Neuro Harmony, LLC
Licensed Clinical Counseling in Charleston, Illinois

Neuro Notes and Harmony blog for life


When does Loneliness become isolation?

Aug 7

Illinois EMDR (New website coming soon!)

Hard questions often times don't have easy answers. Today's topic fits that mold.

We will discuss how or when loneliness becomes isolation. Let’s start with defining these words. (From Merriam-Webster)

 Loneliness ~ (Noun):

  1. Being without company (lone)
  2. Cut off from others (solitary)
  3. Not visited by other human beings (desolate)
  4. Sad from being alone (Lonesome)

Isolation ~ (Verb) is defined as:

  1. To set apart from others (Quarantine)
  2. To select from among others (Solitary)

Some people use the words “isolation” and “loneliness” interchangeably, but this does not reflect the true meaning of each term. Isolation may lead to loneliness, and in some cases, loneliness may exacerbate isolation. Both have been found to occur with other mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

Knowing how loneliness and isolation are distinct and related can help people who struggle with them best address and work through these issues. Here are a few things to know about handling loneliness and social isolation in your life.

 Isolation specifically may be characterized by:

  • Staying home most or all of the time
  • Refusing interpersonal interaction
  • Avoiding social situations

But is loneliness really increasing, or is it a condition that humans have always experienced at various times of life? In other words, are we becoming lonelier or just more inclined to recognize and talk about the problem? Talking is good and takes a lot of courage to do sometimes.

 

WHEN ISOLATION AND LONELINESS ARE SYMPTOMS

Sometimes loneliness and/or isolation present as primary symptoms of a mental health issue.

For example, if someone suddenly begins to pull away from friends and family, this could indicate that a number of potential issues. They could have depression or an eating disorder, or they may be affected by an abusive relationship. Isolation may be a first sign of many mental health issues, so identifying the unique context of each situation is key in order to understand it.

Loneliness and isolation can be symptoms of the following mental health issues, among others:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-traumatic stress (PTSD)
  • Bipolar
  • Borderline personality

RISK FACTORS FOR ISOLATION AND LONELINESS

Just as with any other issue, some people may be more susceptible to isolation and loneliness than others, although anyone can become isolated or feel lonely. People who have recently had traumatic life changes, who live in tumultuous home environments, or who have witnessed, or experienced domestic violence or abuse may be more prone to both loneliness and isolation.

For example, a person who’s recently been divorced and has moved to a new neighborhood may feel the absence of their former partner and community, causing them to be lonely. Additionally, an elderly person whose spouse has died may be isolated in their day-to-day life, which may lead to loneliness and poor health.

People who live in abusive homes may isolate themselves because the shame of their environment makes them think they can’t talk with others about their life. They may also feel intensely lonely if they become worried no one will be able to relate to their life experiences.

 

GETTING HELP

If you’re feeling lonely or experience isolation for long periods of time, it may help to reach out to a licensed mental health professional who can offer support as you work through those struggles. Not addressing prolonged loneliness and isolation can negatively impact your physical and mental well-being.

If there is a deeper mental health issue causing your feelings of loneliness or isolation, a therapist can help treat that issue and put you on the path to your best self.

 Remember that you are not alone and there is never shame in asking for help. Reach out! Call 217.508.8080, We would love to help improve your life today.




**** HELP WANTED!!!! ****

Aug 3

**** Update: Position has been filled. Thank you for all who took interest and applied!****
 



Addictions? Yeah, we are going to go there....

Aug 1

Addiction.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this word?

Drugs? Alcohol?

Those are easily the first two most think of when asked about what addiction is. While those answers are spot on, they just touch the surface to a topic that is almost as deep as the oceans are wet.

It’s a nasty word, Addiction. If we are being honest, we all have at least one, if not many. Most aren’t even something we think about on a regular basis, and many of us don’t even realize we have an addiction at all.

To start, let’s look at how the word is defined:

From Merriam-Webster:

  1. a compulsive, chronic, physiological, or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behaviors, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence: the state of being addicted.
  2. a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.

Similar words that can be used are, but not limited to:  Dependency, craving, habit, weakness, compulsion, fixation, and enslavement.

(Note: This is the first of what will be a multipart blog about addiction. In the future entries, I will link back to the previous ones, so they are easier to reference.)

Today, I am focusing primarily on behavioral addiction.

The term "behavioral addiction" refers to a compulsion to engage in an activity that leads to reward, that is, something that desirable or appealing. Often, the reward comes with some sort of adverse consequence. We want to feel good. We look for things that bring us a quick "high" or utopian feeling. Most of these things don’t last for a long period of time, so we go back and do them over and over as we are looking to duplicate the feel-good moment, we had previously experienced.

Examples of such behavior include, but are not limited to illicit drugs, alcohol, food, sexual activities, and gambling.

So, this then poses a question of: Are behavioral addictions serious?

Simple answer: Yes!

According to the US National Library of Medicine, behavioral addictions, “resemble substance abuse addictions,” in reference to the impact on the brain and their response to treatment. Individuals often struggle to resist urges or temptations to reduce or stop behaviors that may be addictive to them, elicit arousal before completing them, and bring pleasure while doing them. Areas of concern can include the feelings of guilt or embarrassment after completing the activity. This is similar in individuals abusing harmful chemicals. Individuals abusing substances have extreme difficulty resisting the urge or temptation to use the drug and may feel pleasure from using the drug. Consequently, he or she may feel shame after completing the activity and may lie about it or hide it. This not only has negative effects on the individual involved in the addiction, but those they are around, love and care about as well.

Signs of behavioral addictions can be different for everyone, but often look the same. These occur when someone needs a large amount or constant exposure to the stimuli and pursue it.

Those with a behavioral addiction will constantly seek the thrill or rush of endorphins by frequent and increased activity. Secondly, behavioral addictions become serious if the individual cannot control or stop the activity. Signs of behavioral addiction include, but are not limited to:

  1. Experiencing "cravings" for doing the activity.
  2. Needing more and more exposure to experience the highs one feels while doing the activity.
  3. Doing more risky activities, taking more risks to seek the thrill.
  4. The inability to stop or control behavior.
  5. Feeling shame or embarrassment from doing these activities.
  6. The inability to stop the behavior, despite knowing the negative impacts on the body and mind.
  7. Using the behavior and justifying it to deal with trauma or poor mental health rather than getting professional help.

Other addictions, such as gambling and or a compulsive shopping addiction can have financial consequences. Something that starts small can put people into bankruptcy due to extreme credit card debt used to fund the addiction.

Phone, internet, and video game addictions often can get in the way of close relationships in the real world. People often become distracted using these things as an "escape" from reality. They can be used to ‘treat’ loneliness, stress or to fill other voids.

Help is available!!! While controlling compulsions can seem impossible, there are several options for recovery. The first step is to acknowledge the challenges behavioral addictions can cause, along with the need for help. This can help one to take control of their life. There is support available after taking the first step toward recovery. If any of these things are something you or a loved one are dealing with, we are here and would love the opportunity to help you on the road to a better life along your journey. Reach out and let’s hit the road to better days! Give us a call at [Please enable javascript.] today!




Are you a people pleaser? It could be the result of a past trauma...

Jul 22

Chances are, at one point or another in your life, you have tried to make another person happy.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it can be a sign of dealing with unresolved trauma. How so? Let me explain.

When we are children and growing up, we have needs. Being protected and provided for are at the forefront. For some of us, though, we grew up in a less than ideal environment. An unsafe, unstable, or abusive environment that gave us stress and suffering. To feel safer, we learned to please those (or at least attempt to) closest to us, our parents, siblings, or other authority figures in our lives. 

Therefore, people-pleasing can be seen as a trauma response, an adaptive coping mechanism that serves a tremendously important reason: to help us deal with situations our well-being or even survival depends on.

The problem? Even now as adults many of us still unconsciously engage in this behavioral pattern, when we don’t really need to. People-pleasing has become our second nature, and, whether we realize it or not, it is negatively affecting our lives.

Before we look at how the negatives of this pattern affect us, let's look at common habits of people pleasers. Here are a few, but there are many, many more:

  • Saying “Yes” at almost all times, even when you want to say no.
  • Constantly apologizing, even when you are not at fault.
  • Suppressing anger, sadness, or other emotions in fear of hurting or upsetting others.
  • Wanting to appear “perfect” in the eyes of others.
  • Avoiding conflict, at almost all costs.
  • Flattering other people, even those they don’t like.
  • Worrying about what other’s think of them, to a fault.
  • Not expressing real and genuine thoughts.
  • Trying to help others, all the time. Even when help is not needed, asked for or wanted.
  • Being afraid of making themselves look like a fool.
  • Feeling hurt when someone criticizes them for something they did or said.
  • Being overly vigilant of other people.
  • Not distancing themselves from abusers.
  • Feeling unworthy of love and respect.
  • Letting other’s direct them how to live their lives.
  • Believing everyone knows better than them.
  • Showing compassion to everyone, except themselves.

It’s safe to say that these are not healthy behaviors for us. They are, bottom-line, detrimental to us and the relationships we have with others. Here are a few negatives these behaviors can have on us:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Physical Illness

People pleasers will do about anything they can to make others happy, often, at the sake of their own happiness. They suppress their own true emotions. They might want to cry in sadness, scream in anger… but they don’t. They put on a “fake smile” and go about life as if there is nothing wrong. Whatever it takes to avoid conflict.

They might want to say “no” and step away from a relationship, but they instead choose to comply and stay with someone who’s abusing them. As a result of this ongoing emotional suppression, people pleasers experience chronic stress, which can lead to fatigue as well as mental and physical illnesses. In addition, because people pleasers are fixated on controlling people and situations, they tend to experience a lot of anxiety, as well as disappointment when things don’t turn out the way they wish.

  • Resentment/Regrets

When we ignore our gut feelings, and do what is better for everyone else, we are betraying ourselves. When we dismiss our own feelings, thoughts, and values, we ultimately reject our true inner peace. When we’re constantly trying to please others, we usually end up finding that they take us for granted, which can make us feel unappreciated. Resentment is often the result.

These things can lead to big problems. You might find that most, if not all, relationships you are in become one sided and quite dysfunctional. While their behavior is not meant to be malicious at all, people pleasers are, for lack of a better term, liars. They don’t lie to hurt others, but to protect themselves from rejection. They are like chameleons, changing their appearance to adapt to their environment, so that no one gets to know their true colors; at least, in the beginning of a relationship. This often results in communication problems, and once the truth comes out, it can lead to serious interpersonal conflict. Another reason why people pleasers end up finding themselves in messed up relationships is that, due to their lack of assertiveness and weak interpersonal boundaries, they tend to attract narcissists and bullies into their lives. But because of the manipulative tactics of the latter, they might still feel accepted, loved, and wanted, which is often what keeps them stuck in toxic relationships.

People pleasers often experience a lack of freedom, joy, meaning or purpose. For the most part, they are living in a way that prevents them from being authentic. They find it extremely hard to let go, enjoy themselves, pursue their dreams, or just speak out their mind and heart, for they are constantly concerned about what others think of them. As a result, they feel that their lives lack joy, freedom, meaning and purpose. Because of that, they tend to experience a sense of emptiness within, which they often mistakenly try to fill by pleasing others instead of taking care of their own needs.

So, now that we might have a slight understanding of people pleasing tendencies, how do we attempt to stop them and change our thought patterns?

Become conscious of your thoughts and behaviors.

We all want to make others happy. The key here, though, is why are we doing it?

Don’t blame yourself for wanting to be liked, needed, or accepted.

These are all basic human desires. Just be aware of what you are sacrificing to achieve them.

Always listen to your gut feeling.

Our intuition is usually accurate and is designed to keep us safe. Take time to understand what you are really wanting/feeling. Spend time with thoughts and feelings and then communicate them with others.

Respond, don’t react.

People pleasers often react out of habit, saying and doing things they don’t really want to. To break that habit, you need to learn to pause, reflect on your needs, and respond according to each situation. For example, if someone asks you to do them a favor, take a few moments to consider whether you want to or not, instead of immediately saying “yes” out of habit.

Practice honesty.

Seems easy enough, right? Remember, you are lying to everyone, including yourself when you are constantly people pleasing. Hence, our relationships remain fake and skin-deep. So, I will ask you: Do you want people to like you for being someone you are not? Wouldn’t it be better if you could connect with people who like and accept you as you are? By realizing the importance of honesty in forming genuine, intimate relationships, you’ll start opening up more to others, and see your relationships becoming much more satisfying.

Finally, SET BOUNDARIES!!!!

This will look different for each of us. Know what you need to be reasonably happy, and don’t allow other people to cross your boundaries.




Dealing with loss

Jul 18

Hello and Welcome to Neuro Harmony’s Blog!! We are glad you are here and looking for assistance. Stepping out to find help takes a lot of courage!

Beginning today, the hope is that this page will be updated weekly, if not a couple times each week going forward. The blog will contain stories, thoughts, self-improvement ideas and coping mechanisms.

We will discuss a wide variety of mental health topics. Feedback is always welcome! Good, bad, or indifferent. We cannot improve if we don’t take time to consider all points of views. What topics would you like for us to address here? Let us know!

Diving in…

Grief and Loss

At some point in life, we all experience a loss. None of us are immune to this. A loved one, a pregnancy, a pet, a relationship, an object that meant something to us on a psychological level…. Other experiences of loss may be due to children leaving home, infertility and separation from friends and family. The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief is likely to be.

Grief is expressed in many ways, and it can affect every part of your life, your emotions, thoughts and actions, beliefs, physical health, your sense of self and identity, and your relationships with others. Grief can leave you feeling sad, angry, anxious, shocked, regretful, relieved, overwhelmed, isolated, irritable, or numb.

We all are human, but none of us experience things the same. The thing about grief, is that there is NO time frame for healing. Putting ourselves in a box and going by “standards” set by others, is not only a bad idea, but never works and ultimately can bring more trauma as we feel something is wrong with us for still feeling bad or down. What one person may be able to work through in a few days, week or months can take other’s years or a lifetime. Some never fully get past the loss, but can cope with it, with help from a support system in their life.

Getting through loss

This is a process that will take time and effort. Some days will be harder than others to deal with. Don’t define the success of a day based on past good days. Some days, getting out of bed is a victory. While we all find our own ways to grieve, it is important to not go it alone. Having a good support system, or at least one person whom you can talk to is paramount.

Things you can do to help yourself

Ask for help!!! Most other people don’t realize you need assistance. There is no shame in reaching out for help, and this is a very courageous thing to do!

Talk with loved ones about your feelings.

Join a support group.

Don’t neglect your physical needs. Exercise, get plenty of sleep, eat well, stay hydrated. Grieving is exhausting.

Manage stress. Ask a friend or colleague for assistance with chores and or commitments.

Do things you enjoy, even if you are not feeling like it. You will be glad you did.

How to help others

Ask how they are doing. Each day can be different for someone grieving. Take time to listen and try to understand what they are going through. Most of the time, they do not need advice, but just someone to listen and be there.

Talk about everyday life, too. Their loss doesn’t need to be the only focus. Help bring back some happier thoughts into the conversation.

Ask them how else you might be able to help. Cooking them a meal or two, taking them shopping, going for a walk with them. Just a few simple ideas.

Encourage them to seek professional help if they don’t seem to improve over time.

Thank you for taking a moment to read today!

If you or anyone you know is struggling with loss and feeling suicidal, call or text the National Suicide helpline at 988.




2020 Commercial

May 11, 2020




Telehealth Options

Mar 27, 2020

Telehealth is a way of working with your therapist through an internet connection; but you will still see your therapist and your therapist will see you for your session. While there may be obstacles that might keep you from physically coming into the office especially during this time of Corona Virus, we can still meet with you through telehealth. At Neuro Harmony, our therapists Sarah Malak and Alexis Dearing, have even evolved to be able to use "play therapy" via telehealth. Your child's therapist will contact you with how that might work with you and your child and how you might be a participant during your child's therapy session.

kiddo-video-hand-on-tablet-articlesize.jpg

How does telehealth work? Your clinician will send you an email link that you use to connect with them either on your phone, on an Ipad, on the computer or on a laptop. Your telehealth session will be as confidential as if you were in the Neuro Harmony office with your therapist. This way of connecting still allows you to meet with your therapist "virtually" at the same time as your usual session would be scheduled. A telehealth session will last the same amount of time, about 53 minutes. Your therapist will help you to get connected online with them and feel safe and comfortable during your session that it is a confidential way of having a session.

Does my insurance cover telehealth?  Because of the CoVid pandemic, insurance has changed many obstacles to billing for telehealth. March 19, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued an Executive Order  expanding telehealth services across the state as part of the continued effort to mitigate the CoVid19 crisis. Most insurances now cover telehealth services by any form even by telephone. Billing for telehealth is simple; we will bill your insurance just as if you were in our office having a session. You pay your normal copay or coinsurance for your session.

Is telehealth confidential? Neuro Harmony uses a HIPAA compliant platform that is confidential and approved by insurances. However, keep in mind that insurance has loosened their requirements for getting therapy to our clients. Neuro Harmony therapists will still contact you via email or phone to make sure you can get connected with our HIPAA compliant software. It will be easier than ever to have a session with your therapist.

Please see our Telehealth FAQ's link for many questions and answers.  If you have other questions, please feel free to contact us at [Please enable javascript.].




Holiday Fun with Sophie!

Dec 17, 2018

IMG_9219.jpgSophie doesn't always love getting dressed up, but she usually loves getting her picture taken. She loves coming to work no matter whether she is dressed in holiday colors or not!




Frequently Asked Questions

Oct 28, 2018

A pile of rocksIs therapy right for me?

Seeking out therapy is an individual choice. There are many reasons why people come to therapy. Sometimes it is to deal with long-standing psychological issues, or problems with anxiety or depression. Other times it is in response to unexpected changes in one's life such as a divorce or work transition. Many seek the advice of counsel as they pursue their own personal exploration and growth. Working with a therapist can help provide insight, support, and new strategies for all types of life challenges. Therapy can help address many types of issues including depression, anxiety, conflict, grief, stress management, body-image issues, and general life transitions. Therapy is right for anyone who is interested in getting the most out of their life by taking responsibility, creating greater self-awareness, and working towards change in their lives.

Do I really need therapy? I can usually handle my problems.

Everyone goes through challenging situations in life, and while you may have successfully navigated through other difficulties you've faced, there's nothing wrong with seeking out extra support when you need it. In fact, therapy is for people who have enough self-awareness to realize they need a helping hand, and that is something to be admired. You are taking responsibility by accepting where you're at in life and making a commitment to change the situation by seeking therapy. Therapy provides long-lasting benefits and support, giving you the tools you need to avoid triggers, re-direct damaging patterns, and overcome whatever challenges you face.

How can therapy help me?

A number of benefits are available from participating in psychotherapy. Therapists can provide support, problem-solving skills, and enhanced coping strategies for issues such as depression, anxiety, relationship troubles, unresolved childhood issues, grief, stress management, body image issues and creative blocks. Many people also find that counselors can be a tremendous asset to managing personal growth, interpersonal relationships, family concerns, marriage issues, and the hassles of daily life. Therapists can provide a fresh perspective on a difficult problem or point you in the direction of a solution. The benefits you obtain from therapy depend on how well you use the process and put into practice what you learn. Some of the benefits available from therapy include:

  • Attaining a better understanding of yourself, your goals and values
  • Developing skills for improving your relationships
  • Finding resolution to the issues or concerns that led you to seek therapy
  • Learning new ways to cope with stress and anxiety
  • Managing anger, grief, depression, and other emotional pressures
  • Improving communications and listening skills
  • Changing old behavior patterns and developing new ones
  • Discovering new ways to solve problems in your family or marriage
  • Improving your self-esteem and boosting self-confidence

What is therapy like?

Every therapy session is unique and caters to each individual and their specific goals. It is standard for therapists to discuss the primary issues and concerns in your life during therapy sessions. It is common to schedule a series of weekly sessions, where each session lasts around fifty minutes. Therapy can be short-term, focusing on a specific issue, or longer-term, addressing more complex issues or ongoing personal growth. There may be times when you are asked to take certain actions outside of the therapy sessions, such as reading a relevant book or keeping records to track certain behaviors. It is important to process what has been discussed and integrate it into your life between sessions. For therapy to be most effective you must be an active participant, both during and between the sessions. People seeking psychotherapy are willing to take responsibility for their actions, work towards self-change and create greater awareness in their lives. Here are some things you can expect out of therapy:

  • Compassion, respect and understanding
  • Perspectives to illuminate persistent patterns and negative feelings
  • Real strategies for enacting positive change
  • Effective and proven techniques along with practical guidance 

Is medication a substitute for therapy?

In some cases a combination of medication and therapy is the right course of action. Working with your medical doctor you can determine what's best for you. It is well established that the long-term solution to mental and emotional problems and the pain they cause cannot be solved solely by medication. Instead of just treating the symptom, therapy addresses the cause of our distress and the behavior patterns that curb our progress. You can best achieve sustainable growth and a greater sense of well-being with an integrative approach to wellness.

Do you accept insurance? How does insurance work?

To determine if you have mental health coverage, the first thing you should do is check with your insurance carrier. Check your coverage carefully and find the answers to the following questions:

  • Do I have biofeedback or neurofeedback benefits?
  • Do I have mental health insurance benefits?
  • What is my deductible and has it been met?
  • How many sessions per year does my health insurance cover?
  • What is the coverage amount per therapy session?
  • Is approval required from my primary care physician?
  • What is my co-pay amount for each visit?

Is therapy confidential?

In general, the law protects the confidentiality of all communications between a client and psychotherapist. No information is disclosed without prior written permission from the client. However, there are some exceptions required by law to this rule. Exceptions include:

  • Suspected child abuse or dependent adult or elder abuse. The therapist is required to report this to the appropriate authorities immediately.
  • If a client is threatening serious bodily harm to another person. The therapist is required to notify the police.
  • If a client intends to harm himself or herself. The therapist will make every effort to work with the individual to ensure their safety. However, if an individual does not cooperate, additional measures may need to be taken.



Everyday Brain Fitness Tips

Oct 1, 2018

  1. Eat chocolate - Dark chocolate, that is. While overindulging may not be the best for your waistline, adding a little dark chocolate to your diet does have its health benefits. Dark chocolate causes your brain to release dopamine, a chemical that improves overall brain function and improves your memory.
  2. Eat fish - While this one may not excite you as much as the previous “eat chocolate” recommendation, studies suggest that a diet rich in fish – especially fatty fish like salmon - can improve brain function.
  3. Exercise your peripheral vision - Yes, eyes can learn. Scientists have found that acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter in the peripheral nervous system, is crucial to focus and memory. By practicing peripheral vision exercises, you can reinvigorate the release of acetylcholine in your brain and improve your memory function.

    To practice, try this exercise the next time you’re sitting some place outside of your house, such as a restaurant, a bench at the mall, or the local park. With a pen and paper handy, stare straight ahead for several seconds and don’t move your eyes. Mentally note everything you can see without moving your eyes. When you believe you’ve taken note of everything, take out your pen and paper and write down everything you saw. Then, try the exercise again and see if you can add to your list.
  4. Play ball - Remember how much you loved to play ball as a kid? Well, you might want to take it up again. Throwing a ball up in the air and catching it, or better yet, trying your hand at juggling, can improve your hand-eye coordination and carries widespread brain health benefits.
  5. Exercise - Surely you’ve heard of the health benefits of exercise…but did you know there are health benefits for your brain too? Exercise brings with it benefits for the hippocampus, an important brain structure for learning and memory function. Exercise can even help your brain create new cells…so get that body moving!
  6. Rest up - Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to brain function. Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep have more trouble learning new information than those who are well rested. Moreover, sleeping well after learning something new helps your brain store that information and recall it at a later date. So for your long-term memory’s sake, catch your Z’s every night.
  7. Turn down the volume - As we age, our hearing ages with us, causing us to sometimes struggle to hear conversations. But you can train your ears to become sharper. The next time you’re watching TV, try turning it down a little from the volume at which you normally have it set. Concentrate and see if you can follow just as well as you did at the louder volume. Keep turning it down notch by notch, listening closely to hear the increasingly softer tones. By training your ears to listen more intently to lower volumes, you’ll find it easier to catch every word of day to day conversations.
  8. Do a jigsaw puzzle - While they may seem mundane, jigsaw puzzles are actually great for your brain. Choose one that is on the difficult side – at least 500 pieces. Then, on a rainy afternoon or whenever the mood strikes, set out to conquer your puzzle. Jigsaw puzzles require fine visual judgments about where pieces belong and entail mentally “rotating” the pieces, manipulating them in your hands, and shifting your attention from the small piece to the “big picture.” Besides, it’s rewarding to see your puzzle become a whole work of art. Congratulate yourself on a job well done!
  9. Make your hobbies harder - Do you already have a favorite pastime? From cooking to crossword puzzles, there are always things you can do to challenge yourself, pushing you outside your “comfort zone” by taking on something a bit more difficult than you’re used to. By putting higher demands on your brain, you will have to concentrate harder and put more effort into the activity at hand, re-engaging your brain’s learning ability.
  10. Walk on a rocky road - Before you ask, “Huh?” let us explain. Scientists believe that walking on uneven surfaces like cobblestones improves the vestibular system of the inner ear, which plays a central role in balance and equilibrium. Walking on a rocky road challenges the vestibular system in ways that improve its function, which translates into better balance.
  11. Visit a museum - Enjoy art? Natural history, perhaps? Take a guided tour of a museum or other interesting spot in your area. Pay careful attention to what the museum guide says and when you get home, try to recall what you learned and write down everything you remember. Besides getting some cultural enrichment, this activity engages your brain’s ability to receive and remember information, helping to improve cognitive function.
  12. Learn to play guitar - Or any instrument for that matter. And if learning to play an instrument has been on your to-do list for some time, some proven brain fitness benefits give you all the more reason to pick it up. Playing an instrument helps you exercise many interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movements, and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound). So dust off that harmonica (or piano, flute, banjo, etc) and make some music.
  13. Use your other hand - Whether you’re right-handed or left-handed, you probably find yourself doing day to day activities such as eating and combing your hair with your dominant hand. But try mixing it up a bit. Brushing your teeth is a good place to start. Try brushing your teeth with your subordinate hand (so your left if you’re right-handed) and keep practicing until you master it. While you may find it difficult at first, practicing an activity such as this can drive your brain to make positive changes. Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand!
  14. Memorize a song - Think of a song you like but one that you don’t know the words to. Make it a point to buy the CD/MP3/etc if you don’t already have it and listen to it as many times as it takes to write down all the lyrics. Then sing along - (if you’ve got stage fright, feel free to do this part when no one’s around). Once you’re able to sing the song word for word without the recording playing in the background, move on to the next song!

    Hopefully you find this brain exercise fun, but there is also some science behind it. By carefully listening to the song, your brain releases acetylcholine, a chemical that aids in understanding, thinking, and memory function. So whether it’s in the shower or at karaoke night, go ahead and sing your heart out. Your brain will thank you.

Adapted in part or in whole from the Hartford Insurance Company on Brain Fitness.