I started having seizures when I was around 5—the kind of seizures you see in the movies: fall-flat-on-the-ground-shaking-like-you’re-electrocuted, eyes-rolling-to-the-top-of-your-head seizures. These kinds of seizures are now primarily referred to as tonic-clonic seizures, but when I was a little girl, they were called “grand mal” seizures, which means “great illness.” Perhaps they changed the name because calling something “great illness” isn’t very hopeful for patients. No one is really sure why I started to have them, but from an early age it made me curious about figuring out how our brain works.
So I started to study neuroscience after I had an electroencephalogram at age 11. They stuck hundreds of little wires onto my scalp with a glue-like substance. I looked like an alien child from the sci-fi novel Dune—but it led me to wonder: What are they measuring? Why? How can I control these things called “brainwaves” and “electrical pulses”? As you can imagine, it’s scary to have one of those deathlike seizures and think you have no control over them. That’s when science became my savior. I later discovered that these seizures could possibly be controlled without mind-numbing, zombie-behavior-inducing medication. At age 15, without my doctor’s or parents’ knowledge, I stopped taking that medication and haven’t been on it since.
Along the way to earning my Ph.D. in clinical psychology, participating in neuroscientific studies and working at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, I learned how we can all expand the capacity of our brain, not only to self-heal, but also to grow in ways we never imagined were possible.
How to improve brain health
So I’ve gathered my five top habits for neurological growth to give your brain a boost. These habits have eliminated those kinds of seizures for me. I still need to be careful—breaking my good habits will indeed have consequences. But as of 2015, I’d only had two tonic-clonic seizures.
For you, these habits may reduce your stress significantly, increase your brain’s gray matter, tap into your subconscious mind for problem-solving and reveal incredible potential.
Here are five daily habits to improve brain health that you can incorporate into your routine, starting today:
1. Sleep to reduce stress.
Ever wonder what happens to all of the stress we accumulate during the day? That car that almost hit you? Your child screaming at you? Even the unconscious stress of self-judgment? Where does it go?
Your beautiful brain collects it and saves it for when you dream to process away. Let me repeat: When you sleep, your brain processes your emotions. So, one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to boost your brain is to get your full seven hours of shut-eye each and every night.
2. Rise with the sun to improve brain health.
Your brain uses a cluster of neurons and glial cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, located in your hypothalamus, to regulate something called “circadian rhythm”—that is, the “physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle,” according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Changes to our circadian rhythm “can cause sleep disorders, and may lead to other chronic health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder,” according to the same article.
3. Take fish oil to give your brain a boost.
Omega-3s—including fish oil—have positive benefits on brain health. My kids go for the hardcore fermented cod liver stuff, and somehow we’ve cemented this into them so well over the years that they ask for it daily, although it tastes awful. They take it by the spoonful, but you can also get it in capsule form, some versions of which have a pleasant lemon aftertaste.
4. Be mindful and meditate to improve your brain health.
Meditation has innumerable neurological benefits. Not sure how to be mindful on an everyday basis and want an easy way to meditate? I like Headspace—it’s like a gym membership for your mind. With its meditation and mindfulness techniques, you can train your mind for a happier, healthier, more enjoyable life.
5. Make yourself uncomfortable.
Your brain needs novelty to grow, but how do you know when you’re doing something that’s “new enough”? When it feels uncomfortable, awkward, weird, strange or it scares you. By doing things daily that are out of your comfort zone, you allow your brain to develop new branches on its neuron tree (its neural pathways) instead of shriveling up into a sad, dried-out tree stump.
Truth be told, I could write a book on how to boost brain health, and I live my entire life around this premise. And although there are many more habits I’d like to see you develop, start with these. After all, can you imagine how incredible it would be if we all lived up to our potential?
This article was updated April 2023. Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock
**Opinions and claims made by a SUCCESS contributor are strictly those of the author and do not represent the opinions or claims of SUCCESS Enterprises. No author statements are a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.
Dr. Jennifer Jones is a nationally acclaimed psychologist, speaker, and expert in the science of success and helping entrepreneurs realize their potential. Dr. Jones is the founder and CEO of EntrepreneurShift, an app and live event program that shifts the paradigm from a wealth-based model of success to authentic success (financial freedom paired with purpose, depth and joy) via modern neuroscience. Dr. Jones has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has studied at the University of Oregon, Alliant University and the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.