Relax, For the Love of Your Brain Cells, Relax!

Relax for your physical health AND mental health.

“If you’re wound up too tight all the time, you’re actually killing brain cells.” - Dr. Al Sears

Two medical professionals I follow religiously are Dr. Oz and Dr. Al Sears.  These guys know the medical field inside out and upside down, yet they somehow relay their information to non-medically-inclined people like myself in a way that actually makes sense.

In a recent article by Dr. Al Sears, he discussed the importance of relaxation. But he wasn’t approaching it from the angle that most of us approach relaxation.  He wasn’t extolling the virtues of relaxation as it relates to our heart, our happiness, or even our home.

In this particular article, Dr. Sears explained how relaxation affects our mental fitness.  As both a self help and mental fitness devotee, I found it all to be exceptionally fascinating.  However, for anyone who struggles with relaxation, it should be exceptionally unsettling.

Stress is the Leading Cause of Mental Decline

Stress is the leading cause of mental decline.  I realize I just typed the same sentence twice, but I think it deserved twice the attention.  Here, according to Dr. Sears, is the reason why stress leads to mental decline:  When we feel stressed, our body produces the hormone cortisol.  In small to moderate amounts, it isn’t that big a deal.  Bothersome, yes, but nothing to panic over.  However, in larger amounts, get this:  IT BECOMES TOXIC TO YOUR BRAIN CELLS.  Toxic!

Over time, too much cortisol ruins your brain’s “biochemical integrity” and causes mental haziness, forgetfulness, and confusion.

How Can We Reduce The Toxic Hormone, Cortisol?

You reduce your cortisol by reducing your stress.  Just as different things produce stress for different people, different activities will reduce stress for different people.  For example, two of my daughters get utterly and completely stressed out by storms – or even the hint of a storm.  My oldest daughter and I LOVE a good storm.  I believe my husband gets a certain amount of amusement from them as well.  I’m always having to make him come inside before he’s blown away or struck by lightening!  The three of us could probably be storm chasers, but my younger two daughters are often under the covers with one clap of thunder.

Different people are affected differently by things in life – which is why you should never, ever, ever tell anyone, “That’s no big deal!” or laugh at someone else’s worries.  Just because it’s small to us doesn’t mean it is to them.

By the same token, we all find relaxation in different places.  Below are some of the most popular ways to relax.

  • Play a game! I work from home and spend a great deal of time at the computer.  Every now and again, I can be found playing a game of solitaire.  When whatever I’m doing online becomes especially stressful… or if I’m just stuck…. I’ll run to the solitaire playground and clear my head.  Its relaxing effect is, literally, instantaneous.
  • Pray and meditate. Prayer has been proven to reduce cortisol.  Of course, that’s not the main reason we should do it – but it is yet another fantastic benefit.
  • Take a ride in your car. I realized one day just how relaxing driving around can be.  It was about a year ago – when our entire server was hacked and it looked like we were going to lose every blog and site we’d worked so hard on.  I went for an Arby’s roast beef sandwich and sweet tea (I don’t know why their tea is so good – but I’m hooked!).  During the 5 minute drive, I found myself feeling much better.  I sort of surprised myself when, instead of turning left to head back home, I turned right and took the longest route imaginable.  There I was – drinking sweet tea, eating a roast beef sandwich, and singing out loud with Faith Hill… not a care in the world.
  • Read. Reading is always a great distraction and a perfect, inexpensive way to relax.
  • Breathe. Focus on deep breathing.  Shallow little breaths just compound your stress.
  • Watch a little TV Land! Old sitcoms are like comfort food.  They’ll lift your spirits and give you a laugh at the same time.
  • Play with Your Pets. This is another one of my favorite ways to relax and unwind. You simply can’t feel stressful or tense when you’re petting a precious animal – or playing with them in some manner.
  • Cook, garden, mow the yard, clean the garage… Doing something physical is a perfect way to let off steam and reduce your stress.  Cooking is a personal favorite activity, so I look for reasons to enjoy it whenever I can.
  • Do something about what’s causing the stress. If you can pinpoint exactly what’s causing your stress, do something about it.  That sounds like simple, even, obvious, advice, but sometimes we get so busy bemoaning what troubles us that we neglect to take action.  For example, I listened a few days ago as a woman in the store told her husband how “fed  up” she was with being overweight, how “unhappy” and “miserable” she was.  She said she couldn’t even look forward to summer.  The poor brave man suggested she start walking – only to be cut off with, “That won’t do any good!”  Then he said, “How about a diet?” – that suggestion was met with icy silence.  My cashier handed me my change and I took off before she thought of her reply.  If we’re unhappy with something, we’re the only ones with the power to do something about it.

What if someone else is causing your stress?

Avoid them like a two-headed rabid wolf!  Okay, I know, that isn’t always possible.  Sometimes these “stress carriers” are family or co-workers.  We can’t avoid them all the time, can we?  My advice is this:  If you can’t do anything about the things they do to stress you out – change the way you react.

  • Your wife’s a nag? Make up your mind to give her less to nag about!  Wipe your feet, pick up your socks, let down the lid – whatever it is that she harps on… you control the mute button by giving her fewer things to complain about.
  • Your husband’s a penny pincher? If possible, get your own pennies and dare him to touch them!
  • Your boss is a control freak?  Do everything you are supposed to do, as well as you possibly can.  Stay on her/his good side to the best of your ability.

Basically, treat everyone as well as possible and always give them your best.  If you put forth a little more effort, smile a little more often, and flat out refuse to fly off the handle – the “carrier” will be flabbergasted and will, in turn, cause you less stress.  Try it!

If you take one thing away from here today, please let it be this:

“If you’re wound up too tight all the time, you’re actually killing brain cells.” - Dr. Al Sears

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are disrespectful, offensive, or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “Relax, For the Love of Your Brain Cells, Relax!

  1. WONDERFUL post. I’m a pretty uptight, Type A person and I seriously need to relax sometimes. In fact, I was JUST discussing this with someone yesterday, saying how I really needed to figure out how to relax more. This is so helpful. Thank you!

    Positively Present’s last blog post..happiness (is not) for sale!

  2. Thank you for the kind words – they mean a lot. By nature, I’m a laid back individual (sometimes probably too much) – I get it from my dad. My sweet little mother was opposite. She was totally Type A. I think she needed to be with her job – she worked with kids in need, and they didn’t need anyone who’d let grass grow under their feet or take no for an answer.

    My husband’s a Type A, too. I often wish he’d be able to relax more – but then again, sometimes a Type A person is actually in relaxed mode when the rest of us think they’re stressing out!