In saying ‘when you do better, you know better’, there must be an acknowledgement that doing requires an expenditure of energy. As we head into resolution season, there are some important things to know about the brain and its correlation with energy if we are to maximize and properly allocate our energetic resources.
First, the brain likes to conserve energy. It’s why we have habits. It’s why we spend so much time in our default mode. It likes to run in those patterns and programs because it is economizes our resources, so the attention it requires to change things up does require some energy.
We must also note that your brain is evolved to predict and protect, first and foremost, and that new learning and empathy are the two most energetically expensive processes for your brain to run. The anterior insula is responsible for empathy, while the posterior insula is involved in the perception of pain. Interestingly, research has shown that the posterior insula is activated both in someone who has a broken leg, and in someone who has a perceived deficiency or frustration—like difficulty with math or technology.
Physiologically, we can define energy in terms of where you are activating your blood flow, glucose, and neurotransmitter recycling or uptake mechanism.
While the sexy new kid on the block is the brain-gut axis, the old school axis was that your skin is your second brain. Culturally we are becoming more auditorily and visually dominant, yet those systems take a lot of energy to decode and interpret any input, versus the tactile and proprioceptive systems which are more reflexive in nature as they have evolved over thousands of years. If I stub my toe, for example, it will go through my spinal cord and brain stem which will soften and try to make sense of that input. Though your brain is only 2% of your body weight, it consumes about 20% of your caloric intake and, disproportionately, the visual system consumes 50% of the brain’s blood flow!
So, an additional Brainfullness hack is to give your over-worked visual and auditory systems a break. Closing your eyes for 30-90 seconds or using noise cancelling headphones can reduce some of the external stimuli, giving you a better download of information from your other senses—tuning in to those tactile and interoceptive signals that require less energy.
So how do we know where to focus our energy and how to maximize it?
As you set your goals for 2020, these are the 5 things that would improve your energy:
Getting adequate, restful sleep is key to cellular repair and rejuvenation of energy to all physiological systems.
While one of the primary benefits of exercise is to create better blood flow into the system, it is important to choose a form of exercise that is also emotionally enjoyable and meaningful to you so that it does not become an additional stressor!
3. Social network
Likewise with friendships and family members, it is beneficial to socialize with people who are positive and optimistic—through mirror neurons we mirror the other person’s state, so choose wisely.
While food is obviously important as a fuel source and there are any number of strategies to follow, if we are to look beyond content and calories, awareness of how food makes you feel is also part of the equation in maximizing your health. When you are stressed while eating food, it is equivalent to consuming an extra 104 calories.
Breath is like the electrical system that allows you to shift your autonomic nervous system. Extended nasal inhalation stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing blood flow and revving you up, while extended exhalation will down-regulate the system in parasympathetic mode.
It is also important to note that continual focus and expenditure of energy are not sustainable. For most people, the first two or three hours of the day tend to be more productive, but energy naturally has its ebbs and flows. Certain changes in life, such as menopause, can also naturally affect our energy and changes in season are also known to affect how we feel. Taking action on our goals gives us the new feedback to create a new perspective. But, we must also take a strategic pause on occasion to encode this new information and adjust to other events.
Try to gauge your energy not just based on how productive you are at work, but rather on how fast you can recover from a set back. Neurophysiological resiliency is where you want to improve.
While it can be difficult to gain energy, if we can become aware of places where we leak it or spend it, that becomes a better roadmap from which we can act.
Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.