When people talk about mental health, they don’t often think about the “health” part of the phrase. In fact, most people assume that the only way to recover from mental illness is to take medication or spend hours talking to a therapist.
But it turns out that it’s possible to train our brains to improve brain health, just the way we train our bodies.
“Your brain is an instrument. It’s a living, changing, malleable thing,” explains Elizabeth Wade, an occupational therapist and Life Skills Specialist at Yellowbrick. “The more you use your brain, and the more different ways you use it, the more flexible and adaptive your thinking patterns can become.”
Having a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, can interfere with your ability to think clearly. Someone with depression may have brain waves that are slowed down, while someone with anxiety and stress may have activity in a rigid but chaotic pattern — both of which would prevent someone from being able to make reasonable, meaningful decisions.
In fact, brain scans of the young adults who come to Yellowbrick show that initially many have significant cognitive impairments in areas such as attention, memory, decision-making and executive functioning.
Wade says many people with mental illness have a tendency toward rigid thinking and often have difficulty seeing multiple options or solving problems. For example, someone with mental illness may think “I’m not good at making friends,” or “I’m a terrible person,” and the more the person thinks those same thoughts, the more ingrained they become in his or hermind.
That’s why Yellowbrick uses brain training to re-wire our neuropathways, helping us to make our brains become more flexible, which allows us to ultimately think different thoughts.
In order to do this, the young adults at Yellowbrick participate in computer-mediated cognitive exercises designed to enhance problem solving, memory, visual spatial understanding, attention and more. For example, one brain training module may require you to remember a string of numbers, while another one may have you organize images, solve a Rubik’s cube, or mentally rotate a picture. In addition, the young adults engage in real-world cognitive training, including group problem-solving, where they have the opportunity to see that there are many different ways to approach a problem.
Wade says by challenging your brain, you are activating different neuropathways and improving your ability to adapt to the challenges of the world.
Of course, if you don’t have access to these specially designed computer brain training programs, there are other ways you can strengthen your brain on your own.
4 Brain Training Tips
Yellowbrick collaborates with adolescents and emerging adults, ages 16-30's, their families and participating professionals toward the development and implementation of a strategic “Life Plan.” An integrative, multi-specialty consultation clarifies strengths, limitations, and risks, and defines motivations, goals and choices.
A mental health condition that’s characterized by intense shifts in mood including both manic and depressive episodes.
People living with Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, experience episodes of depression and sadness that are debilitating to daily life.
Those living with anxiety disorders experience high levels of anxiety and stress that interfere negatively with daily life.
A mental health issue in which a person’s cognitive function is impaired, resulting in symptoms like experiencing challenges with conducting speech, reading and writing, and behavior.
Mental health disorders that negatively affect a person’s behaviors, thought patterns, and function. People diagnosed with these disorders experience challenges with managing relationships and understanding various situations.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that people can develop as a result of experiencing traumatic situations, characterized by symptoms including flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and more.
A mental health condition that is characterized by specific symptoms of forgetfulness and lack of concentration, which makes it challenging to complete necessary tasks.
Mental health conditions that interfere with a person’s eating habits, thought patterns, and behaviors in negative ways.
A mental health disorder diagnosable with the DSM-5 that is characterized by both obsessions and compulsive behaviors.