Brain care is self-care: why is it important to focus on how you feel?
Emotions play an integral role in our brain health, and can impact how we think, plan, experience and go about our everyday lives. The way we feel can also influence other aspects of our health and wellbeing from the quality of our sleep to whether we feel motivated to exercise or stick to a healthy diet. Given its importance, it’s time we talk about how low mood and stress can impact our cognitive health and how to best respond to these feelings when they arise.
The impact of stress
Stress is an all too common part of many people’s lives and can present itself in different ways. In Western countries, psychological stress is considered to be among one of the main reasons contributing to sick leave and frequent GP consultations¹. Although stress is a natural evolutionary in-built response of the body, when experienced for prolonged periods of time, it carries the potential to dysregulate biological pathways in the brain². Chronic stress can have damaging effects on health and cognition when hormones associated with stress are secreted over an extended period of time³.
Given the prevalence of stress in modern life, it’s key to understand your stress response and how it can impact brain health. Interestingly, experiencing stress also has its upsides—some of which we’ll share with you later on.
Depression has been referred to as ‘the common cold of psychiatry’⁴ and is one of the most prevalent psychological disorders⁵. When you think of depression, you probably associate it with a loss of pleasure, feeling tearful or low for prolonged periods of time and a lack of energy and motivation. Most people will feel low or sad from time to time. In depression, these symptoms can last for several weeks or more.
Beyond the above symptoms, research has revealed that depression can also impact our attention span, concentration, thinking and memory⁶ and is considered to be a risk factor for dementia⁷. Multiple regions of the brain are affected in depression, including the hippocampus⁸ which is a part of the brain that plays an important role in memory processes⁹. It’s important to address depression as research suggests that it can also impact longer term cognitive health.
Improving Your Mental Health
Addressing stress and low mood are both key factors in better brain health, and both carry benefits in both the short term and long term. It’s important to remember that the impact of depression and stress on our brain health is complex, not predetermined and influenced by a vast array of factors. Understanding both and becoming more attuned to how you are feeling is an integral part of this journey.
The Importance of Self-Care
Take a moment to check in on your mood. How have you felt in the past few weeks?