Cognitive reserve is that little bit of extra brain power, saved for when the brain is under attack. It is the well of support that kicks in when anything, traumatic or routine, drains all your mental energy or closes a neural pathway and leaves you completely spent.
Brain scientists study and provide all kinds of information about traumatic brain incidents / injuries – those that happen after an accident, a disease, a traumatic event, a chemotherapy treatment. However, we experience “routine” assaults on our brains in the course of our daily lives. Think about how you feel at the end of a tough brain day – you worked your brain to the limits of its capacity and you are about to hit the “wall”. Or think about a highly emotionally taxing day that used up every bit of your ability to think.
The brain is an amazing thing – it will try to use all available pathways to process information before tapping into reserves. The best way to keep your cognitive well full and available for any unplanned or uncontrolled events is to keep working to make new neural connections and create more pathways to process the world. In other words, engage in life – play games, talk to people, read, create, sign, dance, learn new things – do what makes you feel good and keeps you active. As long as it is full, your cognitive reserve can pull you through to a safe spot so you don’t hit the wall at a full sprint.
There are things you can do to keep a healthy reserve. Each week for the next month or so, we will post a strategy to help you build cognitive reserve and keep your well full.
Strategy #1: Let your mind go….
Yes, our brains want to be active and crave stimulation. There is this interesting idea though, that letting our minds wander – when we stop guiding and let go of all structure and control –our brains take creative paths and nourish themself. FMRIs of the brain “at rest” are very active and lit up in very unexpected ways. Silence the noises and turn off the drive to work quite so hard, and your brain will find those routes that will fill the well without having to work at it! Find the right place– a physical space where it is safe to not think and you don’t need to control your world — and let your mind go.