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Braincare with Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Dr Rangan Chatterjee talks about managing stress, social media, and working on mental health.

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March 15, 2021
6 min read

In this Braincare Clubhouse session, we started off Brain Awareness Week with these experts:

  • Dr Rangan Chatterjee: Physician, author, television presenter, and podcaster. 

  • Dr Sohaib Imtiaz: Board Certified Lifestyle medicine doctor, NHS Clinical Entrepreneur, and doctor in digital health. 

  • Dan Murray-Serter: Co-Founder of braincare company Heights, and host of our Braincare Podcast.

(Resources can be found at the bottom.) 

What is macro and micro stress?

Macro stress: A huge form of stress like bereavement, job loss, or major financial concerns.

Micro stress: Little doses of stress that are fine in isolation, but accumulate over time and get closer to your personal stress threshold.

Micro stress routine 

  • Breathwork needs to be part of your routine. It helps to switch off the sympathetic nervous system, and helps promote relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

  • Morning routines are beneficial as they reduce how many micro stress doses you get exposed to each morning. You start to build resilience and start the day much further away from your stress threshold. 

3 M’s for your morning routine 

Mindfulness: 3-4-5 breathwork, meditation, or mindfulness practice. 

Movement: Practice strength movements. 

Mindset: Putting yourself in a positive frame of mind by reading a book.

Macro stress routine

  • Solitude is important. Find a time where you can be by yourself, and tune into how you’re feeling by journaling. The act of writing down your thoughts and feelings makes you aware of them.

  • Meditation. Even 10-15 minutes can help you in feeling calm and energised.

  • Walking in nature is the best thing you can do for your stress levels. Being in nature helps to lower the levels of cortisol in your body. 

When the human eye sees a fractal, it lowers the level cortisol in the body. Fractals are geometric shapes you only find in nature like rivers, coastlines, trees, and grass. Some studies have shown that looking at fractals for even a short amount of time causes a spike in alpha brain wave activity.

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Social media and stress

When you wake up in the morning, the first thing you do is look at your phone, emails, and social media- this barrage of information usually goes on for the entire day. This doesn’t allow your brain to switch off. 

  • Research suggests that empathy in college students has gone down by 40% in the last 20 years due to social media, and the fact that we’re having less face-to-face contact than ever before.

  • Technology is perpetuating a culture of always being 'on'. If you can, take a break. In order for your brain’s default mode network (DMN) to become active, you need to not be focusing on something. You have to let your brain switch off. Your DMN helps you solve problems and be more creative. 

  • Go for a 20 minute walk and have lunchtime without your phone. This will fire up your DMN and when you come back, you’ll be more productive, less fatigued, and will have found solutions to your work problems.

The biggest problem with technology is that it steals our solitude from us.

Tips for technology

  • Being intentional with core technology stops it from controlling every component of your life. 

  • Turn off your notifications. This brings an element of control back to you as you are not constantly being pinged and alerted.

  • Delete your email app. Initially, it'll be stressful but you’ll realise how freeing it is. This will allow you to enjoy your free time instead of scrolling through your emails and finding something to do. 

Your phone is jam-packed with micro stress doses so if you don’t control it, it will control you.

Chronic work stress

People who suffer from chronic work stress tend to have a smaller dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This means a reduced ability to self-regulate. Research has shown that people with damaged dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes are more prone to depression. 

By controlling the way you interact with the digital world, you can start to exercise that part of the brain. 

You can train it by practicing things that require effort and patience. For example, learning an instrument, a language, and playing board games. These practices require attentiveness, mindfulness, focus, and concentration.

Stress indicators 

  • Your sleep quality is decreasing.

  • You’re finding it hard to fall asleep. 

  • You lie anxious in bed. 

  • You wake up feeling exhausted after a full night of sleep.

  • You struggle to get out of bed in the morning.

  • You’re struggling to focus and concentrate.

  • You have a short fuse. 

Relationships and mental health

Close, nourishing relationships positively affect your mental health. A study on loneliness suggested that the feeling of being alone could potentially be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Data also shows that the feeling of being alone can mean you’re 50% more likely to die early, and 30% more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. 

Work on the relationships in your life, and make sure to be spending time with loved ones.

Human touch is not a sentimental indulgence, it’s a biological necessity.

Five questions to release anxiety 

Taking the anxieties that are bothering your brain out on paper can really help. You can do it in the morning, or in the very evening to help you sleep. 

  1. What's one thing I'm anxious about today or tomorrow? 

  2. What's one practical thing I can do to prevent or prepare for it? 

  3. What's one reason it's probably not going to be as bad as I fear? 

  4. What's one reason I know I can handle it? 

  5. What's one upside of the situation?


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