9 Brain Exercises to Sharpen Your Mental Health Focus

a-woman-relaxing-at-home-listening-to-musicIf you’re struggling with mental health, it probably means that you’re dealing with fatigue, lethargy, lack of focus, and even brain fog. All of those can be detrimental to how you feel and can downward spiral because you do nothing because you feel bad and then you feel worse because you did nothing. The brain also requires active use in order to feel sharp, and that means working to challenge yourself as often as you can.

Of course, no exercise is going to be a substitute for therapy and having someone help you set and align goals, stay on track, and figure out what you need to feel better. In addition, if you end up needing medication to treat brain fog or depression, exercises won’t replace that. However, putting time and effort into sharpening your focus will pay off, because that’s how the brain works.

Let’s get started:

1. Manage Stress

Stress is a large part of feeling bad around mental health problems. It also contributes to the problem and makes things worse. Working to manage stress means learning skills to:

  • Stop negative thought patterns
  • Redirect worry
  • Refuse to spend energy on worry
  • Be proactive about stressful situations

Managing stress can mean taking steps to go “I am thinking myself into feeling worse, I will redirect thoughts to the thing I am doing instead”. It can also mean redirecting worry by things like “People will think badly of me because I haven’t done X” to “I will do X” or “I will talk to people about why I haven’t done X and it will be fine because people understand that I am not well”. Being proactive about stressful situations is a lot easier said than done. After all, if you were in good enough mental health to just fix things, chances are, you would. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that being proactive can also mean accepting that people will understand, warning people upfront, or trying to find alternative solutions.

What does an alternative solution look like? You’re worried about the fact that you can’t make yourself do the dishes and it makes you feel bad. So, you stop using dishes and start using paper plates and cups instead. You’re too stressed about dealing with traffic going into work, so you try to move to public transportation, cycling, or look for a job that doesn’t require as much commute. These kinds of proactive solutions may require the help of a counselor who can help you figure out what’s actually a good solution and what is just avoiding an issue you need to work on. However, you’ll often find that reducing immediate stress will give you more room to learn skills to do so.

2. Do Puzzles

Puzzles are a great way to lightly challenge your brain without adding pressure or stress. In addition, puzzles don’t have to be jigsaw puzzles. You can pick crosswords, sudoku, phone app puzzles, or just about anything you want. The important thing is that you have a relatively relaxed environment in which you’re asking your brain to solve things, so you can improve how you do that. Eventually, you’ll find those skills sharpen your ability to solve things in real life, which reduces the amount of stress resulting from things going wrong. Puzzles can also mean you’re actually focused on a problem that doesn’t matter. They can be so engaging that you aren’t paying attention to other issues, which means you get time out to relax, despite the fact that you’re solving problems.

3. Reading

man drinking coffee while reading a book as brain exerciseIf you’re having major issues with focus and concentration, reading won’t happen right away. However, taking time to read can mean you get to learn things, it can mean you take time out to relax, and it can mean you get to challenge your brain with new information and focus. Focusing on a page for 10-15-30-60+ minutes can be a challenge. There’s no right or wrong place to start. If you can’t make 10 minutes without looking up, it’s okay, mental health problems are bad for your focus. The important thing is that you put time into it, train your focus, and improve a bit every day.

What’s a good thing to read? That depends on you and where you’re at. Even reading fiction or a comic book can help you improve focus.

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4. Play Games

two married couple playing board games with their daughterMost people don’t think of games as being good for mental health, but they very much can be, in moderation. That includes board games, video games, puzzle games, etc. Why? Most of them ask you to learn about the game, solve problems, create strategy, and focus on the game. All of these skills together mean you’re engaging your brain and asking it to learn. In addition, you’ll also get that time out of having something to focus on other than being stressed or upset.

5. Physical Activity

Does physical activity count as a brain exercise? Yes it does! In fact, physical activity can be a great way to engage your brain, focus, and force yourself to learn new things. For example, if you take up sports like yoga, tai chi, roller skating, etc., you’ll be actively engaging your brain to learn new skills so that you sharpen focus and ability to learn in other areas as well.

What are good activities? Generally anything new will do. However, even a simple activity like walking can be great for your mental health. After all, exercise stimulates blood flow and increases oxygenation giving you more energy. It also means you get more time to focus on movement and less time to focus on stress.

6. Learning New Skills

Learning new skills is an important way to engage your brain, build focus, and improve your ability to learn. Here, you can do just about anything you want. However, activities like musical instruments, crafts, or doing something that produces a visible result like cooking, pottery, etc., are a great way to feel that you’re actually doing something. On the other hand, learning skills like language, taking a math course, etc., will have the same benefits.

7. Practice Discipline

Discipline is one of the most valuable forms of focus. Here, it mostly means that you decide to do something and then you make sure you do it. What’s a good example? You decide to go to bed at the same time every day and then you practice making sure you do it until you can do it with less effort. From there, you can add on different things that you want to add to your routine. No routine ever becomes “automatic”. You won’t autopilot into a routine, but you can work on building discipline that will be more and more valuable as you work on your mental health.

8. Practicing Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation means realizing you’re experiencing an emotion, stepping back, figuring out what you should be doing in this scenario, and then staying calm. It means being able to give yourself space to feel without going over the top on emotions. It means learning how to stay in control by not letting emotions get to the point of being overwhelming. For many people that means first learning to recognize when emotions are heading in a certain direction. Then, it means stepping back or figuring out how to take a break and acknowledge that, figure out what you want to do with it, and then practice actually doing that. This is a skill that will very often require outside guidance and help. However, it will help you to navigate your mental health, because you’ll have more skills to deal with stress, anxiety, mood swings, and other emotions.

9. Take Time Out

Having breaks and rest is actually an important part of having space for focus and your mental health. This means taking breaks, either with nothing (think an hour in a bathtub) or with an activity that allows you to focus on nothing but the activity (think swimming, yoga, tai chi, etc.). You need time out if you’re going to have the mental space to be alert and to have focus. That means working it into your schedule, learning how to actually relax, and letting go of worry for that time.

Eventually, if you’re struggling with mental health, it’s important to reach out and get help. Having therapy and counseling can help you figure out where you’re struggling and where you can benefit from help, so you can make the best steps towards recovery.

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