You love your child, unconditionally and will do anything for him/her. That 24/7 job is hard enough, but with something extra like AD/HD, your job as a parent can feel overwhelming, exhausting, and somewhat of a marathon. Constantly assessing and making adjustments are not one-time events, they are a series of tweaks and changes requiring sustained effort. All this because you want your child to feel happy and succeed. Right?
So, what about you? It’s easy to focus your attention and energy on getting the help or support that your child needs, but have you been forgetting about yourself in this process?
When you take care of yourself you can better care for your child. The more you “fill your own bucket,” the more energy, love, patience, time, compassion … did I mention energy? …you’ll be able to give your child. Sounds easy enough. But how do you do this?
Dr. Paul Nussbaum, author of Save Your Brain, teaches that a great way to care for yourself is to create a proactive, brain-healthy lifestyle. There are five key steps to a brain-healthy lifestyle: nutrition, physical activity, mental stimulation, spirituality, and socialization.
- Step One: Nutrition
A. Your brain is a complex organ that requires Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), or omega-3s, to work at its optimal level. EFAs help the brain communicate.* There is a growing body of evidence that supports that omega-3 EFAs also have a therapeutic implication for ADHD, Autism and other learning challenges.
B. Next, eat a rainbow. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain “phytochemicals,” compounds that are naturally produced by plants to protect themselves against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Research suggests that a diet containing phytochemicals can help protect against cancers, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
C. Eat actual food. The body uses whole grains, protein, veggies, fruit and healthy fats most efficiently. Increasing nutrients, while avoiding artificial additives, reducing refined sugar and reducing saturated, unhealthy fats will make a difference in how you feel and function. Besides, according to the Mayo Clinic, healthy choices early in life lower the risk of brain related disorders.
- Step two: Physical Activity
You know exercise and movement is good for your body, but it turns out it is also important for a healthy brain. Movement and exercise increase blood flow to your brain and reduce inflammation, improving cardiovascular, joint, brain and metabolic health. Exercise also improves the body’s ability to detox itself, improves mental balance, elevates mood, and reduces depression, anxiety, and irritability. It increases patience and self-esteem, and supports recovery from food addiction by increasing the release of dopamine.
How much exercise do you need to get brain benefits? A study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that mental health benefits were observed after 20 minutes of physical activity, though the more exercise and higher intensity, the better the effects.
- Step three: Mental Stimulation
New learning promotes new connections in the brain. Playing Scrabble, Monopoly or other board games is good for your brain health! Keep your brain active with Sudoku, Chess, Charades, Poker, Bridge, any game that keeps your brain active and thinking in new ways. Reading, writing and new learning involve structural, chemical and functional health-promoting changes in the brain, too. Life-long learning leads to longevity and a healthy brain reserve.
- Step Four: Spirituality
Meditation and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and yoga can help you slow down and turn inward for balance and symmetry. Learn to rewire negative thoughts by seeing mistakes as opportunities to learn. Use self-talk to identify your mistake and verbally problem solve some solutions, you’ll set an example for your child to follow. Your brain can adapt to a chaotic world, but it will function more efficiently if it gets inward reflection and rest. Go ahead– take a slow, deep breath right now!
- Step Five: Socialization
Socialization is important to brain health. It provides an opportunity for communication, critical thought, creativity and emotional expression. People who isolate or segregate themselves have been shown to be at greater risk of developing dementia than those who remain integrated into society. So think about activities you enjoy and engage in them. Isn’t it great to know that socializing and having fun in your community will help ward off vulnerability to neurodegenerative diseases as you age?
One great example is the “Impact ADHD” community. Here you’ll find a nurturing environment that promotes socialization between like-minded families experiencing parenting a child with AD/HD. Just what your brain needs!
As a parent, you can take care of your own brain, teach by example, and provide the tools to help a child navigate the terrain of life. As you do, your children will learn to value and take care of their brains, too.
Special Note: The body does not make EFAs, so we must consume it from food or supplements. Research shows that the safest and most reliable source of omega-3 EFAs is a high quality fish oil supplement, manufactured in an oxygen-free environment to ensure freshness, molecularly distilled to remove environmental toxins, and third party tested according to international standards for purity and freshness levels.