Filed under: Mind
Sometimes just understanding what’s going on can help the process of recovery. If you’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it might help to have a better idea of how your brain functions and how the various parts are supposed to work. This also can help you understand the treatments used to help “rewire” your brain, so it can work properly again.
PTSD is a mental health condition stemming from traumas—experienced during combat, disasters, or violence—that impact brain functioning. The alarm system in your brain, that normally helps ensure your survival, malfunctions; it becomes triggered too easily. In turn, parts of your brain responsible for thinking and memory stop functioning properly. When this happens, you have difficulty comparing what’s happening now with safe events from the past. Read more...
Many dietary supplement products are marketed as nootropics—substances intended to improve memory, focus, and overall mental performance. While some products contain vitamins, minerals, and plant-based ingredients, others contain drugs that are not legal dietary supplement ingredients. Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about nootropics to learn more about these products and whether they are safe and effective.
Not all ingredients found in dietary supplements are legal, so read product labels carefully. For more information, visit FDA’s Dietary Supplement Products & Ingredients.
When working to build your concentration on one task, consider fixing problems and/or embracing new techniques. Ask yourself whether you’re trying to restore a level of performance that you previously achieved—or if you’re trying to boost your performance. Physical injuries, pain, medications, sleep deprivation, and addiction could distract you from the task at hand. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can negatively impact your ability to focus too. Through successful treatment with a trained medical provider, your attention skills could likely be restored to previous levels.
If you’re aiming to enhance your focus capabilities and perform better than ever, you might want to try some mental performance techniques. These skills include goal-setting, self-talk habits, mental imagery, energy maximization, and organized routines to steer your attention. When developing a routine, you can become more aware of where your attention could go, and practice regularly guiding it to where you want it to go. As you develop practical habits, stay flexible and allow yourself to be spontaneous and adaptable when appropriate.
Fear of failure can prevent you from performing your best in many situations including combat, work, relationships, and daily life. Worry can take a bigger hold when you push it aside. For instance, while preparing to give a presentation and thinking, “I can’t be nervous,” you might actually feel more nervous!
As you face your fears, understand that fearing something will happen doesn't mean that it will happen. Ask yourself these kinds of questions:
- Why do I think I can’t be nervous? If I’m nervous, I’ll give a horrible talk.
- So if I’m nervous, I’m guaranteed to give a horrible talk? No, I’ve given good talks while nervous before.
- If nervousness leads to giving an awful talk, what’s the worst thing about that? I’d be embarrassed and people would walk away without having learned important material.
- What’s worse—embarrassment or people walking away without learning? I’d survive the embarrassment. People need to learn this stuff.
- Is this their last opportunity to learn? No, I’d take more steps to make sure they got it, despite an initially awful talk.
Sleep is vital. Think about it: sleep loss causes performance to suffer, but getting plenty of sleep results in better performance. Most people wouldn’t consider going without food or water, and sleep is no different—it’s a necessity. Lack of sleep is equivalent to being drunk. In fact, after being awake for 18–20 hours, you’d function as if you had a blood-alcohol content of .1% (about four drinks for a 150-pound man). Little or no sleep affects your eye-hand coordination, reaction time, and multitasking abilities—and how you remember important sequences, remain attentive, and stay organized. If you’re tired, you may be able to learn skills and work well enough, but training while fatigued might impact your ability to do your best.
Many people believe that they can overcome being tired or “get used to it.” But evidence suggests sleeping only 6 hours can jeopardize your resilience, health, and well-being. As people become more sleep-deprived, they become less aware that they’re impaired. When someone says, “I’m used to being tired,” they’re simply used to having impaired awareness and judgment. When possible, sleep more to help boost your energy level, thinking ability, and readiness!
You might have noticed that you can “turn off” your busy brain by watching TV, but did you know there are other techniques that could help quiet your mind? You can download several MP3 audio files in HPRC’s Mind-Body Apps, Tools, and Videos.
- Introduction to Paced Breathing helps you learn to pace your breath and achieve calmness while staying alert.
- Paced Breathing Music guides you to pace your breath once you better understand the timed breathing routine.
- Autogenic Training, a mind-body exercise, shows how to use your mind to warm your hands, while also quieting your mind.
Remember it's okay if your busy brain turns on. But just as easily as racing thoughts creep in, let them creep out—while gently guiding your attention to something neutral such as your breath, or something important such as the task at hand. Whether it’s watching TV or using a mind-body technique, find ways to quiet your mind and be more focused when it matters.
You probably know how good it feels to tap your foot to the beat of a familiar song. But did you know that moving your body in sync with a beat could help improve thinking and learning abilities? It might possibly repair brain injuries too.
Recent hi-tech breakthroughs show that lining up precise, repeated movements (such as hand clapping) with a certain beat could boost brainpower. Similar to how biofeedback helps you use your mind to ease stress and manage pain, this synchronized metronome training (SMT) approach helps to master the timing of these movements.
SMT is linked to improved concentration, academic performance, behavior, and muscular coordination in children diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s also a promising treatment for those diagnosed with brain-based movement disorders such as cerebral palsy, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and stroke-related injuries. SMT offers mind-body benefits for active-duty soldiers coping with blast-related traumatic brain injuries (e.g., inattention and short-term memory loss). It’s even helped healthy golfers step up their game.
SMT helps improve fluid movements for those experiencing excess muscle tension. It also enables better concentration for those feeling distracted or anxious. People can learn to complete a task without trying too hard. Through SMT, you can train your brain by “letting” movements happen—key to its success.
Meditation can actually change how your brain functions, building resilience and improving your performance. Much the same way you strengthen your muscles, when you exercise different parts of your brain, you make subtle changes to its structure. These physical changes lead to changes in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Specifically, it can change those parts of the brain associated with anxiety, mind wandering, mood, fear, stress, empathy, emotion, and pain.
Meditation uses thinking strategies to better manage stress, using your mind to tune into sensations in your body, accept feelings, and observe thoughts without judgment. However, meditation is about much more than just relaxation. It actually creates a state of calm alertness. With the regular practice of meditation, you can bring about structural changes in your brain that make this condition last longer.
If you repeat the same thought or action many, many times, your brain forms new pathways—a process known as “neuroplasticity.” Whether you’re finding your way around a new base, or your children are learning their multiplication tables, skills become ingrained as the brain changes. Meditation helps by affecting the parts of your brain responsible for attention, the ability to think and act with flexibility, and managing emotions. In fact, the emotion regulation center of your brain can grow with meditation, the self-control center becomes more active, and as you become less stressed and fearful, the fear center in your brain can actually shrink in size.
You might not be aware of changes overnight, but persistence will yield rewards. And some meditation is better than none. Just as you get stronger with more time at the gym, the more you meditate, the better your brain becomes equipped to reach that state of calm alertness. To learn more about how to meditate, visit HPRC’s Mind-Body Techniques section.
No matter what triggers your stress, from deployment to late daycare pickup, you can manage your emotions, stress, and focus by repeating a word or phrase that clears your mind. This simple approach can reduce mental clutter and provide a sense of calm. You also may find you can focus better and more easily track your big priorities.
Good news! You can immediately begin learning this skill simply by trying it. Whether you know stress is coming or already feel stressed, or if you’re recovering after stress, repeat your chosen word or phrase to calm your mind. There’s no magic to this. By occupying your mind with a word or phrase, you put to rest distressing or distracting thoughts. Some people prefer to use words or phrases they find spiritually meaningful, while others choose something as simple as the word “one.” Other examples may include “breathe” or “let go.” The exact word or phrase doesn’t necessarily matter. See what works for you. As with other stress management techniques, the challenge is often transforming an interesting experiment into a healthy daily habit.
Taking an active role in keeping your mind healthy and happy can keep you from feeling down or depressed. Staying on top of your mood can help maintain healthy relationships with your family and loved ones. If you’re not sure whether or not you might be depressed, here are some things to look out for:
- lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities;
- significant weight loss or gain;
- insomnia or excessive sleeping;
- lack of energy;
- inability to concentrate; and
- symptoms such as feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Getting the support of a mental health professional is generally a good idea in dealing with symptoms of depression, but even if you’re in therapy, you can play an active role in improving your situation. Try following some of our simple tips found here.