Top 10 ways to un-bake your brain

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Top 10 ways to un-bake your brain

unbake

Feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or fatigued? Having trouble making decisions, falling and staying asleep and solving problems? A bit low on energy, just all-around baked? Life does that to us sometimes. The good news is…there’s a short list of simple practices that, done regularly, can pretty quickly un-bake your brain…and your body!

How stress bakes your brain and breaks your body.

Stress is good. Huh?! That’s right, I said it. Stress is GOOD…when there’s a reason for it. Stress is good when you need to be on high-alert, when you need a shot of energy, adrenaline and clarity to get you through a brief period of intensity. It created changes in your physiology that allow you seemingly superhuman abilities.

But, when that stress becomes chronic, the exact opposite happens. The changes in your body’s chemical (endocrine) and electrical (nervous) systems caused by stress can be hugely destructive when endured over an extended period of time.

On a fundamental level, it can degrade body tissue, lead to weight gain, increase your risk of heart-disease, diabetes, stroke and various forms of cancer. On a mindset and emotional level, it can increase anxiety and depression, decrease cognitive function, creativity and problem solving ability and destroy your sleep, which then cycles back around to further deteriorate your body and brain. The good news is…

You can un-bake your brain.

While we’d all like to rid ourselves of the daily brain-burn, most of us are not willing to extract ourselves from the professional and lifestyle circumstances that are creating that stress (though, I have to tell you, trading in my Ferragamo’s for barefeet has been pretty friggin sweet for me).

So, for those who choose to endure, rather than extract, here are 10 powerful practices that will help get you back to a calm, focused, relaxed and rejuvenated state of mind and allow you to take back body and health:

1. Mindfulness-based stress reduction™

Developed by acclaimed psyhcologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, more than 20,000 people, from all walks of life have now completed this 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction training with remarkable results. And, the good news is, now you don’t have to live in Massachussetts to do it. There are many trained affiliates or you can do it at home with Kabat-Zinn’s book and audio CDs (or mp3s) with only 45-minutes a day.

2. Get lost in great music.

This is pretty intuitive, but there is actually significant research that reveals listening to the right music can actually be a powerful de-stressor and help get you back into a better state of mind relatively quickly. And, if you think listening to music drops you into the chill-zone, try learning or playing music. A fascinating study on the impact of playing music on stress reveals that keeping a guitar handy in the corner of your office and cranking out Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Little Wing on your lunch break will help you feel oh so much better!

3. Get Active for 30-minutes a day

Yes, you heard right. “But, how am I going exercise when I already don’t he enough time in the day?” Simple, exercise is the master key to pretty much everything. It’s why I covered it first in this months’ lifestyle evolution series.

A NASA study revealed that people who exercise work at near-100% efficiency during the last two hours of the day, while those who do not work-out become 50%-less productive in the final two-hours. Now, extend that to what’s become a 10, 12 or 14 hour workday and you being to see exercise create a huge savings in time and productivity. It not only creates the time to exercise, but allows you get even more done, too.

Plus, exercise is hugely effective at alleviating stress and, done about 3 to 6 hours before sleep, can allow you to sleep better, too.

4. Take a breath break

The way you breath directly reflects your levels of stress. When we’re in high-alert, stressed states we tend to take faster, shallower breaths. In fact, this can become so exaggerated, it can lead to hyperventilation and even leave us unconscious. When we’re calm and relaxed, though, our breathing tends to be slower, deeper and less labored.

The interesting thing is, we can actually reverse-engineer this response to obliterate momentary-stress. What does that mean? If we consciously alter our breaths to make them deeper and longer, within a few minutes, this practice will actually force your body out of the high-alert, fight-or-flight stress response and make you much calmer. In fact, this works so well, it has become the staple of many corporate stress-management programs.

5. Biofeedback

What the heck is biofeedback? It’s using your tapping into your bodies own signals and manipulating them to create a very specific change in state. Usually, this involves heart-rate, blood pressure, breath-rate, sometimes even galvanic skin-response. There are many approaches, but, generally, you use a simple machine that reads your physiological markers and then you are instructed to either alter your breathing pattern or visualize something specific in order to bring those makers back into the chill-zone. Biofeedback is great for people who like tangible scientific and fairly quick results. Some resources include:

  • StressEraser – This is a very cool, iPod-size, high-tech biofeedback device that trains you to alter your breath to calm down. I’ve been working with a review-copy of one of these devices for about a week now and will have a full-review of it in a few weeks. But, so far, I’m impressed.
  • BioMedical.com – online clearinghouse for biofeedback software and devices, information and audio/video

6. Psychoacoustics

What the? No, it’s not some wacky drug from the 60s, psychoacoustics is the use of certain audio and visual technologies that allow people who have a lot of trouble with meditation or mindfulness to drop into that same zone, without having to focus so hard on getting there. A number of researchers have build goal-specific audio programs and tools around this technology in an effort to allow more people to use these tools. Resources include:

7. Game-out.

Okay, so this isn’t blanket permission to while away hours in front of your TV or computer or hang out with the local skate-rats at the arcade. But…games that, by the very nature of the elements of the game, require intense concentration, also tend to serve a powerful de-stressing function. In fact, they may induce a similar relaxation-response to meditation.

My advice, though, is to see if you can combine your game-playing with your exercise and get the combined benefits of exercise and concentration-training in a single time-efficient slot. Plus, it’ll lead to less, rather than more, couch/sitting-time, which is always a big benefit in a nation of declining health and expanding waistlines.

8. Re-pattern your sleep.

I’ve already spent a lot of time on this in my recent article, Are your sleep habits making you fat, nasty and dumb. There I listed 5 ways to immediately improve your sleep. Sleep is hugely important in mindset and stress reduction. Lack of sleep leads to fatigue and brain-fog which leads to unwillingness to exercise and inefficiency which, in turn leads to longer work-hours and poorer sleep. It’s a vicious cycle, so any mindset-tuning program must also take a serious look at your current sleep habits.

9. Midday power-nap.

A short power-nap, no more than about 30-40 minutes can be incredibly refreshing. The trick is not to go too long, because if you drop too far into the deeper stages of sleep, waking can be jarring and leave you not refreshed, but actually significantly grumpier.

In fact, midday power-napping is gaining some serious traction as a power-performance and mindset rejuvenating tool, leading companies to begin to open power-napping pod centers in major cities. New York has a number of them and it’s getting increasingly more difficult to get an “appointment.”

10. Write things down.

In my recent article on non-finishing, I talked about something called the Zeigarnick Effect, a phenomenon where you remember the details of a task until it is completed and then promptly forget it all. It’s like completing the task wipes your mental slate clean. Similarly, when you write down the unfinished tasks that are swirling around your mind and detail not only their current status, but critical task need for completion, you create a significant amount of mental “space.” This space go a long way toward returning you to a calmer place.

While this list is not all-encompassing, it goes along way toward providing a set of easily-implementable practices, tips and tools to help un-bake your brain, de-stress your life, improve your sleep, relationships and work performance and help return health and fitness to your days.

A few other great life-balancing resources to explore include:

And, for those following along in my lifestyle evolution series, setting up a power-plan for 2008, we’ll integrate many of these into our bigger picture plan.

Please share any other techniques, practices or tools that have helped you in the comments below.

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65 responses

65 Responses to “Top 10 ways to un-bake your brain”

  1. Mark says:

    Jonathan ~

    Good tips!

    Since I have left the corporate world I find I need to ‘unbake’ my brain much less and for different reasons.

    Nothing better than exercise!

  2. 2, 3, 9, and 10 thats what i do, but i’m pretty laid back guy so i don’t need the other six. great post.

    peace

  3. Let me add ‘dancing’ to the list, or listening to music.

    After a stressful day at work, a little Rage Against the Machine can help me vent that stress out of my body.

  4. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Mark – yes, leaving the corp world can make a big difference!

    @ Michael – the more fun you can have doing this, the better

    @ Hayden – love it, dancing is a great idea. When I was in law school, before every final, I’d throw on George Michael’s Freedom 90 (don’t ask, it was a long, long time ago) and bounce around my room, singing at the top of my lungs…oy vey, I can’t believe I just admitted that! What I meant to say is…Rage rocks!

  5. Thanks for the mention, Jonathan! I appreciate it.

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Donald – My pleasure, it’s great to have wonderful resources to send people to!

  7. Anastasia says:

    Jonathan,

    These are great tips. I also try to make sure I stay hydrated. Essential oils, such as lavender, may be relaxing. And I like stretching (yoga). I’ve found that even brief bursts of high-energy exercise help to de-stress, so if I work at the computer for a long time, I like to get up and jump, run up and down the stairs, or do some sit-ups for a few minutes – it works (I work at home so I can do it).

  8. [...] Jonathan Fields: Awake @ The Wheel – Top 10 ways to un-bake your brain [...]

  9. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Anastasia – great additions, thanks!

  10. Odile says:

    Other ideas: to make a drawing with crayons, drink a glass of water, walk around or to write a six word story Hemingway style.

  11. Robin2nd says:

    A few things that work for me:
    - exercise
    - power nap
    - read sports or science/tech news
    - have sex :)

  12. [...] help to boost your brain. What techniques do you use to relax? Share them in the comments. Top 10 Ways to Un-Bake Your Brain [Awake at the [...]

  13. [...] help to boost your brain. What techniques do you use to relax? Share them in the comments. Top 10 Ways to Un-Bake Your Brain [Awake at the [...]

  14. Vicky Chase says:

    I de-stress by getting lost in a good book. I do this at home and I listen to books on cd while I am driving. A book can take me out of my brain away to a new place or into a new person. A good book can make me forget all the troubles of the day.

    I also de-stress by laughing. My work buddies and I laugh frequently and I listen to NPR programs like, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me or Prairie Home Companion.

  15. Johnay says:

    breath -> breathe

    That’ll help reduce my stress. :)

  16. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Odile – I love it! drawing with crayons or, better yet, how about writing a six-word Hemingway-esque story with crayons while walking around drinking a glass of water…now that would rock!

    @ Robin2nd – I knew someone was gonna sneak the old nookie in there at some point!

    @ Vicky – Great additions, I love it! Totally agree, getting lost in a great book works wonders and laughing is pretty much the cure for everything!

    @ Johnay – Absolutely, breathing is a massively-effective tool at dropping you into what I call “instant calm.”

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  19. TJ says:

    Commenting on your point#6.
    I am aware of two more such programs, namely Pzziz and Brain sync. Every website, including the one you mentioned, touts how best is their program but I really wonder if any NEUTRAL body has really thoroughly examined what the heck these guys are doing and selling. Among the 4 now I am aware of, 2 that I knew and 2 you mentioned in this post, only Brain-Sync offered some insight in their technology which makes me feel more comfortable to give them a try but honestly otherwise this section feels like another episode of TV shop episodes.

    The idea is indeed nice but I feel very uncomfortable when science is misused or hidden under the name of patent. Every individual has a right to know what they are buying. Every such website MUST put good and bad reviews of their products for a customer to make a fair decision.

  20. Lok says:

    Would like to add 2 more de-stressing tips which i personally find very useful.

    1) Cooking: cooking for fun. Especially when you do not have any specific objective.

    2) Playing with toddlers: the cute similes will take your anxiety away.

  21. Jim says:

    Whats the proper definition of “Great Music” and can you give maybe 25 examples?

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  23. [...] Top 10 ways to un-bake your brain The good news is…there’s a short list of simple practices that, done regularly, can pretty quickly un-bake your brain…and your body! (tags: health productivity) [...]

  24. Bobby the K says:

    I really like the Hemi Sync meditation disks from the Monroe Institute.

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  27. Greg says:

    #7 — Gaming — all the way for me… FPS games are my favorite — Call of Duty 4, for example. While my wife will never understand why running around trying to shoot imaginary people who are trying to shoot me makes me relaxed… it really does. After a day of working and thinking, I just want to relax… react… twitch… and get them before they get me :) It requires strategy, practice and skill (depending on the kind of FPS mode you play) but I almost always come away feeling much less stressed.

    Thanks for a good article — I’m definitely going to try some of the other suggestions.

  28. [...] time in two days after work tonight), or anything else, we can all use a few tips.  Check out this article over at Awake At The Wheel by Jonathan Fields.  A great list of ideas to un-bake your brain, [...]

  29. devinadeva says:

    Fabulous advice… forgot the calming effects of essential oils… aromatherapy, secented baths,candles etc… excellent stress busters!

  30. Asad says:

    Good Advices

    here are my ways to reduce stress

    drinking water
    walking
    listening music loudly
    closing eyes for 2 – 3 mins and loosen the whole body

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  39. Chris says:

    I’m really ocd so it’s hard a lot of times for me to shut my mind off… at least I have positive obsessions ( marketing ) but still, it’s nice to shut it down throughout the day.

    Somedays I’ll go 12 or 14 hours straight with no breaks and it really makes me an a-hole

    I find what works best for me is:
    -Mindmapping my thoughts
    -Meditation (especially with Holosync if I have the time, which I usually don’t)
    -Exercise ( the best way I’ve found)
    - A short snack break
    -Quick shower
    Rolling around on the floor with my kids for a few minutes
    -Once in a while just saying screw it and taking the day off ( this is rare and I should probably do it more often than I do)

    Great post and I am going to need to check out some of your other methods

    Thanks Jonathan!

  40. Kari says:

    Great post Jonathan! I wish I had read this 6 months ago when you first posted it and I REALLY needed it! Here’s another stress-reducer: quit your job and start freelancing. It’s done wonders for me! ;-)

    I especially like #2 – depending on my mood, I’ll either listen to classical music (helps me to concentrate), or I’ll rock out to some good classic rock (SRV is definitely a fave).

  41. [...] read full article for more suggestions… [...]

  42. Herb says:

    Simply put — Jog.

    It doesn’t take much effort, and all you do is jog (or walk fast) around your block a few times. Maybe 3-5 times a week. If I’m not in the mood to jog, then I just take my dog out for a walk. That always seems to do the trick.

    I’m not sure why, but that always seems to help me “re-boot” from the overwhelming responsibilities that life seems to throw at you.

  43. holiday says:

    Playing with toddlers: the cute similes will take your anxiety away.

  44. Bryan says:

    It may not be for all people, but I’ve found success listening to Steve Roach’s ‘Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces’ in my iPod (well, actually it’s a Zen – how appropriate). Combined with some mindful breathing, it does an amazing job of coaxing the body to slow down and let go of stress.

  45. Tony Gee says:

    Great post. I was just looking for some info on biofeedback and stress relief. Excellent post. I’m a great advocate of aromatherapy myself. It works for me. Massage, aromas and creating a soothing, relaxing environment.

  46. Christina says:

    I always find using aromatherapy really helpful and relaxing.

  47. great article…i like the part about breathing coz i do it all the time…its easy and gets you into the mood of feeling relaxed…especially when i do my daily yoga workout…abdominal breathing really helps…it supplies more oxygen to the brain and helps circulate energy throughout the body.

  48. Hi,

    Great post. I just like your thought about “unbake the brain.” it’s very unique. And I also want to let you know that I do write article about stress relief in my site and you can download a free e-book “How to managing stress using aromatherapy.”

  49. Jeremy Colon says:

    Don’t forget the overwhelming power of meditation in the process of healing the mind. Meditation has been shown to positively reduce stress at an unbelievable rate, while unlocking creative potential.

  50. Body Bath says:

    I agree that exercise really helps with relaxation. Proper breathing makes a big different for me too. Plus, I suggest taking a nice long bath – it does wonders!

  51. Breathing and meditation for me are also VERY effective in relieving stress. Many people think that meditation is some unachievable exercise that only gurus and enlightened people do, but the trust is anyone can learn it, and it decreases stress, fatigue – mentally and physically – literally within 15 minutes.

  52. [...] ways to reduce stress and avoid burnout. The hectic holidays are a great time to start these habits, and to reap the [...]

  53. Meditation and visualization for me are the greatest ways to combat stress. Meditation aligns me with spirit and nature, and removes all extraneous thoughts, and visualization sets up the future with great manifested ideas (including not getting stressed out!)

  54. Personally switching gears to highly physical things that require very little thinking and a whole lot of workload are the answer for me.

  55. Great art, Jon. For me, when my work and teaching became overwhelming, I finally had enough and started researching on the net. Using Zen mediation techniques, altering my sleep pattern and visualization really changed everything for me. The key, as in any life change, is that you have to be fully committed and need to fully believe in what you are doing.

  56. Great post Johnathan,

    I am especially keen on Psychoacoustics and Biofeedback but thought that general meditation could be added to this list too as it is a great way to relieve stress if you learn to do it right. :)

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  58. Sue says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I linked to this article through the article on “7 Sneaky Ways to Write Irresistable Headlines”, and both articles were great. I’m looking forward to playing with some of the ideas in the article on writing irresistible headlines now that my brain is no longer baked, boiled or fried and my creativity is returning. ;-)

    As for the baked brain from chronically stressful work environments, I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of understanding that ultimately no job–no matter how prestigious the title or fat the paycheque–is worth sacrificing one’s health and well-being for. By the time I finally left my toxic workplace in a public sector organization, my brain wasn’t baked–it was dangerously close to being thoroughly deep fried! You can use all the stress containment methods under the sun in those kind of working conditions, but ultimately it’s absolutely critical to get away from the situation, and give your mind and body a chance to recover. And yes, that might mean making some adjustments to one’s lifestyle and/or spending habits, but it won’t be half as painful or expensive as recovering from a life threatening or other debilitating illness.

    I was surprised that you didn’t include diet among your ten ways of reducing stress. Laying off the caffeine, sugar and other refined/highly processed foods and increasing the amount of fresh veggies & fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and tryptophan are all great choices for calming the nervous system down and preventing–or at least helping to repair–any inflammatory damage brought about by excess levels of cortisol and adrenaline running amok for any length of time.

    Cheers,
    Sue

  59. [...] Fields, Awake @ the Wheel on breathing… The way you breath directly reflects your levels of stress. When we’re in high-alert, [...]

  60. In recent times, I am doing yoga with exercise and it does helps me a lot.

  61. Allan Kelly says:

    Yoga Helps me a lot and suggests everyone to do it.

  62. The most important factor (in my opinion) would be to get active! Think about it logically – if you physically move then you get your heart pumping faster, which leads to more oxygenated blood being pumped around your body and to your brain. The more oxygenated blood you can get to your brain the better it can perform – of course you would need to remain completely hydrated for your brain to be functioning at 100% as well as consuming sufficient levels of omega-3

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  64. [...] help to boost your brain. What techniques do you use to relax? Share them in the comments. Top 10 Ways to Un-Bake Your Brain [Awake at the [...]