BUILDING COGNITIVE RESERVE: LETTING GO

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.

Authored by: Ruth Curran

Ruth Curran, MS Brain Function  With over twenty-five years of expertise as a strategist, business development executive, and organizational behaviorist, Ms. Curran has developed a reputation as an exceptional business and personal development coach.  Ms. Curran’s passion and area of intense study and exploration has been the connection between the brain and daily functioning. This passion spurred her latest project, www.craniumcrunches.com, a photo-based series of thinking puzzles and games that help work around the effects of age, disease, or injury (TBI) on cognitive functioning and quality of life. Ms. Curran’s primary focus is on using a wide variety of games and “play” – those that inspire players to imagine, use strategies, and focus to succeed -- as a path to better thinking, better functioning, and better quality of life.

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