Our brains echo our behavior. An example: When we repeatedly use our phones to save passwords, pictures, and homework reminders, our brain pays attention. It sees how little we need it to for memory, so it starts tuning out instead of snapshotting our most precious moments.
And when we exercise, our brain sees us working hard and follows suit. It opens the floodgates, pouring in chemicals that lift our mood and sharpen our focus. It produces a Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) which is a protein that literally make us smarter. And for it’s final set, it hatches millions of new brain cells, strong safeguards defending us from destructive cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Reading requires the involvement of many different parts of the brain- the temporal lobe, the frontal lobe, the angular and supramarginal gynus. Do you need to know what these things do? No. What you do need to know is that that reading a good book restrings all these disparate parts together, parts that don’t even know how much they really need each other until they start communicating and collaborating to create new capacities for memory and empathy and critical thinking, stuff they never dreamed they could achieve.
Arts and Crafting:
Draw, paint, sculpt, quilt, knit, weave, collect. Little research has been done to prove theses hobbies hold any cognitive perks; early studies suggest they do, but we still aren’t sure how. But they do. Oh my Lord they do. And I should know. They saved me once.
When I was locked down in the eighth ring of anxiety- I tried to write my way out. This was a mistake. What I had intended was to take the crazy out of my head and into words, onto the page. I would then read them, these wild thoughts, and laugh at them. See them for what they were, which was, irrational. unsubstantiated. ludicrous. But what ended up happening was I made them into echoes. I gave my thoughts ink and became painfully introspective, always always always thinking about my anxiety, thinking about how to get out of it, worrying I never would.
The visual arts invited me to stop. As I spent hours drawing and painting my pictures, my brain began forging a new channel, redirecting all the energy I had been giving my anxiety towards creativity, instead. I went thoughtless. I went meditative. I learned the silent sound of healing.
A year after I began, I enrolled in a slew of art classes at my university. By my junior year, I was a studio art minor, a finalist in a school wide art competition for a sculpture I had created, and taking the first steps on the other side of my healing. Again, I’ll say it: this saved me.
Image credit: ME. Made this my senior year in one freak accident of a day. Didn’t qualify in the finals, but it remains the painting I’m most proud of.