Part 2: Psychology of challenges series

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By: Linda Music

We’ve all had those feelings. You know the ones. When it all feels like too much. When just getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge and the option of crawling back under the covers seems like a perfectly viable one.

When you feel like:

pulling out your hair…

or screaming …

or running away …

… or ALL of the above.

When we feel challenged by the everyday stresses of life, everything suffers: our minds, our bodies, even our relationships.

Dee Milenkovic, founder of the BrainPower Mind Gym program, believes that taking care of your mental health is paramount

“We continuously carry stress around with us and if you don’t do anything about it, it will catch up with you,” she explains.

Dee knows all about facing mental health challenges. Not only has she dedicated her career to helping people improve their health, happiness and performance, including teaching people how to manage conditions such as anxiety and depression but has also experienced her own mental health issues as a result of an ongoing traumatic event. This personal experience has given her an understanding of, and empathy towards, her clients.

The BrainPower Mind Gym program was developed when Dee recognised there was an increasing public awareness of mental health issues, but little real-life practical applications for people to follow.

She has designed the BrainPower Mind Gym as 45 minute well-being workouts, similar to the workouts you get in a gym where you perform a series of different exercises for a total body workout, except in this program, you’re getting a total brain and mind workout.

To replicate BrainPower Mind Gym at home, follow the routine below:

Journaling (everyday)

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Dee recommends journaling for 10 minutes every day as a way of clearing your head of the multitude of thoughts that are competing for your attention.

“There are a number of ways you can journal. What I do in Mind Gym is use journaling as a brain dump of all those thoughts and feelings we don’t want to have, and think we shouldn’t be having,” Dee explains.

She uses a weights analogy to explain how journaling works.

“If you hold a 20kg weight in your hands, it’s heavy to begin with but the longer you hold onto it, the heavier it seems to get. Eventually you have to let go of that weight and with that release, comes inevitable relief.

“Journaling works the same way. By writing down all the uncomfortable thoughts such as anger, fear, frustration, disgust, we get them out of our head and that lightens the load. This then allows us to focus better throughout the rest of the day,” she explains.

While this may sound all a bit far-fetched, research into journaling has shown it actually does help.

A study conducted by Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist from the University of California, found that people who wrote about their emotions for 20 minutes a day for four days experienced reduced activity in the amygdala: a part of the brain responsible for the processing of emotional reactions.

Mindfulness meditation

We’ve all heard that meditation is good for us and scientific research espousing its benefits has taken meditation out of the “new age” realm.

However, the problem with meditation, Dee explains, is that people think they should meditate for long periods of time. For most people, including Dee herself, that’s difficult.

“Many people can’t meditate for long periods of time. It’s like going to the gym and doing nothing but squats for 45 minutes. You get exhausted and bored.”

That’s why she uses a variety of mind exercises in each session.

Dee says that while you can meditate for any length of time that suits you, she incorporates 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation in each BrainPower Mind Gym session.

But how do you practise mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is all about bringing yourself back to the present moment. Mindfulness gives you the opportunity to put down the thousands of things you have in your head much like the way we put down weights at the gym.”

Dee explains there are a multitude of ways that you can practise mindfulness.

“You can focus on your breathing or you can do a body-based mindfulness exercise where you focus on the physical sensations such as sounds, smells or even something as simple as the feeling of wind on your skin.”

Breathing is another important component of the wellness workout.

“We do different breathing styles for different results, for example, we do box breathing to calm the body and Wim Hof breathing to energise,” she says.

But does it really work?

Numerous scientific studies have shown the benefits of meditation. While it can help ease stress and anxiety, it has even been shown to improve memory.

A study conducted by Harvard-affiliated researchers showed that following an eight-week mindfulness meditation program resulted in significant differences in the brains of meditators compared to non-meditators. MRI images taken of their brains showed the meditators had an increase in the density of grey matter in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with memory and learning. At the same time, the amygdala (the emotional reaction centre) got smaller.

The benefits do not end there. A regular meditation practise also has physical benefits including migraine relief, decreased blood pressure and even better sleep.

If that’s not enough to give meditation a go, I don’t know what is.

Play

Something happens to most of us somewhere early in adult life.

We stop playing.

We stop having fun.

Life gets serious.

Neuroscientist, Dr Stuart Brown, who has spent decades studying the importance of play, believes that we are designed to play throughout our lifetime.

“Nothing lights up the brain like play. Play lights up the cerebellum, puts a lot of impulses into the frontal lobe and helps contextual memory to be developed.”

Brown defines play as not having a particular purpose.

“If the purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play,” he explains.

Brown explains that there are a range of different types of play including body play, object play, rough and tumble, just to name a few.

“If you’re having a bad day, jump up and wriggle around and you may feel better,” he says about body play.

Dee agrees and explains that play is critical to her BrainPower Mind Gym program. This play includes free-style play with simple activities like throwing balls or playing with play dough.

 

Gratitude

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The last element of the Mind Power Brain gym program is gratitude. Now I know that some of you are thinking this is all a bit “new age” and I can even hear some definite eye rolls, but the act of feeling gratitude has significant effects not only on the brain, but also in our relationships.

Dee believes in order to fully reap the benefits of gratitude, you can’t simply write a list.

“When you just tick off a list of things you are grateful for without connecting with the feeling of gratitude, it really doesn’t do much,” Dee explains.

“So instead of saying, I’m grateful for my son, I would think about all the things I love about him and about all the ways he brings joy and meaning to my life. I would allow myself to feel those feelings and savour them. It is this embodiment of the feelings of gratitude where we see the benefits.”

Research into gratitude has shown that it can improve relationships.  One study of couples by Social Psychologist, Nathaniel Lambert, from Florida State University, found that when individuals expressed gratitude towards their partner, they saw a significant improvement in their relationship.

So, when life feels like it’s all too much, stop pulling out your hair. It really won’t do anything other than leave you with a bald patch. Maybe you could try some of these options instead. They certainly won’t hurt!

For more information about the BrainPower Mind Gym, contact Dee on her FB page https://www.facebook.com/deenamic.method/

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