Time to Reenergize
My home may not be the fanciest or boast the most square footage, but it does have something I consider priceless: a view of New York City’s famous Central Park. Over breakfast, I like to listen to the birds sing. When I’m feeling lazy, one glance at all the people walking, biking or sprinting into the park and I’m inspired to get out there too. And when I’m feeling blah and need energy to work, I look out at the trees, and before I know it, I’ve fully charged my brain to get back to work.
There’s a whole body of Japanese study called Shinrin Yoku that’s devoted to evidence-based research on how nature can improve our mental and physical wellness. But nature is just one tool we have to kickstart our brains quickly and bounce back from stress. “Fresh air, movement, and cheerful interaction are like essential daily nutrients to the spirit,” explains Susie Mantell, author of “Your Present: A Half-Hour of Peace” and a stress relief coach (yes, they exist) who customizes relaxation programs for Fortune 500 companies, hospitals and health spas.
Here are some simple ways to beat the blahs, no matter how little time or money you have to spend doing it.
When All You Have is: 30 Seconds
This may sound strange but sniff some citrus. Ohio State University researchers administered a randomized, “blind” trial to examine the effects of smell on our psychological, immune and endocrine systems. Using lavender, lemon and no-odor water on subjects, they found “robust evidence that lemon oil reliably enhances positive mood compared to water and lavender.”
Why does smell work so fast to energize us? Of all five senses, smell responds quickest to stimuli. Other senses like hearing and sight take longer for the brain to interpret than smell (think how quickly you respond to the smell of smoke or freshly baked cookies). The nose’s chemoreceptors pass information directly to the brain’s olfactory bulb. Part of our primitive limbic system, this area of the brain processes our emotions, memories and motivation. Just what we need to energize when we’re feeling blah.
When You Have: 60 seconds
Strike a pose, say Canadian researchers. For a quick pick-me-up, readjust your sitting position so your shoulders are back (not slumped forward), your lower back is slightly swayed and your head is centered so your eyes look straight ahead. Hold that pose for one minute and you’ll feel a burst of energy and shake away those blahs.
“Significantly more participants indicated it was easiest to generate positive thoughts in the upright position,” say the study authors. This is just another study to support the thinking that a “power pose” doesn’t just change the way people may see you, but also alters your brain chemistry so you feel more confident and make better executive decisions. Harvard scientists found evidence that better postures actually elevated testosterone and lowered cortisol levels (a hormonal combination linked to those with leadership characteristics) in saliva samples taken from subjects.
When You Have: 2 Minutes
Chew on this. When scientists administered a series of studies that looked at the effect of gum-chewing on performance, they found that subjects were more alert after they popped a stick into their mouths, according to the journal Nutritional Neuroscience. The reason? Science suggests that the simple act of chewing boosts the flow of oxygen to the brain to help keep us alert.
When You Have: 10 minutes
Take a 10-minute catnap. The so-called, “power nap,” is doctor-approved. It appears that a brief, 10-minute snooze in the day can really improve your alertness, memory and concentration, found Canadian scientists who published their research in the Journal of Sleep Research. A nap helps to clear out all of the front-of-mind data you’ve been accumulating in the course of the day and makes room in your day for new information — and rejuvenation.
When You Have: 20 minutes
Squeeze in some deep breathing or a little relaxing yoga like Hatha (a gentler approach to classic yoga postures). According to a new study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, subjects who did a quick 20-minute yoga session before taking a series of tests measuring their memory and impulse control, did a lot better than those who walked or even ran on a treadmill for 20 minutes prior to test-taking. The study authors conclude that the meditation and deep breathing techniques practiced in hatha yoga may help the brain to focus, process information faster and improve memory retention better than huffing and puffing in an aerobic activity.
When You Have: 30 minutes
“Shift gears and take a brisk walk outdoors,” recommends Mantell. Fresh air does wonders for improving alertness, she says. Japanese scientists studying Shinrin Yoku (translated to “forest bathing”) have found evidence that a simple trip to greener pastures boosts blood flow to the brain, improves your mental state, thwarts fatigue and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Experts are still not sure exactly how a walk in the woods can have so many positive effects on the brain. But some believe it comes from smelling the essential oils in the trees, called phytoncides.
When You Have: 1 Hour or More
Hang out with friends. “Isolation is a close companion to ‘the blahs,’” says Mantell. “Supportive conversation, shared experiences, and laughter can all lift a weary spirit.” Don’t have time to meet up with pals? Mantell suggests stepping away from your desk and planning to smile at six people who cross your path. Science backs her up: social interaction and the simple act of smiling are tried-and-true ways to perk us up and boost brainpower.