Personal growth and development are often seen in the eyes of physical wellness. And physical wellness is indeed important. Research has shown that physical activity (cardiovascular in nature) produces 8 neurochemicals.

These ‘feel good’ chemicals include neurotransmitters that may be boosted with psychiatric medications, especially for those of us who experience symptoms of Depression and Anxiety. And these neurotransmitters include Serotonin, Dopamine, Epinephrine and Norepinephrine. They alleviate symptoms of Anxiety and Depression.

In fact, some limited research has indicated that Dopamine D4 is the “thrill-seeking gene”, where those thrill-seekers amongst us possess a higher level of D4! Think an ER doctor who, in his spare time, climbs rock surfaces to a high elevation, then jumps off in a squirrel suit (true example!).

Other neurochemicals produced are oxytocin (the “cuddle” or “affection” hormone) and endorphins (a natural pain killer – think the “runner’s high”). And we don’t need to pay for drugs either as the last two neurochemicals produced are endogenous opioids and endocannabinoids.

Indeed, some quarters indicate that physical activity helps prevent our hippocampus from shrinking too quickly. Considering that our hippocampus is our “library” of memories……

However, it is equally important that we don’t neglect our mental wellness. Research on neuroplasticity indicates that our brains can be re-trained (particularly key in the realm of trauma and PTSD). Who says we can’t teach an aging animal new tricks!

When we consider the debilitating symptoms associated with anxiety, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) assists us in moving from the realm of our Right brain (think emotional, intuitive, expressive and dramatic) to our Left brain (think rational, reasonable, analytical and intellectual), cognitive restructuring is key.

When we think about something in a different way, we will feel differently about it and subsequently, we will behave/act differently. Instead of reacting, we will be responding.

Whilst our brain weighs about 2% of our body weight, it uses up to 20% of our body’s energy! And it contains over 2 billion neurons or brain cells!

This certainly enables us to continue learning and the taking in of new information, which aids how we begin to translate and transform them into behaviours which debunk what “society” deems “normal” for us e.g. that we should be over any grieving about a loss in our lives within a specific time period. And that loss is not limited to just the death of loved ones. We start thinking outside the box in including loss of a job, divorce or separation, the empty nest syndrome, retirement (!), a temporary or permanent incapacitation or disability, etc.

Mental wellness welcomes learning opportunities. The difference between a stumbling block and a stepping stone is the way we approach it.

Jason Wong (June 2018)