Your Brain: the Forgotten Muscle

A sharp mind is developed — not gifted

Our mind does incredible acrobatics to maneuver the stressful obstacles in our lives. With the onset of a global pandemic, imagine this obstacle course being set on fire and perched on top of a lion’s den (or perhaps a tigers den). Now, more than ever, it’s imperative to work on remaining steadfast in our sense of peace and stability. Mental fitness is not determined by those IQ test pop up ads nor by how intelligent you (think) you are. Instead, it’s a complex network of behavior that sustains your emotional health. Being quarantined, as I’m sure everyone is beginning to realize, wasn’t the vacation from work and responsibility we may have hoped it would be. Instead, with the lack of human interaction and forced discipline, our stress triggers are exacerbated. The CDC explains the ways in which stress becomes a multi headed hydra, each day seemingly giving birth to an unfamiliar face. The natural response is to worry about your health and that of your loved ones, especially those who are in the highly susceptible age range. People may experience disruptions in sleeping and eating patterns. Studies show there are also tendencies to lean more heavily on alcohol, tobacco and other during times of isolation which, needless to say, would just be feeding the beast and giving it strength to come back tenfold. In this harsh reality, what can we do to find the strength which helped us battle these archaic beasts in the past? How do we continue to push forward despite the seemingly impenetrable wall this microbe has presented to our livelihood?

Pro-tip 1: Find yourself in familiar relationships

There’s no reason to feel like you’re emotionally isolated even though you’re required to physically distance yourself. Your friends, family and loved ones are still within grasp and ear shot. Enjoy FaceTime, Hangouts and call friends who you’ve been meaning to reconnect with. We are in a unique moment in time where the people we love aren’t rushing around to go to work, the gym, to go out drinking or partying. They are all at home just as you are, trapped in the amber of the moment, and although the circumstances are dire, their presence is something we can absolutely capitalize on. Spend time with your siblings, your parents and grandparents (who aren’t getting any younger), your pets, reacquaint yourself with the people in your life who’ve probably been neglected in light of romantic or career aspirations. Big companies are looking for ways to encourage social interaction in the context of social distancing. Netflix Party was launched as a response; it synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to your favorite Netflix shows so that it simulates a group viewing experience. Now you can torture yourself with true crime documentaries with your friends alongside you. 

Pro-tip 2: Stimulate yourself (I mean that in the most wholesome way possible)

Keep stretching your creativity. Keep learning new things. Keep blood flowing to your brain. Stimulation can come from reading a good book or just going for a walk. You can teach yourself new skills like cooking or meditation and still respect the boundaries set by quarantine. The internet is our guide and the world will meet you halfway if you take the first steps to taking care of your mental needs. Many Ivy league schools are offering free online courses spanning subjects from computer science to an introduction to the dutch language (https://www.classcentral.com/). The New York Times is publishing recipes that are easy to make in quarantine with ingredients that most people are hoarding anyways (like beans). Yes Chef is also offering a discounted subscription so you can take cooking classes at home (https://yeschef.me/). Learn a new language with DuoLingo, take more free education classes at Khan Academy, take virtual museum tours with Google Arts and Culture (https://artsandculture.google.com/). If reading a book demands something from you that you probably haven’t done since high school, then you’ll be elated to hear that Audible, an audiobook platform, has made hundreds of titles available for free during the coronavirus pandemic. At codecademy.com, you can learn to code for free so that you can apprehend the inevitable robot mutiny or you know, just boost your logic and problem solving skills. I could literally go on for longer than your attention span will allow. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that keeping your brain active increases its vitality; doing new things in new ways appears to help retain brain cells and connections. The point is, the world is still at your hands, all that’s left for you to do is banish your complacency and take initiative.

Pro-tip 3: Actively rest (an oxymoron that will change your life) 

Mental fitness doesn’t have to be this substantial, daunting chunk of your day. You can just take a few minutes and practice breathing, visualizing a peaceful environment, repeating positive affirmations, or doing some memory exercises. Even taking the time to organize and clean the space around you is a way to relax the mind. There’s nothing wrong with distracting yourself from the constant barrage of anxiety. Do something that brings you joy or makes you feel accomplished — whatever that may be.

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