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How to Rest Your Brain During Hectic Seasons

Peaceful blue sky with wispy long clouds.

Hello, and welcome to a genius seminar on how to rest your brain.

Obviously, we aren’t neurological or cognitive experts here at SignUpGenius, but we are very familiar with the struggle of juggling lots of different commitments, coordinating schedules and keeping your head above water with work responsibilities, all while also trying to spend quality time with loved ones. Exhausting, right? SignUpGenius wants to help you beat any busy-season blues!

So, we put together this post with research and thoughts from some bona fide geniuses on how you can take care of your brilliant brain. We recommend a good, long inhale and exhale to get started.

Why Is Brain Rest Important?

You’re a busy genius with lots of important tabs open in your browser right now. Why does brain rest matter?

It gives you a longer, healthier life: According to an October 2019 study on the regulation of lifespans in Nature, a multidisciplinary science journal, slower brain activity can lead to a longer life.

“[Brain activity] is what you think of as keeping you cognitively normal. There’s the idea that you want to keep your brain active in later life,” says Michael McConnell, a neuroscientist at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, in a Washington Post interview. “The thing that is super unexpected is … limiting neural activity is a good thing in healthy aging. It’s very counterintuitive.”

If you want to dig deeper into the study, it also talks about how a protein called REST (which counteracts genes involved in sparking brain activity) is protective against Alzheimer’s disease and can also potentially prevent early aging.

It improves cognitive abilities when your brain is doing lots of work: In a Harvard Health Blog post on secrets to brain success, Dr. Srini Pillay talks about the default mode network (DMN), a brain network that runs and consumes 20% of the body’s energy while at rest.

“As you can imagine, this network is doing anything but ‘resting’ even though it operates largely under the conscious radar,” Dr. Pillay says. “Instead, when you turn your ‘focus’ brain off, it will retrieve memories, link ideas so that you become more creative, and also help you feel more self-connected too.”

It increases your empathy: Dr. Pillay goes on to say that along with understanding yourself better, the DMN also helps you to better understand the thoughts of others. Plus, maintaining a healthy DMN can aid in predicting things more accurately. Fantasy football, anyone?

What Makes a Happy and At-Rest Brain?

Science tells us why brain rest is good for you and good for others. But what sorts of things really rest your brain? Glad you asked. This isn’t a full or complete list, but here are some common factors that we found.

Gratitude: The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “More than any other personality trait, gratitude is strongly linked to mental health and life satisfaction.”

In addition to emotional and mental health, the Center cites a study showing that people who experience gratitude cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function.

Yale recommends gratitude practice via these three methods:

  • Pay attention to good things that you might normally take for granted (even if it’s simple, like taking a second to look at the peacefulness of the sky).
  • Write about the things you’re grateful for in a journal or letter to someone you appreciate.
  • Express gratitude to individuals you can thank in person, or through broader practices like the arts or faith traditions.
Kindness: In a collaboration between Kindness.org and Oxford University that studied whether acts of kindness really affect the happiness of the person doing them, researchers found that kindness genuinely does boost happiness, at a small-to-medium effect on average.

The researchers examined studies that linked acts of kindness with brain chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine — which help us form trusted bonds, regulate mood and feel euphoria.

Boundaries: Clinical psychologist and author of Boundaries for Leaders Dr. Henry Cloud talks about the brain’s three essential processes that function best within boundaries:

  • Attention - focusing on relevant stimuli while blocking out what is not relevant.
  • Inhibition - the brain’s ability to not do certain actions that could be distracting, irrelevant or even destructive.
  • Working memory - retaining and accessing relevant information for reasoning, decision-making and taking actions.
Your brain is already performing these processes in small ways, and when we learn to set healthy boundaries at work, with family members and beyond, our brains can operate at their highest capacity. Just limiting what you do in your free time shows that you have a good grasp of attention and inhibition.

Even if it feels small, there are always things that we can say “no” or “later” to, in order to give our brains a break.

How and When Can I Actually Rest My Brain?

If you’re thinking, “This is great and all, but there’s no way I can take naps every day or add a bunch of gratitude practices into my schedule,” we hear you.

The motto here at SignUpGenius has always been simplicity. That means eliminating unnecessary things (like paper sign ups and reply-all emails) from your life so that you have the time and space to focus on what’s important.

So, here are a few of our takeaways on how to rest your genius brain:

  • Instead of creating a list of to-dos, create a list of to-don’ts. What could you remove from your or your family’s life that is not contributing to a restful, productive brain? Be proud of your reverse bucket list — your brain and body will thank you for the lighter load!
  • In addition to removing certain things, think of where you could implement rhythms of rest in your day-to-day schedule. That doesn’t mean doing nothing. Have a one-on-one meeting at work? Dr. Pillay from the Harvard study recommends free walking around the office, which boosts creative thinking.
  • During family dinner or a night with friends, initiate intentional conversations about gratitude or kindness. Try an affirmation circle, where you all go around and tell each person what you love or appreciate about them. Take it a step further by serving your community together!
And of course, you know we’re always here to help you create an online sign up instead of exerting a lot of brainpower to coordinate people through endless emails and spreadsheets. You’re a genius, and we want to keep you that way!

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