In the past decade, there has been plenty of excitement surrounding the phenomenon of neurogenesis, which is the ability of the brain and other parts of the central nervous system to grow and adapt.
Just a few decades ago, it was widely believed that the brain’s ability to regenerate was quite limited, especially in adulthood. Now it’s understood that the brain can readapt at any age. This discovery has had a major impact on the field of mental health, as it opens up the possibility that people with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder can make a true recovery.
The hitch, it seems, is that the brain can take a very long time to grow and readjust. When it falls in a rut or lacks the needed stimulation, neurogenesis may take much longer to happen, if it does happen at all. This implies that we need to stay mentally active for much the same reasons as we want to be physically active. In other words, it’s a case of “use it or lose it”.
Below are a few things most people can do to improve neurogenesis and mental health over time. If you need help with substance use disorders, check out these resources for rehabilitation centers in Dallas, TX.
- Regular Meditation
Contrary to popular belief, meditation is less about emptying your mind and more about focusing on one specific thing. There is evidence that the kind of active focus involved in meditation can help with neurogenesis. The key, it seems, is to do meditation regularly.
Mindfulness meditation has received a lot of attention for neurogenesis studies, as it seems to be one of the more straightforward types of focused meditation out there. However, meditation can take many forms and you may already be engaging in some kind of meditative practice without knowing it. Gardening, working on your car, prayer, or focused playing musical instruments can all have meditative qualities.
- Daily Exercise
There is evidence that moderate daily exercise helps with neurogenesis both directly and indirectly. Exercise helps create “body literacy” and awareness, which may indicate parts of your brain are getting stimulation where they previously weren’t. Getting a good sweat out also floods your body with natural feel-good hormones, which improve your mood and help regulate sleep, both of which are critical for ensuring optimal brain growth.
- Switching to a Less-Stressful Job
Stress hormones are known to stunt neurogenesis, which in turn can stunt brain growth and negatively affect your mental health, as well. Over time, being in constant stressful situations can prevent you from thinking clearly and ultimately contribute to depression, trauma, or anxiety disorders. If you have the opportunity, choosing a job that allows you to prioritize your mental health will often be the better choice.
- Taking Regular Holidays
Neurogenesis is sparked by novel experiences and surmountable challenges, both of which travel offers. Traveling or going on holidays can get you out of a rut, and, in a way, “shock” your brain into growing new connections. Additionally, the new experiences you get by traveling can be the source of treasured memories that you could fondly look back on.
- Learning New Skills
As mentioned earlier, novelty and doable challenges are crucial ways of stimulating your brain into growing. It’s important to keep learning new things and challenging yourself throughout the rest of your life.
However, you don’t want the challenge to be too stressful, as it can trigger negative stress responses. Additionally, you want the things you want to learn to be somewhat out of your comfort zone while still being enjoyable and rewarding. If you’re not sure what to get into, learning a new language or musical instrument is often a good choice, as is joining a cooking class or being part of a good book club.
- Reducing Social Media Use
Today, it’s clear that excessive social media use is linked to mental health problems, not just in younger people but for folks of all ages, as well. Not only do people who use social media more often feel more depressed and anxious, but they also lack stimulation from opposing viewpoints, as social media platforms are usually designed to deliver content that you want to see, rather than content that helps you consider all angles.
Additionally, when any viewpoint is presented, it is often in a distorted way that does not tend to agree with outside reality. This divergence can further worsen your mood and your mental health.
Reducing social media use or heavily restricting it for a specific purpose like communication can be critical in helping your mental health, not just by removing a source of stress, but also by allowing you to truly expand your viewpoints in a meaningful way.
Start Working On Your Mental Health Today
Obtaining optimal mental health is going to be a lifelong challenge for most people. However, by making an effort to implement good habits that allow for neurogenesis, we empower our minds to grow and expand in the truest sense of the word. Good luck, and be well!