For the past 2 weeks, we have been exploring our first theme, ‘communication’, as it relates to brain health. As a community, we’ve held two Brain Jams focused on journaling, co-created two playlists, and a handful of you have shared your insights on our blog, Thoughts. Through comments, direct messages, and conversations, many more of you have shared thoughtful, contemplative, and inspiring ideas and personal anecdotes. For that, the three of us want to say thank you.
We’ve (loosely) planned for each theme to run for about four weeks, so this is an unofficial halfway point of sorts for Theme 01:Communication. Before we continue to dig deeper on communication, we wanted to pause and share some of the thoughts that have been ping-ponging around our brains.
Bryson: We chose ‘communication’ as our theme because it’s a concept that’s been thrown into sharp relief by this global pandemic. At the same time, it’s broad enough to have many alternate avenues of exploration for those wanting to take it in a different direction. Two weeks ago, I would have told you that anything to do with communication and my brain health would be firmly centred on the virus. I am, as they say, surprised and delighted to find that has not been the case.
Sure, I’ve certainly dwelled on our current communication conundrums. But this Mind.On project has given me the space to explore much more. The last two weeks, particularly at the Brain Jams, have had me dwelling on my capacity to communicate with myself. You’ll hear this from me ad nauseum if you stick around long enough, but I’m fascinated by metacognition, or thinking about your own thinking. It’s a tool for me to communicate with me. To look inside my own head and look at the thoughts that are in perpetual, swirling hysteria.
Writing has always been my gateway to metacognition and to calming my mental miasma. Pulling the words out and etching them into a page is a conversation of sorts. Like any conversation, sometimes it’s effortless and smooth and sometimes it’s stilted, awkward, and even miserable. But, I always feel better after filling up the loose leaf. Always. It improves my brain health, every time. And guess what? If you’ve been joining our Brain Jams, or if you’re already a writer, you’ve been improving your brain health, too.
Now, it feels a bit trite to just say “start writing for better brain health!” We all see and hear a lot of these supposedly brain-bettering platitudes all the time. Meditate! Drink more water! Read more books! Sure, all of those almost certainly are good for our minds. But without some guidance or structure to how to approach and integrate them into our lives, good luck. Part of Mind.On is helping people to find substantive ways to actively take care of their brain health. The first two Brain Jams, focused on writing, have been an attempt at that. I hope it’s worked. Let me leave you with some research to back that up.
According to this Forbes article, physically writing on paper (like journaling!) does the following:
Increases neural activity in certain sections of the brain
Writing activates parts of the brain that help us learn.
Mindful writing helps to rest the brain.
In times like these, we all deserve to give our brains a rest. If you attended one of our journalling sessions and left feeling more inspired to write or just to do more for your own brain, than this project is already a success. But please, stick around for more. We’re in this together.
Kerry: Communication. As a topic, we have learned that you are a bottomless beast. That is not surprising because communication is the fabric that allows us to connect as human beings. We have also gone a layer deeper than emotions and looked at how communication affects our physical selves. In terms of good brain health, communication is wildly important as positive communication leads to the release of health boosting chemicals (for example oxytocin with touch and serotonin with positive self-talk). Through communicating, we can actively cultivate good brain chemicals that have the power to enrich our lives.
A couple paths we have gone down in the past couple of weeks:
Communication with Others: When we communicate, we show others that they are seen/heard. Positive or negative, the transfer of information from one person to another validates the other's existence and makes them feel emotions (negative or positive) as a result. Interestingly, one community member shared that the people he sees as trustworthy and confident are those who tend to communicate through subtle gestures of touch.
Communication with Self: Not just the murmurs here and there when you are leaving the house and making sure you have your keys/wallet/cell phone, but the kind of communication where you really stop and connect with yourself through writing or thinking. The intention of the writing-focused Brain Jams was to create this space for self communication. When we connect with ourselves, we can get more out of our connections with others.
Non-Verbal Communication: This is our universal human vocabulary. Have you ever watched jazz musicians and wonder how they know where they are taking the song? Or played a team sport where you just can read what your teammate is about to do? Or been upset and someone just gives you a hug and automatically you feel like your heart rate drops and you feel relaxed? There is so much that is said without words and in our uniquely isolated times, we are especially noticing the absence of touch. A high five or an equivalent was proven to reduce stress and enhance performance in a study of NBA players, and the findings apply to all touch.
How this works: A warm touch sets off the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps create a sensation of trust, and reduce cortisol levels, the stress hormone. Then, in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which helps regulate emotion, relaxes, and frees up space for its other main job: problem solving. All in all, when we are touched, our body hears “I’ll share the load”.
Touch is a tool we can use to improve our own brain health as well as the brain health of others. A community member who is a massage therapist by trade, told a story of the power of touch from her experience working with a sick patient where the professional touch of massage brought him to tears. He hadn’t been touched with bare hands for years due to the stigma of his illness, but with simple touch he felt dignified as a human. Skin to skin transmission of validation, safety and love. Both people benefited from the release of oxytocin.
In my opinion, the Mind.On community has done an impressive dig on what feels like a topic with no end, uncovering big insights and more questions. I personally look forward to this topic permeating every topic we cover going forward.
Rebecca: I was hesitant to explore “Communication” as our first theme. Initially, I thought the topic was bland and didn’t think there was much to uncover. I was also nervous that this theme would become inundated with pandemic-related conversation, and I didn’t want another facet of our lives to be consumed by COVID-19. Fortunately, my reluctance was misplaced.
The discussions around Communication have been insightful and refreshing. We’ve received a number of blog submissions exploring a wide array of sub-topics. As a group, we’ve journaled together, and explored ideas around personal relationships, non-verbal communication, and touch. Together, we’ve learned about oxytocin and the brain’s need for human-to-human connection. People from across the world have tuned in for our Brain Jams, and the feeling of connectedness I’ve felt over these last two weeks has been remarkable.
In the remaining weeks, I want to look at how we converse with others and how we converse with ourselves. Are there universal qualities to our inner dialogue? What tools can we learn to become better communicators with ourselves?
For thought starters, here’s an interesting article interviewing writer and psychologist Charles Fernyhough. He studies human speech and the role it plays in cognitive development. He says, “Inner speech has a lot of different functions. It has a role in motivation, it has a role in emotional expression, it probably has a role in understanding ourselves as selves.” (Fernyhough, 2016)
I’m looking forward to unpacking more thoughts and ideas around communication in the coming weeks. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to speed on our next community event. If you’re interested in writing about our theme, send us your blog submission at email@example.com.