This is the third in our series of five blogs (Focus, Connect, Nourish, Move and Sleep) exploring key activities to help us optimize our cognitive ability during changing times. We share simple, scientifically proven ways to build our capacity to grow from our experiences.

Nourishing our self is like putting money in the bank. It feels like a good investment at the time and also serves us well in the future. It’s a win win.

So how do we nourish from a brain perspective?

Food is one way:  Enjoying a healthy diet is good for our physical body and our brain function. Studies extol the benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts etc.), along with whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and fish and low consumption of red meat.

Sharing food:  The benefits of eating well, are amplified if we share the experience with others: Eating together boosts our oxytocin levels, making us feel more connected and supported. Explore and talk about new healthy eating – as a family or in your work group. Eat together in-person, or via a video link. Share simple recipe ideas for home-based working so an awareness and energy around nutritious meals gets promoted.

Information intake:  We also need to nourish our minds with a healthy dose of positive news and experiences. The things we focus on get embedded in our brain. Find a balance of good news and not just bad news feeds. During the pandemic, there’s so much negative information to be ingested. There are also heartwarming anecdotes and stories of gratitude about how people are coping and connecting. Remember the pleasure of a good book!

Play time: It’s important to give ourselves permission to have fun, enjoy a good laugh and try something new – increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. These ‘happy hormones’ regulate anxiety, and lift your mood. Positive emotions help quiet the amygdala which has a central role in your anxiety responses to stressful situations. Research by scientists such as Barbara Frederickson shows that positive emotions are absolutely essential for optimal functioning. Whether learning new information or escaping into a fantasy world, give yourself permission to experience pleasurable activities – each day.

As leaders we can help team members to nourish by modeling healthy food choices, healthy news/social media intake; inviting people to eat together, even if virtually; asking for input on ways to raise everyone’s spirits; and being explicit about expectations for people to take care of themselves, and their family. Nourish the brain. It’s a great and enjoyable investment!