Your Brain’s Off Switch

Your Brain’s Off Switch

Do you wish your brain came with an “off” switch?

… so after a long day you could simply hit the switch; the thoughts would stop; your shoulders would drop and you could just be.  Sounds so peaceful.

“Remember you are a human being, not a human doing.”  ~spiritual advisors since forever (I can’t find original attribution).

Today I’m going to share what I do to flip the switch.

If you’re like me, you often wish you had better control over your brain function.  As a high achiever and highly sensitive type, I have a tendency to over analyze and over think.  I’m deeply invested in the care I give others, in my clients’ well-being and even what they think of me.  This combination makes me well-suited for this kind of work; I’m very good at it.  It’s a joke to me when I have to turn in my continuing education hours annually because this is my life.  I’ve said it before but I love what I do so much that I spend my downtime learning, analyzing and researching nutrition and naturopathic medicine –  simply for the joy of it.  I truly love it, but there’s a risk.  Flipping the “off” switch doesn’t come natural to me so I could be headed for “burn out”.  Even the greatest strengths in excess can become weaknesses.

Bear with me (maybe you can relate)  Most days before 6AM (when my husband finally opens his eyes), I have contemplated the purpose of my life while doing a little yoga, listened to a 60 minute podcast, poured over a few patient plans, cleaned up my email, and packed lunches for the kids.  It’s a busy world in my head and keeping busy provides some relief!  This is all well and good.  Professionally it’s excellent, but the lack of balance is unsustainable.

Most people who know me would never imagine the pace at which thoughts race through my mind.  I manage it quite well.  I have to.  As I said, I could be headed for burnout otherwise.  Now let’s see what we can do for you.

An overactive mind is the result of numerous issues, physical, emotional, spiritual, even cultural.  Here are a few potential causes and potential remedies for you to consider.  Keep in mind… you’re unique; we need to respect that.

Why your mind races:

  1. Gender:  Some of us are “hardwired” to be caretakers (often considered a feminine skill) and this often extends well beyond the immediate family.  As caretakers, we feel our place in the world and in the family unit is often about fulfilling the needs of others.  There is no reasonable end to this task and over time our biochemistry may suffer.  We become susceptible to burnout.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the loosely defined Mama Bear Syndrome… a constellation of neurochemicals help keep the female brain alert, active and ready for threats to the den.  A hyper-vigilance and readiness to act presides.  This worked well when there weren’t so many mundane threats to consider like bank accounts, emails and recitals to attend.
  2. Genetics:  While the role of genetics is a very complex topic and our understanding develops daily, there are a myriad of enzymes that change the rate at which we metabolize some of our precious neurotransmitters that affect thoughts, emotions, actions and reactions.  If you are born into the world with a genetic tendency for some of the enzymes to work more quickly or to work more slowly, then you may find yourself more susceptible to varying levels of healthy brain chemicals.  Gene variations coding for enzymes like COMT, MAO, MTHFR can change the way your brain behaves.  The predisposition or propensity means you have to be more proactive about your physical and emotional health to balance the genetic tendencies toward an overactive mind.
  3. Adrenal health:  Your stress glands, called your adrenal glands, sit on top of the kidneys.  They are responsible for producing cortisol during times of stress.  Stress can be from emotions, poor food choices, environmental toxins, lack of exercise… the list goes on.  Some of us are more susceptible to the ill effects of prolonged cortisol exposure and when the adrenals are not working optimally, symptoms like insomnia, anxiety/depression, fatigue, poor blood sugar control and hormone issues can develop.  There are the environmental/external reasons which can tax your adrenals as well as genetic reasons that predispose you to stress overload.
  4. Nutrients/Gut Health:  B12, folate, B6, niacin, tryptophan, tyrosine, the list is a mile along.  All of these vitamins and amino acids are necessary for balanced brain chemistry and they all come from the food you eat!  And the food that you absorb!  High protein, nutrient rich diets are imperative for a calm brain as is healthy digestion.  The food choices you make are as important as your ability to break them down.  You must have good gut health to absorb nutrients from your food.  And sometimes, that may not be enough, back to genetics, some nutrients are needed in high supply and you may not be able to get them in the quantities you need solely from the foods you eat.  For example, a genetic-based, nutrition related disorder which leaves the body deficient in zinc and B6 called pyroluria will undoubtedly cause an anxious mind as it depletes cofactors essential to neurotransmitter production.

Find your “off” switch:

  1. Meditation is an essential tool for accessing your mind’s off switch, but when your mind is overly busy, meditation can seem like a cruel punishment.  Sit with your spinning thoughts?  No thank you!  I opt for guided mediation where someone walks you through deep breathing and awareness and not complete silence.  Headspace Meditation App and Meditation Oasis podcasts are favorite resources.  Other people discuss Getting into the Flow as their secret to quelling a racing mind.
  2. Exercise, oh sweet exercise.  Nothing boosts serotonin and degrades adrenaline more effectively like exercise.  Most of the time, I  could care less about the physical benefits of exercise, will I look better in my jeans or shed unwanted pounds… who cares!  My brain needs the exercise, literally… without it, well, it’s not pretty.  Busy minds must move their energy and busy their bodies if they want to even consider finding their “off” switch.
  3. Diet:  A diet rich in protein and healthy fats is your best bet for supplying healthy brain chemicals.  Your neurotransmitters are produced from protein breakdown and your brain is made up of 25% fat.  Your brain must have these two macronutrients!  Fats have been vilified for 30 years and, I am certain the costs for mental health have been significant.  Consuming adequate quality fats can not be overstated.
  4. Nutrients to consider, consult your healthcare practitioner for guidance and safety.
  • Magnesium:  Calming to the mind and the body.  Magnesium is the most widely deficient mineral in our society.  The magnesium l-threonate form of magnesium is able to cross the blood brain barrier to protect neuronal health, and neuroplasticity (adaptability) while also calming the busy brain
  • Theanine:  The amino acid found in green tea has been shown to promote some of the same brain waves we use during meditation.
  • The B-vitamins:  These all have their place in brain health to varying degrees.  Folate and B12 are needed for many of the genetic variants of MTHFR.  B6 and niacin are essential cofactors in a myriad of brain functions like the production of calming neurotransmitters, GABA and serotonin.
  • Amino acids:  There are a variety of different amino acids (building blocks for neurotransmitters) like tryptophan, 5-HTP and tyrosine which are necessary for healthy brain function.  Getting an amino acid panel done is a great way to see which ones might be right for you.
  • Adrenal support:  I think most of us would do well on adrenal support b/c we are all faced with so much stress in our modern world.  Vitamin C, B5 and adrenal adaptogens like Ashwagandha are great starting places.  I often recommend testing salivary cortisol levels to see what your body needs.

I would love to know what you have found in the natural world to help you find your brain’s “off” switch.  Please share.

If you missed my webinar for the North Carolina Association of Naturopathic Physicians (and my colleagues at Metabolic Effect),
check out the replay here:  Bad MTHFR Diet: Eat Smart to Optimize Your Genes.

Until next time