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  • Writer's pictureCrystin Rice

Getting Your Daily Dose of Vitamin "V"

Updated: 5 hours ago

What is it about a beach vacation or trip to the spa that refreshes our soul?

Soaking up the sun on a sandy beach definitely gives us a great dose of vitamin D, and the aromatherapy and warm towels at the spa can be soothing to the senses. Your brain is benefitting, too, which has a direct impact on your mental health.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore small ways you can bring the brain-boosting benefits of a vacation (I'm going to call this vitamin "V" for the nourishment we get from a "vacation") to your daily routine.

9/16/2022 Be present so you can notice the good things in the moment.

When we are able to get away from the normal stresses of life, our brains produce fewer stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is helpful in times of danger, but prolonged cortisol production in the body contributes to osteoporosis and muscle weakness, increases blood pressure, reduces your ability to problem solve and be creative, and inhibits the immune system which can eventually lead to autoimmune diseases.

One of the biggest differences between the Bahamas and your Monday morning commute is often where your mind is. In the Bahamas, you may be admiring the sunset on the water, feeling the sand between your toes, enjoying a tropical drink, and listening to the enticing beat of a steel drum. In others words, you’re very present and living in the moment. You are using all five senses, finding beauty around you, and taking the time to appreciate it. Your cortisol levels decrease and mood-boosting hormones increase.

You can bring these benefits of living in the moment into your daily routine, too. Here’s my challenge to you today: If you notice yourself feeling stressed, ask yourself…

Are my body and my brain in the same place?

  • As you drive to work, are noticing the beautiful clouds in the sky and flowers alongside the road, or are you thinking about your calendar and task list of what you need to do? (Your body is in the car, your brain is in the future.)

  • Are you appreciating the color of the changing leaves outside your kitchen window, or are you ruminating about that conversation last night? (Your body is in the kitchen, your brain is in the past.)

  • Are you taking the time to enjoy a favorite song on the radio, or are you grumbling to yourself about something that irritates you? (Your ears hear moving music, but your brain is stuck thinking about the past injustices.)

Then ask yourself which option benefits your mental health more.

Of course our brains tend toward the planning and the grumbling. The brain is meant to solve problems. What I am suggesting is that you really consider if the planning and the grumbling are useful. Are you actually solving anything, or do you come out feeling worse? If your brain is just spinning, perhaps tell it to take five and spend a few moments just being in the present.

Take your vitamin V daily.

The thoughts we have make a direct impact on not only our mental health, but also our physical health. Stress and cortisol have a very real impact on our body and immune system. Like strengthening a muscle by repetition, having these little moments of living in the present and incorporating gratefulness turn off the cortisol and turn on the mood-boosting hormones in our brain that strengthen our body.

Today practice directing your thoughts to the present moment and looking for things to enjoy. Just like building muscle, you won’t necessarily notice the changes right away, and it may not feel very natural. That’s okay and to be expected; just keep trying. In fact, because the shift might build gradually, much like a flower growing, it might be interesting to keep a record of your mood over time. Then you can look back at where you started and measure any changes.

One note: practicing living in the moment and gratefulness doesn’t mean you should just ignore the things that make you grumble or never plan ahead to get your work done. It just means adding these beneficial things to help you feel more balanced. Once you lower your stress levels, your brain functions better and it makes it easier to deal with life’s stressors.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time thinking about problematic relationships or situations, a therapist could help you explore new skills for dealing with those so that you can be more free to be present in your life.

For more on this topic, check out my website for resources on reducing anxiety and stress.

10/1/2022 Creativity refreshes your soul.

In addition to being present in the moment, another benefit of a great vacation is the chance to try new activities. When we're on vacation, we are more likely try out hobbies and new skills. The novelty of a new activity is like a fresh tropical breeze for the brain.

Our brains are hard-wired to pay attention to what’s new and different in our environment while pushing the normal stimuli to the background. This is really helpful in keeping our minds from getting overloaded by the constant stimuli around us. (This is why ADHD is so challenging – because a brain with ADHD does not have that tiered system for what it should pay attention to and what it should filter out.) When we are surrounded by the same daily information, we end up on autopilot and our mood suffers because our brain longs to engage in something new.

One way to bring novelty into your regular routine is to engage in a hobby that gives you the chance to be creative. You don’t have to paint like Van Gough, build the next winning NASCAR car, or garden like Martha Stewart in order to attempt a new skill. Merely attempting something new is enough to get your creativity– and those helpful neurochemicals in the brain – flowing.

Not sure where to start?

  • YouTube is packed with instructional videos on everything from container gardening to making your own musical instrument to building a marshmallow launcher or snow-making machine.

  • The internet has tons of free coloring pages you can print.

  • Go on a hike and practice your photography skills.

  • Libraries offer free or low-cost classes in a variety of hobbies such as photography, computer programming, and pottery. Check out the Wichita Parks and Recreation Department as well as Wichita and Andover public libraries for the schedule of upcoming events, groups, and classes.

  • Make jewelry.

  • Write a poem or a song.

  • Commit to finally doing that DIY home project. MakeICT offers a space and equipment for the DIYers. Wichita State University offers free tool training workshops for designers and makers.

  • Search for a new recipe and then share the results with a neighbor.

  • Make a card and send it to a friend.

  • Go to an art museum and then recreate a piece you liked using random materials.

Make a list of things that might be interesting to you and then set aside a time where you will take the time to try it. It doesn’t even matter if you like the end result - the simple act of trying something new gives you that dose of vitamin V.

Time spent on hobbies is never wasted; it is time spent restoring your soul.

10/28/2022 Make time for play.

Play is critical for a child's development. Children play to learn large and fine motor skills, develop language, practice social skills, and so much more. The importance of play doesn't end in childhood, though. Play is critical for our mental health as well. Research shows that play releases mood-boosting endorphins, improves brain functioning, and stimulates creativity. Specifically, play improves memory and stimulates the growth of brain cells. Play also often involves others, which strengthens social connections and bonding as well as helps improve emotional regulation.

When we vacation, we're more likely to be open to playing...and we're more likely to seek out what options are available to us. You can reap the brain-boosting benefits of play even when there isn't a sand volleyball net outside your hotel door, though. Just like kids need play breaks during their school day, adults can bring play breaks into their day as well.

If it's been a while since you've played kickball at recess, here are some ideas to help you get started.

  • Use your imagination. Gather some household materials and get creative making them into something new. Cut up a cardboard box into armor and challenge someone to a cardboard sword fight. Go camping in your living room.

  • Get active. Good-natured wrestling or pick-up sports like kickball, dodge ball, and shooting hoops are all ways to play actively. Have an impromptu pillow fight or start a paper ball snowball fight in the office breakroom.

  • Bring on the competition. Grab a friend and have a lightning round of a card game such as Uno or team up for tug-of-war. Host a game night and ask everyone to bring a minute-to-win-it game. Invite a group to join you in capture the flag or scavenger hunts.

  • Get silly. Put on music and make up some new dance moves. Challenge yourself to a hula hoop personal record. Paint the shower wall with shaving cream. Hide a random object for a coworker or family member to discover and rehide for you.

And speaking of recess, adults need recess, too. It helps our focus and concentration. So grab some co-workers and head out to recess.

Want to know more? Stuart Brown, a play researcher, discusses the preventative benefits that play brings to our mental health and intelligence in this TED Talk.

Play can be helpful in therapy, too.

Language is processed through the left side of the brain. When we talk in therapy, we mostly involve the logical left side of the brain. This can help provide insight and make sense of our experiences, which can be beneficial. Research shows that traumatic events and emotional experiences are held mostly in the right hemisphere, though, and rarely make it into the left side. Incorporating creative activities and visual cues offers a whole-brain approach to your goals in therapy. Sometimes this may even include a game that’s been adapted to your goals in order to take advantage of the brain-boosting benefits of play.

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