Archive of ‘Brain Health’ category

Reel Therapy

What’s your favorite movie? I’ll give you a few seconds here … Got it? Great! Okay, now WHY is it your favorite movie? Your answer may be that you loved the story, or the acting, or it shifted your perspective, or it taught you something important, or one (or several!) of many other reasons. Here’s the thing: Regardless of your reasons, I’m wiling to bet it’s because of how those things impacted you emotionally. Movies are an incredibly powerful art form ultimately because of how the story, or the acting, or the perspective shift, etc, makes us feel. The most memorable and impactful movies go beyond engaging just our thinking brains (aka the prefrontal cortex). What makes a particular film stick with us is largely due to how it impacts us emotionally, reflecting involvement of a more primitive part of the brain called the limbic system.

Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Therapists sometimes recommend that their clients watch a particular film in an effort to achieve some level of therapeutic gain, a practice commonly known as cinematherapy. There are lots of ways that viewing films can be beneficial in a therapeutic context, but like stated above, one of the most impactful is through the emotional experience of a film. The emotional journey one takes watching a film can be healing just in and of itself. It’s been said that emotion is a bridge between a problem and a solution, and if you are able to fully go on that emotional journey, whether in a film audience or in life, when that particular emotion naturally subsides, you will typically find yourself in a new and better place. Additionally, films sometimes gives us permission to feel things we may otherwise suppress, and sometimes just being able to talk with co-workers or friends about a particular film can provide deeper social connections and consequently a feeling of inclusion, or being “in the club,” (also very true with so many popular TV shows nowadays, like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Scandal, etc).

We’re about to enter into Oscar contender season. The span between early October and Christmas affords us a huge number of high-quality, limbic-smashing films. Below is a brief list of films I’m personally most looking forward to seeing, with a few non-spoiling words describing each. Once I see some of these, my hope is to get back on here, and offer a bit of a movie review, with an emphasis on psychotherapy and issues of social justice. In the meantime, enjoy!:

  • The Imitation Game – Based on the life of British codebreaker Alan Turing, whose story (the little bit of it that I know) is incredibly inspirational, and ultimately devastating. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and people who’ve seen it are saying to just go ahead hand him the Oscar now.
  • Birdman – Michael Keaton’s comeback, and looks to be amazing. Deals with issues of fame and identity, and is already generating all kinds of Oscar buzz.
  • The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking’s love story, starring Eddie Redmayne, who is just ridiculously talented (you may remember him as Marius in the Les Mis film).
  • Unbroken – Another true story, adapted from the book of the same name, “a story of survival, resilience and redemption.” Directed by Angelina Jolie.
  • Wild – Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about her 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. All kinds of inspirational. Starring Reese Witherspoon.
  • Foxcatcher – Again, based on a true story, starring an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell. Described as a psychological thriller, involving what sounds like a very unhealthy (and ultimately tragic) relationship between two Olympic wrestlers and their wealthy benefactor.

Brain Health Tips

brain health tips

It is no secret that our lives are busy, stressful, & jam-packed full. We are juggling work, school, parenting, relationships, completing “to-do lists,” driving from T-ball to swim lessons, or even binge watching the latest Netflix series. Our smart phones, tablets, & computers allow us to function in our world while also feeling connected to what’s happening in one another’s lives, whether through social media, texting, or face time. But, how productive are we really being? What about the quality of our work? Do we need to be multi-tasking at every moment we are awake to be productive? And how does this lifestyle impact our wellness?

By: Natalie Love, LPC-Intern and LMFT-Associate  Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

By: Natalie Love, LPC-Intern and LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

I am definitely part of this norm, from working as a therapist, to parenting my 2 year old. However, in the past year I began to notice how difficult it was for me to accomplish all I needed during a week, while also fulfilling my roles as a mother, partner, & friend without becoming overwhelmed & overly stressed. I had fallen into the belief that if I kept my smart phone in my back pocket I could “multi-task” at any point in the day, but was I really being productive & at what cost?

The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas in Dallas has shown how many of our habits are actually harmful, not helpful, to our brain’s health. Some of the damaging tendencies we may fall into include being tied to technology, multitasking, information overload, & cruising on autopilot. If these are harmful, what is productive & healthy? According to the Center for Brain Health and their brain health tips, helpful habits include having brain downtime, sequential tasking, prioritizing & innovation.

I mentioned feeling unproductive despite my efforts to be constantly “doing.” Multitasking can actually contribute to being unproductive. It causes brain fatigue & lengthens the time it takes to complete a task. Reducing multitasking gives your full attention to the task at hand & allows for better use of your time. Rather than doing many things at once, try starting with one task, working on it for 15-minute intervals. What we think is multi-tasking is more often doing portions of many tasks while being distracted in between.

I also disclosed feeling overwhelmed at times; I imagine I’m not alone in that. We are exposed to & have access to more information than ever before, which is extremely valuable, but it may be more effective to select a limited number of things to gather information on. Even when preparing for this blog post I found myself engulfed in a completely unrelated article, which triggered an entirely separate train of thoughts & ideas. The Center for Brain Health attributes this to information overload & suggests narrowing our focus by choosing the 2 most important “to-do’s” each day & allocating special time to attend to those.

Another culprit is cruising on autopilot. Think about your daily conversations with your partner, children, or coworkers. When someone asks, “how are you doing?” do you often respond with the same answer over & over? Do you find yourself at work but forgetful of the details of the drive there? When our thoughts, conversations, & actions become routine, our brain gets bored & goes backward. Consider deepening & expanding your brainpower. The Center for Brain Health suggests thinking like a reporter in order to bring thoughts together in new ways. What questions would a reporter ask about a recently completed book or movie? Taking the time to think more critically about a given piece of information can help us synthesize information in a more dynamic & useful way.

I know that I am implementing more awareness towards my brain health and am trying to view it similarly to practicing healthy habits for my body with food, exercise, & rest. I encourage you to try making some of these small shifts by applying some of these brain health tips in your daily life to aid in overall wellness.

Reference & Image: Center for BrainHealth


Move, Eat, and Sleep Your Way to a Healthier Brain

A client in their early thirties told me recently that losing his mental faculties would be one of the scariest things he could imagine. I think most of us would agree that the thought of losing our memory or having decreased cognitive functioning is terrifying. New studies are showing that memory complaints are linked (across all age groups) to poor health and lifestyle factors. The bad news is that more young people are reporting memory problems. The good news is that exercise, learning, and making healthy lifestyle choices might improve your cognitive functioning.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

One study reported in Medical News Today suggested that thinking skills tend to be best in individuals who had better cardiovascular fitness when they were young. Another study, also from Medical News Today, said that research now shows a connection between narrowing arteries and memory issues. A new study by University of California, Los Angeles, published in PLOS ONE, found that risk factors like depression, diabetes, obesity, and smoking increased the probability of memory complaints across all age groups, including young adults (ages 18-39). And, regardless of age, the strongest risk factor found was depression for perceived memory issues.

Of course, there are genetic factors and diseases that may unfortunately negatively impact cognitive function in individuals who are making healthy lifestyle choices. However, here are tips from researchers and experts to best protect your brain:

  •  Get regular exercise
  •  Avoid smoking
  •  Further your education/learn/keep your brain stimulated
  •  Have your blood pressure checked regularly
  •  Seek help/treatment for depression/depressive symptoms
  •  Have an active social life
  •  Eat a healthy diet
  •  Get quality sleep (95% adults who get less than seven hours on a routine basis experience decreased physical and mental performance)
  •  Find ways to manage your stress

We urge parents who might be reading this to help your children start learning about living a healthy life now. Here are some ideas:

  •  Exercise as a family
  •  Go on family walks
  •  Play ball/chase/tag outside
  •  Go swimming
  •  Plan meals and snacks that are healthy (it’s a good idea to shop the perimeter of the grocery store where most of the whole foods are)
  •  Teach them fun ways to unwind (reading, playing, taking deep breaths, moving their bodies, dancing)
  •  Have consistent bedtime routines and schedules. See below to make sure everyone is getting enough sleep:
    • < 12 months old: 14-16 hours per day
    • 1-3 years old: 12-14 hours per day
    • 3-6 years old: 10-12 hours per day
    • 7-12 years old: 10-11 hours per day
    • 12-18 years old: 8-9 hours per day
    • Adults: varies but generally 7-9 hours to function optimally

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