By Miranda Massie on October 25, 2017
Fitting in time for our physical fitness is important, but sometimes we can forget one of the biggest and most important muscles in our body: the mind. This month, in honour of UBC Thrive, we offer tips and suggestions for keeping your brain fit, as well as your body.
Week 1: Listen away your stress
Sound therapists and researchers have created a custom eight-minute piece of music specifically designed to reduce stress and anxiety by lowering heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormone known as cortisol. Listen here:
Visit one of the many thriving spaces and places on UBC’s Vancouver campus. Examples include Fairview Square, Wreck Beach and the Museum of Anthropology. You can also check out these additional hidden gems you may not have heard about.
Week 3: Increase neural pathways
Activities that engage both hemispheres of the brain help promote new and existing neural pathways. Follow along and try this Ear and Nose Brain Break or watch it below:
Week 4: Digital detox
Whether it’s for five minutes at the dinner table or a whole day, taking time away from electronic devices is key to keeping our brains happy. Try the Greatist.com’s 7-Day Digital Detox for Real People or discover their free tools to save your eyes from digital eye strain.
Interested in learning more? Read Scientific American’s “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime
Photo credit: Tirthankar Gupta (Flickr)
Posted in Fitting In Fitness, Mental Health | Tagged arts, brain break, brain training, digital detox, fitting in fitness, mental fitness, music, neuroscience, pathways, spaces, technology | Leave a response
By Miranda Massie on May 3, 2016
Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
The world is changing at a rapid pace and the number of conflicting health studies and recommendations published daily can be overwhelming. When it comes to health information, more isn’t always better – what matters is how we as individuals process, integrate and decide on the information that’s in front of us.
The factors involved in addressing our health are grounded in the very real context of our emotions and our experiences. Digesting the deluge of information coming at us requires us to become more aware of how we are feeling and how we are perceiving; a practice of mindfulness coupled with developing skills in emotional literacy.
What is emotional literacy?
Emotional literacy is a layer of health, including mindfulness practices, where we hone the ability to express our feelings and understand others as they respond within their unique contexts .
The development of emotional literacy helps us understand how we perceive the information we are surrounded by: Are we reacting to information out of curiosity, habit, fear, something else?
The primary reason that emotional literacy is challenging in today’s world is that we have far too many opportunities for our attention to be distracted by notifications, reminders, news content, deadlines and digital clutter.
To begin developing our emotional literacy, the first step is to build resilience to the internal and external distractions that keep us from accessing mindful behaviours. The information overload – from professional advice, to work education, to general news and lists for life – is constantly distracting us from our reactions and internal world. We can choose to implement mindful practices that keep us present.
But before we dive into mindfulness practices and emotional vocabulary, let’s tackle the information overload with our desks and screens: a little digital decluttering.
Monotasking Moments – Many of us are thinking about multiple things at once. Usually when we are doing one task, we’ve got the laundry list of “to-dos” hovering over us. Multi-tasking isn’t just about “doing” multiple things, it also includes having mental distractions while in the middle of an action.
Choose one task a day – it could be anything from having your morning coffee to finalizing the details on your latest project. During this time, commit to doing only that – turn on the virtual and literal “Do Not Disturb” signs around you, within you and on screen, and give yourself a time frame/limit. The time limit is key, so that you and those around you know when to check in and continue with other tasks of the day. Without the predetermined time frame, procrastination or mental distractions can take hold.
If you find that procrastination is your crutch, write out the day’s tasks in time chunks, so you can get a visual sense of how little time you actually will spend on this task. Sticking to time limits while mono-tasking will assist in creating personal deadlines and time prioritization in a day. If your task is quiet it may feel difficult to not fill it with thoughts, and this is when mindful breathing techniques become an important tool. For more on why mono-tasking is a key part of stress management and energy demand, check out my previous article, Stress and the Multi-Tasking Brain.
Love it or Lose it – The state of our screens and workspaces is often an overlooked contributor to our daily distractions. Often photos of peaceful scenes or loved ones are covered over with a mess of files and folders that we wade through daily. If we are faced with multiple options/decisions each time we come our screens, we are setting our brains up for multi-tasking before we’ve even started our day. If you don’t love what you see when you open your screen, change it!
Spend 1 hour a week rearranging your desktop computer/smartphone. Here’s how:
Step 1: Delete it – Take a look at your desk or screen. What do you look at every time you arrive? Is it a flood of apps/documents/folders? Where is the mindful space in your digital world? If you haven’t used an app or a file in over a month, it’s likely you don’t need it in your immediate visual field. This step is one of the hardest tasks with digital information; getting rid of digital clutter. Tidying/rearranging is only effective if you can separate the valuable from the trash. Choose one object/file that you really don’t use, and delete it! If you do this once a week/day it may be easier to manage than having to make all your “love it or lose it” decisions at once. Be patient.
Step 2: If there’s something you haven’t used, but you don’t have the heart to dismiss out of your life permanently – Create a “To delete” folder that is placed far away from sight, where you can access it when feeling nostalgic, but it is not within your daily workspace. This folder is not so much a “digital junk drawer”, as it is the location where the digital clutter you don’t use gets a holding space before eventually you are ready to choose delete and “take out the trash”.
Step 3: Create folders. Once you have cleared out what doesn’t serve you, now it’s time to organize! This step can take more time than expected, as systematic organizing takes dedicated mental energy. It requires a calm state of mind, the ability to step back, and time to reflect on your own way of thinking and accessing information. Be patient with yourself, and tackle this one day at a time. This means you may create just one folder a week, when you decide which files to collate and label as a group. But, once you’ve created that folder, you know exactly why it’s there, and exactly what types of information you’ve put in there.
Step 4: Clear your visual field. At this point, you’ve done a bit of deep cleaning on your digital world, but you still may have many folders of well collated information sitting right in the middle of your screen, covering over the smiling faces or sandy beaches that you love dearly. This is when digital “tidying” up applies. Since you have selected just your most important files/folders to be around visible, find a place for them along the perimeter, so that you can once again see your favourite image on screen. If you have more than 5-10 separate items sitting across your desktop, ask yourself – could I create 5-10 broader categories that all these could go within?
When you arrive at your desk/computer, the space can welcome you to decide what task you want to take on given your own priorities of the day. Too often our workspaces are filled with “to-dos”, and when we arrive fresh each day, we end up drowning in a never-ending list of tasks, without much of a choice. Clear your workspace/screens, clear your head.
These two tasks, done regularly, can help us sort through the information overload that is of our own doing. Next time, we’ll talk about tools on how to manage the information coming at us from external sources.
Our aim when faced with an excess supply of stimulation/information is to become an appraiser of knowledge – to know when to let something pass, and to know when to hold on. This appraiser’s skill comes from getting clear, being mindful and learning our own biases/emotional responses to situations. Learning how to see the ocean of data we are sailing on, and choosing what feeds you on a daily basis, is the beginning of creating space for emotional literacy and health.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.
By Miranda Massie on April 8, 2015
Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
A digital detox does not mean that we need to block out all media. Rather, it means to be mindful of how we use digital technology. There is a way to use media to nourish, rather than retreat from ourselves.
We live in a world of constant virtual contact. In Canada, screen time has rapidly increased over the decade. As adults, much of these hours are now in the working world. Screen light, combined with indoor lifestyles and sedentary behaviours, have their own impacts on health and wellbeing. These factors and their impacts can be difficult to modify – but there is one specific behaviour within our screen time that we can become more mindful of: Leisure Screen Time. When most of our leisure time is spent passively consuming media, we can block our creativity.
In terms of mindfulness, it’s not the leisure that’s the problem. It’s the fact that most of our leisure time is now spent scanning and consuming. This passive consumptive habit nudges the creative and mindful hours out of our lives. It is insidious, not intentional, and is true for all types of entertainment, not just those that are technology based. With access to technology literally at our fingertips, we have left no room for our brains to digest what we’ve consumed; we have no time be inspired to create something of our own. We are too busy watching each other.
Computers, the internet and digital technologies have become a wonderful educational resource, group support, creative muse, meta-database and tool for social and political change. We have symbiotically evolved be more technologically inclined, and our desire to connect and create has only been highlighted by these advances. Not many of us would willingly eschew our access to these grand collaborative products. But, how we use these tools influences our health and wellness.
Previous to the explosion of hand-held device technology, times of consumption were buffered by boredom during the in-between times. Boredom is the breeding ground for imagination, creativity, play and inspiration. It is an efficient muse. On the road to feeling creative, we do not need to DO anything, we in fact, need to do nothing. There is beauty in boredom.
Passive consumption is not an efficient muse. It is a filler.
It is possible for our passive consumption to be balanced with our creative capacity – we can scan media, and subsequently borrow, create or discuss ideas for ourselves. But be aware that the more you pin, follow, like, comment and share, the less you create.
We have inadvertently closed the creative window and instead dominated our time with continuous consumption. This bystander perspective (or “rubber-necking”) squashes our confidence and motivation to create, even when our intention of consuming was to be inspired.
Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt.
Shall I suggest in the same light, that consumption is the thief of creativity?
The concept of a Digital Detox (turning off all devices for one day, or a few hours every day) has been growing in popular culture. It seems to be an effective way to manage the addiction to media and to interact with the neurotransmitter dopamine, wisely.
For bringing creativity back, I suggest a variation. It’s the Creation:Consumption ratio.
For one day a week, (perhaps on the weekend, or a day when you have time for yourself) decide that anything you consume for leisure must be matched with an equal time in creation. That could be online, on a computer, in the kitchen or home or outside – but the key is you are USING your consumption time to inspire you to create something new to you.
Aim for a 50/50 split in your leisure time.
This is a tool to use your time differently than your habitual go-to. Whether you have eight 8 hours or one hour, put a timer on yourself. Max out your media consumption to no more than half of that time. Keep the ratio even: 50% goes to watching, listening, scanning, tasting, and 50% goes to “being bored” and making. This means that some of your creative time may feel uncomfortable. It can take time and space before you feel creative. Stick with it!
Particularly as adults, we have lost the experience and benefits of doing nothing. We have come to think that the only way to do nothing, is to be exhausted. We can relearn how to bumble in boredom, to allow our self-directed motivation take over.
If your creativity time extends beyond 50%, I’d say keep going!
Before using the creation:consumption ratio, reflect on what creativity is NOT:
- not work
- not chores
- not for praise
- not for others
- not for exercise
It is specifically imagining, experimenting, building, making, creating. Simple as that.
If you notice that your creation:consumption ratio consistently weighs toward consumption, your passion, motivation and confidence likely have a harder time piping up to create. If you schedule time to be creative, the time you spend consuming becomes distinctly more engaging. You will begin to identify boredom as separate from exhaustion, and appreciate that doing nothing could be a route into a more passionate and creative life.
Dr. Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership-based health consulting.
Posted in A Thoughtful Mind, Guest Contributor, Mental Health, Miranda Massie, Spot Light | Tagged boredom, creativity, digital detox, doing nothing, Dr. Thara Vayali, mental health, Mindfulness, screen time, technology | 2 Responses