Over the weekend, I came across an article in Better Homes and Gardens called Switch on your brain. I became intrigued as I read the subtitle: New advances in neuroscience are shedding light on what it really takes to head off cognitive decline. As I feel I am often heading straight into cognitive decline (for instance: I went to the grocery store specifically for 3 items. I came out with 10; however, I was missing one of the 3 that I originally went in for. I have to roll my eyes at my own self sometimes.), I immediately read the entire article. According to these experts, exercise, eating a diet rich in seafood, fresh veggies, whole grains and plant-based oils (referred to as a Mediterranean-style diet), monitoring your blood pressure, learning-and trying-new things and taking care of depression are all big factors in healthy cognitive function. But what really caught my attention was one big factor in cognitive decline that I seem to carry around with me every where I go: stress. It can come in many different forms: anger, frustration, anxiety, bitterness, unforgiveness, sadness, worry--the list could go on. But the significant thing to me is that stress in my life causes my brain to suffer.
"You can't always avoid tense situations, but you can control how you respond to stress" says the magazine, and I believe they are absolutely right (you can read their in-depth guide at BHG.com/InnerCalm). The experts suggest yoga or mediation for longer-lasting stress protection. I'm all for that, but I have a hard time meditating. I do think that it is valuable, and I think that meditation and the Bible have a place together in my life. But when I actually take the time to sit down and meditate, all my other thoughts knock each other down in their efforts to sabotage my quiet time. Then I end up more stressed, which defeats the entire purpose and wastes my time, which frustrates me. Ugh. So when I read this tip from Giuseppe Pagnoni, PhD (a neuroscientist at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Modena, Italy), I had to take note: If a stressful distraction pops into your head (Did I remember to mail the car payment?), don't try to squash it; instead, allow it to drift through your thoughts like a cloud in the sky. This is a new concept for me, since all the 8 times I've tried to seriously meditate, there are more stressful distractions than peaceful moments.
I've talked a lot about how God is able and willing to take on all my "stuff": my stress, my anger, my sadness, my depression, my anxiety. And he's willing to replace it with His peace, grace, love and joy. As I sat down to meditate the night I read that article, my distracting thoughts immediately took front and center stage. But instead of ignoring them or trying to squash them, I imagined them in one of those balloons from elementary school, with God's name on it. It may seem like a crazy thought, but imagining Him gathering all my balloons and knowing He can take care of those things brought such a peace to my mind.
Every day is a challenge in the "I'm-in-a-constant-state-of-panic/frenzy/anxiety" department, and I know I don't handle things as well as I could. But meditating on God's Word (a good place to start is Psalm 131:2: "But I have calmed and quieted my soul") is a great way in the middle of a hectic schedule to calm my spirit take in His peace.