Need to Recharge? Try Taking a Brain Break
Research shows our brains require substantial downtime in order to work at their best. Our modern lives, however, generally don’t give us this. Instead, we’re constantly barraged with information, obligations, and tasks, which means our brains are constantly struggling to keep up.
Regular brain breaks, however, increase our brains' power and creativity. They also reduce stress and build energy – two consequences especially beneficial to us migraineurs!
This is knowledge I could have used back when I was dealing with a two-year-long intractable migraine and a full in-office workload. I was so sick that I frequently worked from home instead of going in to the office. Because I knew this inconvenienced my coworkers, I felt pressured to buckle down extra hard when I went in – a feeling and action that only added to the number of days I had to stay home by intensifying my migraine symptoms and leaving me particularly floored the next day. Sounds like I should have been insisting on those breaks instead!
One particular kind of brain break may be of particular use to those of us with migraine: the daily walk.
While most of us know that exercise can be a potent preventative, an overly rigorous workout can quickly lead to an intense migraine attack. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been dancing it up at Zumba only to get hit with a wave of pain mid Samba.) A walk, however, is generally low-key enough to prevent instead of trigger attacks (as long as it isn’t too hot or sunny outside), and it has a bounty of additional brain benefits as well.
Research shows that a short 20-minute walk boosts your creativity by as much as 60%, lifts your mood, beats back mild depression, and helps prevent age-related memory loss and cognitive decline. Spending even as little as ten minutes walking can improve your mental focus and increase your concentration, two cognitive processes often negatively impacted by the migraine brain.
Other forms of aerobic exercise have similar benefits. Yoga and stretching exercises also render good physical and mental benefits, though studies indicate they don’t prevent memory problems in the same way as aerobic exercise does.
An important caveat for any brain break: To get the benefits, your breaks must be “real” breaks.
Whether you’re out walking or you’re taking a different kind of break (see the end of this article for ideas), don’t give in to the pressure to make a few phone calls, check your email, or find out what’s happening on social media. Disconnect entirely; it’s the only way to give your brain a real rest. (Otherwise, you’re just seesawing between focus and inattention, which puts a strain on your brain’s resources. Read this article for details.)
So commit, right now if you can, to turning off the computer, putting down the phone, and recharging. If now isn’t an option, make sure you take a break as soon as possible. Your brain will thank you. Who knows, you may even find it helps your migraines!
Brain Break Ideas:
- Take a walk;
- Spend time in a park;
- Eat lunch in a peaceful outdoor location such as by a pond or in a flower garden;
- Daydream; and/or
- Take a nap.
Only have five minutes? Try one of these:
- Stretch out in a restorative yoga pose. (I include some such exercises in my book. Additional ones can be found online on Yoga Journal.)
- Practice meditation.
- Take care of a low-stress chore you enjoy such as watering your plants or cleaning out your purse.
- Give yourself a hand massage.
Have an idea you don’t see here? Please list it in the comments below!
How much has your migraine disease changed or evolved over time?