Mental Health / Self-Care

Here’s why you need to start treating your brain like your body

. 7 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Here’s why you need to start treating your brain like your body

I remember as a child feeling the dearth of attention during my dad’s long boring and incredibly dragged out morning routines. He’d wake up earlier than everyone else in the house, make tea for himself in the strong pungent ginger-y manner that he liked, open all the windows and doors of the house, choose a corner on one balcony with his beloved newspaper and sit unresponsive for a good hour.

As a grown-up today, I understand the significance of starting your day on a solitary and peaceful note.

We’re living in an age of information overload. With most of us spending a significant part of our lives in front of screens, consuming more content than food, it is not surprising then, that your brain starts acting up in ways that make functioning difficult.

We are in a knowledge economy. Most of our jobs require us to execute peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured, they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that our brains are somehow different.

So just how we would give that space and all that necessary recovery time for our body to recuperate and just as you would treat a terrible backache, here’s all the things you should do differently while treating your mind as your body.

Take it for regular check-ups

Remember the time when that fever refused to subside and your friendly neighbour aunty gave you her family doctor’s number because ‘beta dengue ho gaya toh?’ Why don’t we try to develop the same habit in situations when you’ve cried in the office washroom three times this week and woken up with a weak will to live?

Just how you’re fully aware of your incompetence when it comes to treating something like dengue yourself, there are times when your mental health too needs an expert solution.

So take your mind for a fun-day-out and engage with it. Give it the space to make itself heard. And hear it out. And when you’re not able to decipher your brain’s coded message, make your way towards someone who might.

This someone does not necessarily have to have a degree in psychology. If that’s too scary then just talk to a trusted friend or a confidante, or someone who has walked in your shoes before. But what’s essential is to check-in with yourself.

When engaging in these nonchalant conversations also doesn’t seem to do much to help you bounce back, then don’t be afraid to take the plunge into seeking a more focused and result-oriented approach –talking to an expert.

The taboo on seeking help for your mental wellbeing is still in the works of being lifted. And even when the mental health conversation has taken foreground, the act of going to a therapist might seem extreme in all its pragmatic glory.

But the successful lifting of this aforementioned taboo can only be achieved in getting rid of this inhibition once and for all.

While the process of therapy may not be like a quick-fix-medication route that most physiologists take, the decision to go into it is not all that different. Your body feels unwell, and you go to the doctor. Your mind feels tired, and you feel too exhausted to function – you go to a mental health expert.

Feed it the right things

Yes, scrolling through Instagram is addicting. I, for one, certainly don’t get sleepy until I’ve made myself feel bad about my body after having scoured the Instagram pages of fitness enthusiasts in undoable yoga asanas. But it’s time we filter what we feed our brains.

We gladly deny our indulgences every couple of months and plunge into hefty keto diets, intermittent fasting, and juice cleanses or abstinence from carbs and sugar. How about trying a similar detox for your content-consumption appetite?

If a social media cleanse or an Instagram detox seems a little too extreme (I mean who can fall asleep without pressing reload on Instagram to the point that “You’re All Caught Up” pops up twice over), how about just filtering the content, and how much you are consuming?

Unfollow pages that constantly feed and accelerate your negative thoughts, your insecurities, or anything that sends you down the rabbit hole of your inescapable rut of thoughts.

Follow pages that accelerate your positivity. Read blogs that help boost your thought processes into feeling good about yourself. And if you’re not much of a reader, memes are always an excellent way to integrate a little bit of humour into your life.

Also, apps like ‘Offtime’ and ‘Moment’ help regulate the time you spend on social media and are concerned about their users not dripping into the black hole holy trifecta of Instagram-Facebook-Twitter.

Have trouble feeling calm? Can’t let go of anxious thoughts? Don’t worry; we have apps for that now.

With apps like ‘MindMesiter’ and ‘Calm’, you don’t have to be away from your phones to feel more positive. These apps are designed in ways to make you feel a lot more de-stressed – their soothing music, the nature-oriented imagery and the effect they’re inclined to provide –all lead to a much-coveted moment of calmness in that crazy day you’ve been having.

Take it for a refreshing workout

The feeling you get after squeezing in a solid workout in your day can be translated for your brain too.

Our bodies can certainly handle a lot – like functioning on three hours of sleep when required, but so can our brains. And it needs to be challenged just as much as your body. One way to do this is to give it the resources and the time to be stretched in different ways. Reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, solving puzzles, and writing are all ways to stretch this ignored muscle.

A lot of people write journals to clear their minds and process as well as make sense of their thoughts. Writing is just like walking – but for your brain.

Meditation is yet another way to engage with your inner calmness. A regular brainy workout must also include a persistent dose of checking in with it constantly.

We’ve all faced hardships - losing a loved one, a relationship gone sour, unmatched expectations, finding ourselves in new and terrifying places, or even having to cross a seemingly difficult obstacle.

But Just how we can’t predict when we might trip and scrape our knee, we can’t predict when these potential threats will be looming around the corner to guerilla attack our mental health.

But if we’re able to develop our emotional and mental strength, we’re more likely to escape this unscathed – or a little less scathed.

One way to do this is to constantly be aware and prepare yourself for the worst even when you are at your best. Maybe this means learning how to manage your expectations, or working on your confidence, or even giving yourself some distance from things that make you unhappy.

Find your medium for giving your brain a chance to reflect, regroup, and refresh. But more importantly, notice the symptoms when your brain isn’t at its best and give it the attention it needs to recover.

Make it rest when it feels sore

Back in boarding school, during our annual day preparations when I was dancing for 6 hours on a daily basis, I’d occasionally pull a muscle or throw my back out. As tempting as it was to instinctively stretch the muscle out and soldier through the pain, my instructor would warn me that this would only make the recovery process longer. So I had to suck it up and be benched while the beats drummed on as they teased me for not being as fun as them.

Not surprisingly enough, the brain works the same way. You can’t keep stretching it when it’s already hurting. This will only make it harder to bounce back into a more productive state.

When you’re tired, you can’t keep staying up late and skipping sleep. When you’ve been staring at a computer screen for over 12 hours waiting for the words to pop up all on their own, you won’t be able to churn out new ideas even after you’ve had your sixth cup of caffeine if you don’t stop staring at that screen.

Treat this the same way you would when you feel breathless after a run. Know when it’s time to step back. Stop, breathe and take a rest. Your wounds will heal and trust that you will get back to work faster and better than ever.

So if we do start treating our brains like our body, we’d factor it into our decision-making processes a lot more. Just how we don’t jump headfirst into a shallow pool, we wouldn’t say yes to everything all the time. Just how we decide that it is time to stop after a 30-minute-run on the treadmill we’d know that it’s time to stop taking up any more assignments or work project for the week. And just how we decide to leave our desk and go for a coffee/cigarette break, we’d know how not to force ourselves to work until the point you see sunlight pouring into your room after having worked all night.

Which is why I now wake up at the time my dad does, make coffee for myself alongside him making his tea, and then sit in the balcony next to him as he devours his newspaper and I scour Instagram.