5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 1

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 1

breathe

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children that was a little more serious. Read the whole story here.

In the lead up to this I had been practising 5 strategies to train my brain for when the sh*t hits the fan, because at some point it definitely will… and it did!

Below is one of these exercises. I encourage you to read the purpose of these exercises and how to practice them effectively by reading the introduction to this series prior to getting into the exercise.

Exercise 1: Breathe

By this I don’t mean “take a breath, dude!”.

I mean breathe intentionally.

Take deep, conscious, deliberate belly breaths that you can feel going into your nose, raising your belly (not your chest), and exiting out of your nose or mouth.

This will do several things, but the following are two of the most important ones:

1. DEEP BELLY BREATHS WILL RELAX YOU

When we are stressed we take shorter breaths into the chest. This activates our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which sends messages to the brain to suggest we are in danger. Our fight, flight or freeze response then kicks in, which can lead to, or increase, feelings of anxiety and panic.

Deep diaphragmatic (abdominal belly) breaths will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which does the opposite; it relaxes you and calms your body and mind = CHILL.

 

2. DEEP BELLY BREATHS WILL BRING YOU INTO THE PRESENT MOMENT

Breathing consciously and deliberately means we can’t help but be in the here and now. When we are truly present we can’t focus on our stress or anxiety. In fact, the present-moment-master Eckhart Tolle says it is impossible to be present and stressed at the same time.

Being present gives us the opportunity to become mindful of our current situation and react consciously, rather than act on reflex. Mindfulness literally changes the brain. And scientific studies have shown it works (for a review see Hofmann et al., 2010).

 

Try this quick practice as often as you can to slow your breathing, move your breath into your belly and become present.

Sit upright in a comfortable chair and place both feet on the ground. Close your eyes and place both hands on your belly. Consciously feel your breath going in your nose.
How it does feel on your nostrils?
Is the air warm or cold?
How does the breath inflate your belly?
How does the air feel going out of your nose/mouth?
Count the breaths if you like. Your aim is to do about 10.

If your mind wanders, as soon as you notice it congratulate yourself on being human, and focus back on your breath.

Practicing deep breathing regularly will have profound effects on your current stress and anxiety levels. However, it will also train your brain for when the sh*t hits the fan.

Doing this exercise regularly (FYI it is a marvellous way to start the day!) literally changes your brain. It activates neural pathways that will reduce your baseline levels of stress, and change your brain’s neurochemistry. This means that you will naturally live with a lower level of day-to-day stress.

And when the sh*t hits the fan?

You will not only know how to immediately reduce stress by doing your belly breathing, but you will also be much less stressed than you once would have been, because you have trained your brain.

Love,

 

 

This is exercise 1 of 5. I will share each exercise one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement it, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.

5 Ways To Train Your Brain For When the Sh*t Hits The Fan

5 Ways To Train Your Brain For When the Sh*t Hits The Fan

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children, that was a little more serious.

It caught me completely off-guard. Mama Bear came out in full-force. But first I had a cry, put on my pink fluffy dressing gown over my clothes (it was a cold day but I was feeling particularly cold after the news) and opened a can of condensed milk. 

When the sh*t hits the fan, a situation suddenly causes a lot of trouble

Offensive.
(sorry about that!)

Cambridge Dictionary

I sat there spooning the condensed milk into my mouth (it was the only sweet we had in the house ?) and felt all the feelings.

After a short while I realised I had two choices:

  1. I could shovel the whole can of condensed milk into my mouth (NB: I have done this once before and DO NOT recommend it. You have been warned!)
  2. I could utilise the brain training techniques I know, to navigate myself through this sh*t.

In case you have never heard of me or ToughMothers, our whole work is dedicated to supporting women during the transition into motherhood and beyond (or matrescence, as it is officially known). We teach mothers about their own brain and mind, and help them create strategies they can use to change their own brain and wiring, to create a fulfilling life.

At Tough Mothers neuroscience and psychology meet philosophy and spirituality (in the true sense of the word) to support mothers holistically during matrescence.

I have a PhD in Medicine (Neuroscience and Pharmacology) and a degree in Psychotherapy, but most of all I am a mum. 

I was feeling lost and unfulfilled in motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my kids and my husband, but I didn’t particularly like my life, or the person I became during my transition into motherhood. I was stressed and anxious all the time. I had lost my sense of self, and I was scared that life would just be like this forever: challenging, exhausting, relentless and unfulfilling.

Unsatisfied with this, I used my 25 years of brain and mind research knowledge and set off to learn more and change my own brain.

It worked!

It sounds so much more sciencey and nutty than it actually it is. It is simply understanding your brain-mind-body-life connection and getting them to work for you rather than against you ?

You may have heard of the term neuroplasticity?
It’s the amazing ability of the brain to change itself and its wiring.
For example, how you can train yourself, i.e. your brain, to ride a bike.

Similarly, you can train your brain in other aspects of your life. For example, to change your thinking and reactions to certain situations. This is exactly what we do at Tough Mothers.

But I digress. Back to my can of condensed milk.

I had to dig deep that day (pun intended), but I used strategies I had previously been practising to change the situation. Don’t get me wrong, the news I received hadn’t changed, just my reaction and subsequent actions changed. It was a massive win!

So, I posted about it on Facebook (as you do, of course!) and ended it with:

“When the shit hits the fan make sure your neural (brain) foundation is stronger than ALL the shit. #TrainYourBrain”

You can read the whole post in our private Facebook group The Tough Mothers Village

I had so many enquiries from our wonderful members about what training your brain involved, that I decided to share 5 strategies I used in this instance, in a free series called 5 Ways To Train Your Brain For When The Sh*t Hits The Fan.

Because when the sh*t hits the fan, the best thing you can do is make sure your brain is prepared.

HOW?

Train your brain.

You have to think of your brain as being like a muscle. Your muscle has to be strong in order to be ready to lift. You wouldn’t walk into a gym without having lifted weights, and pick up a 40kg dumbbell, would you?

Instead you would start with a much lighter weight and increase it as you get stronger and stronger, until you feel you can lift a 40kg weight without trouble. It is the same for the brain.

The 5 simple exercises I outlined in this series are small steps to start growing and strengthening your brain. By practising these techniques you will create and strengthen neural pathways that are imperative in remaining cool, calm and collected during times of stress.

With enough repetition, over time, you will literally change your brain. So, when the time comes and the sh*t hits the fan your reaction will be noticeably different compared to if you hadn’t trained your brain.

When I say noticeably, I mean you will literally notice that your reaction is different to how it used to be, or how you would have expected it to be.

Over the next few weeks, I will share each of the 5 strategies in this blog, so be sure to check back in regularly or sign up below to get the exercises straight to your Inbox.

Please do them. They have the potential to change your life!

Love,

 

 

PS. I’d love to hear about your experience, so please comment below.

 

I will share each strategy one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement each one, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.