Stretch your brain

It’s hard to imagine running a marathon without first stretching out and warming up. Likewise, you wouldn’t see an AFL player run straight on to the ground without loosening up. Clearly, preparation plays an integral role in getting us ready for the rigours of sport, so why don’t we apply this to other facets of our life?

Warming up your mind is just as important as warming up your body. Great Health explores a few ways to stretch your brain to train for your own mental marathons.

Meditation

Meditation is a great way of accounting for your mental health. Many see it as a way of improving their thought process and as a key factor in managing their stress. According to the Better Health Channel, meditation produces a clearing of the mind in ways that promote a calm and heightened awareness.

Of course, it’s understandable to hear these words with a sense of scepticism – the very fact that meditation has a stereotype speaks volumes to that – but, the benefits of meditation far outweigh any pre-conceptions.

According to Headspace, there are thousands of studies that have shown mindfulness meditation can positively impact mental and physical health. Whether it’s by reducing stress, improving sleep, increasing focus, or improving relationships, research shows mindfulness works.

The technique can be achieved through as little or as much effort as you decide. A study in Canada has found that just 10 minutes of daily mindful meditation can help prevent your mind from wandering and is particularly effective if you tend to have repetitive, anxious thoughts.

Here are three quick tips to help you start:

Get in position

Get in a comfortable position, whether this be a favourite chair or an extra cosy spot on the couch – no yoga mat or crossed legs necessary.

Breathe

Pay attention to your breath. Block out everything around you and notice the air coming in and out of your lungs. If your mind starts to wander, simply draw your attention back to your breathing patterns. Not so difficult so far is it?

Pay attention to your body

Another great way of ensuring you stay in the zone is by listening to your body. Start from the top of your head and make your way down to your toes, feeling and sensing each body part as you go down.

It’s also important to note that meditation takes practice, so don’t get stressed if you find your mind wandering – it’s all part of the process.

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Classical music

The often-referenced ‘Mozart Effect’ concluded that listening to Mozart’s music may induce short-term improvement to certain kinds of mental tasks. And while many media outlets sensationalised these results to state ‘Mozart makes you smarter,’ the effects of listening classical music when you need to concentrate certainly can’t be overlooked.

Simply put, studies have proven that classical music can have a considerable effect on our mental state, mood and output. A study by Murdoch University found that music contributes to emotional, physical, social and cognitive growth. The study also showed that classical music can help with are lowering blood pressure, ensuring you get a better night’s sleep and relieving anxiety.

So just as athletes use music to pump themselves up, so too can you for the stresses of a day ahead.

Sleep

Sleep is an integral part of your mental health, to the point where being deprived of it can result in increased rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem in the long term.

According to the Australian Sleep Health Foundation, during the day we are bombarded with new information. Sleep gives the brain some ‘down time’ to process all of this information and store it in our memory banks. They conclude that having enough sleep improves concentration, creativity and assists with learning.

If you’re looking for that excuse to get a good night’s rest, it’s safe to say you’ve found it.

Water

Like sleep, this one shouldn’t take much convincing – after all, you depend on water for far more than just your mental health. It is, however, interesting to note water’s relationship with your brain.

Essentially it boils down to one thing – dehydration can significantly affect our mood. The human brain is made up of about 75% water, something that speaks volumes for its dependence.

When we aren’t drinking enough water, our circulation slows down, which means less oxygen gets to the brain. Here, headaches, stress and a drop in mood can all result. In many ways, water is the fuel to our mental health. It’s important to make sure we can last the journey.

Keep stretching

Just like an athlete is constantly on the lookout for ways to improve their performance, so too should you be passionate about improving and sharpening your mental health.

Of course, there are many other ways to help improve your wellbeing, but this list is a great place to start. A midday nap never sounded so enticing.