cutting-edge developments in neuroscience, nootropics, functional medicine and psychology. We work with clients in highly tailored ways. All client programmes are managed by a highly specialised team but there are things we as individuals can all be doing for ourselves – I took some time to reflect on conversations with clients and here are the key messages broken down into repairing and building.

REPAIR – Building Mental Resilience 

Stress Reduction Stress quite literally shrinks the brain. When faced with ‘stressful’ stimuli, your hypothalamus (a very small region at the base of the brain) triggers an alarm throughout your body, activating nerve and hormonal signals which then prompt your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones most notably adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and has a number of effects on the brain and rest of the body. It increases glucose in the bloodstream so that it is available to your body for use as needed when under stress. However, it also plays havoc with other systems – it alters the immune systems and disrupts the digestive systems, the reproductive system, growth processes, interrupts sleep and cognition. Long term elevated cortisol can cause damage to the hippocampus and impair the learning and memory that the hippocampus is involved in.

Meditation and exercise are both well known stress reduction techniques, but you could also try something like comedy. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies therefore improving one’s resistance. It also helps release tension, and releases endorphins creating an overall sense of wellbeing!

GROW – Boosting your Brain through Food

Vitamins B, C, D and E in the bloodstream are associated with better cognitive performance and a bigger brain. Low levels of certain vitamins are associated with cognitive decline in old age. Foods to include in your diet are Omega 3s. These can be found in fatty fish like salmon, halibut and tuna. Plant sources include flaxseed oil walnuts and canola oil – they contain DHA which is a vital component for brain health in adults, it helps reduce inflammation and may reduce the build-up of amyloid plaques often associated with Alzheimer’s. Green Leafy Vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts and swiss chard, are also very important as they all decrease inflammation and improve blood sugar control. Finally Flavonoids such as blueberries, cocoa, apples are fantastic too as they are rich in antioxidants which aid brain health by ridding the body of free-radical oxygen molecules. They also increase blood flow and have been shown to boost BDNF, growing the brain by promoting neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

Neurobotics build your neuroplasticity. Given the recent months have likely been repetitive and limited, this is a great way to get your brain firing again and working to optimise its performance. Try Non-Dominant Hand Activities to build your neuroplasticity – actively trying to become ambidextrous is an effective way to enhance your cognitive capacities and build your resilience by nurturing your brain’s natural capacity for neuroplasticity. Doing more with your non-dominant hand will force the movement area of your cerebral cortex to recruit idle neurons to the task.  Examples of things to try include brushing your teeth, reversing your cutlery, putting your keys in your other hand when opening the door, switching which hand you use your computer mouse etc.

Now that you are getting out and about again, try and avoid using maps – the main area for memory in the brain, the hippocampus, is also your brain’s GPS. There are neurons, grid cells, for navigation. Grid cells are part of the neuronal tissue that is lost in Alzheimer’s disease. Using your internal natural navigation system rather than relying on a phone map is a great way to develop valuable spatial orientation skills. Try looking up your destination and committing to memory the way to go. 

Shift Your Routine – novel tasks exercise large areas of the cortex, indicating increased levels of brain activity in several distinct areas. This activity declines when the task becomes routine and automatic. Examples of things to try include simple small changes such as switching your TV or news station, walking home a different way or sitting at a different seat at the table.

For more information about Natalia Ramsden and her work with the UK’s first specialist brain optimisation clinic, SOFOS Associates on Wimpole Street, London – please refer to www.sofosassociates.com


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