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The connection between brain function and emotional wellness

Friday, Nov. 12, 2021
a young woman painting in her studio

There are few things more powerful than the connection linking brain function and emotional wellness. To keep both at their best - just keep the brain healthy and the emotions follow, or vice versa. Sounds hard to believe right? Well perhaps not. Keeping a healthy brain and a happy heart may be simpler than we think.

How are brain function and emotional wellness connected?

Research suggests that higher levels of genuine laughter can lead to stress reduction and better brain function overall. In a similar light, engaging in activities that keep us mentally sharp and protect our brains from disease, such as eating healthy, avoiding smoking, and exercising, often result in higher levels of emotional wellness.

Something to be aware of however, is that this ever-present connection between our brain function and emotional wellness is both a blessing and a curse. As mentioned, when our brain is happy, our heart generally follows. Unfortunately, this also means that when our brain is upset, so is our heart. Dealing with a brain or emotional condition/injury can feel daunting, exhausting, and can interrupt the way we go about our day to day lives.

A concept unfamiliar to many is the significant impact emotional illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can have on various aspects of our brain health, including memory, attention, processing speed, and problem solving. If you have ever felt like a bout of sadness or depression has left you feeling foggy, confused, and forgetful, you are not alone! These are often symptoms are more debilitating to our day-to-day function and can even outlast the emotional consequences that are also present during experiences with these illnesses.

Similarly, impacts on our brain function can lead to many emotional consequences. For example, a substantial number of people suffering from a traumatic brain injury are also challenged with co-occurring depression and anxiety. It is estimated that upwards of 20% of people who have experienced a concussion also report emotional health concerns six months post-injury.

How can occupational therapists help?

Here is the good news - occupational therapists (OTs) are professionals who understand the connection between brain function and emotional wellness very well. With a unique focus on holistic function, OTs are capable of addressing both both of these factors when it comes to helping you get back to your normal life after a brain injury or emotional setback. There are many ways that OTs can help in both brain function and emotional wellness. Here are a few examples:

Emotional wellness

  • Activity based coping strategies and stress management
  • Getting you in touch with your spiritual health
  • Psychotherapy and counselling
  • Sleep hygiene

Brain function

  • Restoring the brain’s normal function and addressing deficits in areas such as attention, problem solving, memory, concentration
  • Teaching new ways to complete cognitively challenging tasks
  • Guiding return to work after a cognitive setback

Finally, here are a few OT tips to keep your brain healthy and your heart happy:

  • Spend time in nature or green spaces
  • Exercise (walk, dance, seated yoga, or anything that gets your heart rate up)
  • Socialize with friends and/or family
  • Get quality sleep
  • Challenge your creative side - do art, play an instrument, listen to music
  • Learn a new skill or hobby
  • Reach out for help if you need it

OTs can help you get the most out of this link between brain function and emotional wellness. With the right supports and information, you have never been closer to achieving both a healthy mind and happy heart.

If you're interested in learning more about how clinicians at Lifemark can help, check out our mental health services page.  To schedule an appointment with an occupational therapist, book online or find a clinic near you.

This blog was written by Emily Vilac, a 2nd year occupational therapy student at Queen's University.

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