Strong, healthy brains are vital for strong, healthy living. But we already know that. Recent research has found that a substance found commonly in plants (and gardens, spice jars and fridges) can boost mental health by strengthening brain cells.
A vital part of protecting and optimising mental health and ageing well involves keeping the power pack in your head, your brain, healthy and strong. The exciting news is that there is plenty you can do to ensure this.
More and more research is highlighting the strong connection between the gut and the brain. For many years we’ve heard of the damage that can be done to our bodies by high fat and high sugar diets. Now, there is startling evidence that the effects on our bodies are only part of the story, with diet also able to cause changes in the brain.
Pillows and people are always a lovely match, but there are plenty of other reasons why sleep is so important. Sleep restores, recharges, solves problems, processes emotions and memories leftover from the day, and quite literally, cleanses the brain. Bodies tend to unfold as they want to during sleep, but new research has found that it’s not just sleep that influences brain health, but also sleep position.
Life and stress can feel like a package deal but some people are more susceptible to stress than others. The same crisis can cause some to grow and others to break and become sick with illnesses such as depression.
The need to feel safe is primal. We’re wired to fight or flee anything that presents itself as a threat - and shame, punishment, judgement, exclusion, humiliation all count as threat, even if they come with loads of love.
When our kids or teens mess up - which they will, because they’re humans not robots - the way we respond can open them up to our influence or shut them down to it. It can expand the fight and the disconnection, or it can shrink it. In time they will learn to be more in control of their urge for or flight, but for now, we will need to lead the way. (Of course, we are also human, and sometimes despite our biggest efforts to stay calm, we will step into the ring rather than wait for them to step out. We’re human. It’s going to happen. And that’s okay.)
If we want them to be open to our influence, we first need to calm their active amygdala (the seat of anxiety and big emotion) by sending the message that we aren’t a threat. We can do this by validating their feelings or the need behind their behaviour (if we know what that is).
Validation doesn’t mean agreeing with them, and it doesn’t mean approving of their behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we want to understand the world through their lens. ‘I can see you’re really upset about this.’ ‘It sounds as though you’re worried I’m going to get in your way. I can see this is important to you. I really want to understand. Can you talk to me about this?’
When we do this, it sends a message to the protective, powerful, emotional amygdala that it’s safe and that it can back down. This will start to switch off the need to fight us or flee (ignore) us and open them up to our influence, support, warmth and guidance.
It also doesn’t mean giving them a free pass on ‘unadorable’ behaviour. What it means is letting them know that we see them, and that we understand there is something important they need. When things are calm, they will be much more open to exploring their decisions, their behaviour, the consequences of that (including any consequences for them), and what they can do differently in the future.