Recently the World Health Organizations (WHO) issued its first-ever Brain Health Report. It’s a 65-page paper on optimizing brain health that I suspect many people with their nose to the grindstone in the business world have not had time to read. The paper piqued my interest because of the increase in adults being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
These suggestions have helped me and others who have lived experience with ADHD, anxiety, depression, and severe stress and grumpiness. They are meant to be light, short, and easily dropped into your workplace routine (See important crisis resources at the end of this post). For maximum benefit, don’t try anything that doesn’t sound immediately appealing. The last thing I want to do is stress you out even more.
1. Get Rid of Noise Pollution
Loud talkers seem to have gotten louder as I have gotten older. Or maybe it’s working alone in my home during the pandemic that made me allergic to loud and close talkers. Either way, I have trouble completing a full sentence when there is a conversation or a lot of loud noise going on right next to me. (I know this sounds incredibly grumpy. I am really a lot of fun when I can hear myself think.) Turns out, I am not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. There’s now a name for it—noise pollution. Leaf blowers are some of the worst noise polluters in my opinion, but National Geographic makes the case for avoiding high decibel distractions in stunning detail. There are plenty of great noise cancelling headphones on the market (Bose, Apple and Sony are top of the line choices), but they are an investment. For me, they are an accommodation I cannot live without. They have literally changed my life and ability to focus when I am in almost any setting.
Try This: Loop is a different option. They claim to allow you to hear what you want and tune out annoying sounds. According to their website, “Loop Experience earplugs are built around an acoustic channel, combined with a filter and membrane. The acoustic channel mirrors the length of a human ear canal which translates into 18 decibels of noise reduction, all while keeping sound crystal clear.” They are certainly more effective than those squishy foam ear inserts truckers used to wear. In my experience, those little guys mostly collect inner ear dust and then pop out in the middle of the night, making an alarmingly tasty and dangerous snack for my dog.
2. Try Snippets of Learning and Social Connection
I’m a huge fan of the idea of snippet culture—the theory that we can learn or connect to something in a small snippet (like all brilliant ADHD-ers do, of course). You don’t have to be short on attention to enjoy snippet culture, you just need to be short on time. Research shows even quick conversations, with a stranger or a friend, can magically light up your brain circuitry for hours. For me, a walk out to get my mail, pet someone else’s dog or to compliment my neighbor or sharing a meme with my kids is a dopamine boost. It’s really that simple. The idea of Snippets came from Rachel Schwartzmann, who writes and creates the podcast Slow Stories, also highly enjoyable (although not short).
To Try: Curiosity Daily, short podcasts that offer delightful and useful information you can digest in a short walk or over a cup of coffee.
3. Update Your Digital Detox Protocol
When I need a digital detox, I power down my smart phone and toss it in the kitchen junk drawer. I pull out a book or a paper journal and lose myself in free writing out my thoughts (no editing) or reading fiction. Trend forecasters tell me that’s old school. Apparently 2023 will bring a whole new aesthetic to digital detoxing, including products that look like tea cozy’s for your phone. Trend Hunter cites examples including Ostrichpillow Phone Cases and something called The California Cowboy Out of Pocket Pouch, which block every acronym you can think of (GPS, 5G, WiFi, RFID, NFC, EMR, EMF). If you have trouble setting boundaries, I suppose this is the ticket. Personally, I have enough trouble getting service in the tiny dog park near my house in Boston, so I’m going to skip the $50-plus option.
To Try: If you want to get serious about journaling, consider subscribing to the Substack newsletter The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaoul, who learned to live in isolation long before the pandemic. Jaoul writes that she learned to live with isolation in her twenties in treatment for leukemia. But now you can join a community of writers and artists seeking to connect and make sense of the world on her Substack. There’s also a free version with writing prompts only. There’s also something called paper. I use paper with standard #2 pencil. It comes in all kinds of colors, lines, squares or plain. I like plain 8.5” x 11” white, which works in my printer. For dyslexic journalers, one option is the app Draw Something, that works with ios and Apple and helps you draw out feelings instead of writing.
4. Join The Wordle World
For years, I watched as my friends and family filled out the New York Times crossword puzzle and nearly lost my mind. Thanks to my learning disabilities, it is impossible for me do. Then Wordle appeared on the scene and pardon the pun, but it was a game changer. There is something completely fulfilling and addicting about this game. I have two theories about Wordle’s magic. One is that when I am stressed, I tend to hold my breath. Playing Wordle, I am prone to let out huge sighs or yell, Yesss! At the top my lungs. Both types of breathing are scientifically proven to be stress relieving. I also sit completely still and lose myself in the game. I rarely sit still unless I am sleeping, so you might say this is a form of meditation-lite for me.
To Try: Wordle, of course. But there are others. You can even generate your own, which is surprisingly calming and shareable. May I also suggest this Disability Awareness word search? If you are looking for accessible word games, Applevis can be helpful.
These brain boosters have no medical advice in them. This is not a post about serious mental illness. Learn more about the difference between supporting mental health and living with serious mental illness at Mental Illness Policy Organization. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988. You can also find help through SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, a confidential and anonymous information source for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance use/addiction and/or mental health problems. Another option is Blackline, which you can learn about here.