Summer is idyllic for many of us -- a slower tempo, warmer weather and vacations encourage us to throw away the structured schedules and the Nascar frenzy that accompanies most of our normal days. Many of my patients often take medication "holidays" from their ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) medications or anxiety medications, since they don't seem as necessary. While summer is a welcome respite for most of us, it is also a great time to reassess your family's routine and create a brain healthy environment. June is Brain Health and Awareness month, so take a moment to "power up" and reboot your family's brain.
Step 1: Prioritize Brainy Family Values
As I continue to work with families, I have observed that being "brainy" is really a family value. The stereotypical Asian or East Indian family often focuses on brain health and optimizing the family for that steel trap mind. I have my own stories of my mom insisting I eat fish since it was a "brain food" or not being allowed to leave the house without some protein in the morning. Like many moms, she was right, but more importantly, she valued brain health. Our routines, our sleep and our activities were all structured around this central value.
Today, with many adults and children struggling with brain health, we can learn to have brainy family values. As a family, this may mean weighing every activity or just daily structure through the lens of brain health. Take a moment to look at your family routine and evaluate if it really supports a healthy brain for all of you and if brain health is really a family value.
Step 2: Feeding Your Family's Brain
Once you have identified that brain health needs to be a priority, the second step is creating a consistent brain healthy diet. I think many of you already know the drill but science is catching up and here is what we know. If you or your child are struggling with anxiety, ADHD, depression or just brain fog, try implementing these dietary guidelines.
Eliminate sugar -- Sugar continues to be our enemy and nowhere more obvious than with focus, concentration and energy. Summer is particularly tricky as the beach and the lure of sweet drinks, ice cream and snow cones help us to quickly tax our sugar budget.
2. Eat at consistent intervals and track brain energy through the day. None of us can perform mentally when tired or hungry so create consistent eating intervals that encourage better mental health. I can see this clearly in my children as their performance on tasks I assign changes dramatically pre and post hunger. Protein is important and especially for those with ADHD and anxiety. I continue to recommend at least 7-10 grams of protein every 3-4 hours through the day to stabilize blood sugar and keep the mind sharp. (1)
3. Add healthy fats -- Find ways to improve your family's fat profile. The healthy fats nourish the gut and the brain. Most children and adults need at least 10 healthy fat grams per day. Consider adding these in using avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, fatty fishes or nuts and seeds. (2)
Step 3: A Brainy Lifestyle
Creating a brainy lifestyle often follows having brainy family values but there are some simple switches that make this more realistic. Here are some quick "switches" for both children and adults.
Switch out the video games/ TV for 30 minutes to one hour of supervised summer reading. Summer reading is relaxing but here is the catch; find at least three words you did not know and take two minutes to write down the main idea.
2. Do your homework. For children, use workbooks that are grade appropriate or flash cards to build and retain academic skills. Spend 30 minutes maybe four times per week working with your children and watch their focus improve. Adults are not off the hook. You need 5-10 minutes every day to challenge your mind. Do those crossword puzzles, play board games like scrabble or boggle with your family, and spend a few minutes reading a genre you would not otherwise touch. For example, if you always read books on gardening, pick up a car magazine or vice versa.
3. Build mental strength and stamina. Make meditation a family affair. Take five minutes daily to force the whole family to meditate or do a guided meditation where the mind is forced to focus. In an age where we are bombarded by instant messages, shutting off that constant impulse is critical to creating a focused mind. If meditation or guided imagery are total bombs, try adding a yoga routine or even swimming laps, which are in essence, moving meditations. (3)
Step 4: Brain Reboot -- Reassess Your Family's Medications
Finally, for all the patients who take a "medication holiday" in the summer, use this time to assess your family's brain health off medication. Many children and adults need medication, but if you find that you are able to perform better as you "power up," you may often not need as much medication or not as many!
Power up this summer and use these next few months as an opportunity to reboot your and your family's brain.