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Neuroscience Says Doing These Activities Will Help Keep Your Brain More Focused

With technology ruling our lives, you can reset your overstimulated brain during the day with these excellent tech-free activities.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 12 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Technology has made life so much easier and more convenient. I was literally speechless the first time I deposited a check to my bank from my smartphone.

But technology, unfortunately, has also made life more challenging in ways we never imagined. Studies have been saying for years that our frantic need (addiction, really) to stay hyper-productive and connected 24/7 is causing our brains to be overstimulated. Think about it: Do you wake up and the first thing you do is check your email?

This constant pursuit of connectivity is actually causing our brains to lose mental focus. If you went to be tired and after seven hours of sleep you're waking up tired, your brain is drained. Emerging evidence says rest and renewal for our brains is crucial if it's to stay sharp, focused and productive during the day.

Just as our sleeping brains have 90-minute cycles, where we move from light to deep sleep and back out again, science discovered that this cycle repeats itself during our waking hours as well. It's been suggested that for every 80-120 minutes, we need to take a 10-minute break to calm down our brain activity.

Science recommends countless ways to help the brain rest and renew. Try putting these techniques into daily practice.

Get into the daily practice of downtime.

Counter-intuitive, yes. But it's what your brain needs during the normal course of your busy routine. Some of these brain-calming activities can take as little as 5 to 10 minutes:

• Practice mindful meditation.

• Listen to music or even practice playing a musical instrument.

• Look at artwork.

• Be around people who will make you laugh.

• Have positive conversations with friends (negative conversations appear to overly activate your brain).

• Take lots of breaks.

• Take a hot shower or bath.

• Go on a short nature walk.

Take a power nap.

The New york Times reported in 2013 that daytime naps boost performance. In studies mentioned in the article, when night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap -- and slept an average of 19 minutes -- they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time, says The Times.

Take a technology break.

Do you suffer from FoMO? Eric Barker of Barking Up the Wrong Tree fame explains the definition according to research:

...the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you're missing out--that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.

FoMO (Fear of Missing Out), according to Barker, affects nearly three quarters of young adults. So if you find yourself checking social media like a nervous twitch so you don't feel out of the loop, you probably suffer from FoMO. Stressing the gravity of the issue, the word was even added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

Better yet, take a 30-day digital detox program.

If your FoMO has reached critical mass, in the most extreme case, you may need a digital detox program. Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, author and blogger, developed her own 30-Day Tech Detox. She outlines her program in Forbes. Here's Day 1:

Pay attention to and internally note every time you feel the impulse or hear the thought to check one of your devices or computer. When you notice this, ask yourself, "Am I checking out of habit?" and "Is this checking necessary right now?" If the answer is "Habit" or "Not Necessary," then repeat to yourself "Stop" and do just that. Simultaneously, designate three times in the day when you are allowed to check your device, whether necessary or not.

Try gratitude.

How do you focus your attention away from your smartphone and not feed your addiction to checking status updates every ten minutes? You appreciate and pay attention to the real world around you.

Eric Barker, in his Time.com article, puts it like this:

Look around. What good things might you be taking for granted? Home? Family? Friends? Now take a couple seconds to imagine those were taken away from you. How would you feel? Bad things happen to us randomly, right? So to some degree, you are lucky to have what you do. Does this exercise sound silly? Research shows it works. Mentally subtracting cherished moments from your life makes you appreciate them more, makes you grateful and makes you happier. In fact, gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. So maybe it's time to look at the good things you take for granted in life rather than your Facebook wall. Turn notifications off.

Have digital wind-down nightly rituals.

A National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll found that 95 percent of Americans use technology within the last hour before lights out. Our brains pay the price for these late-night tech fests. It's important to learn what brain-calming activities you personally find relaxing and enjoyable, and which ones simply overactivate your brain.

Try these digital wind-down ritual tips every night:

• Unplug one to two hours before bed to allow your brain a chance to unwind and get ready for sleep.

• Replace tech with some invaluable me-time that includes reading, writing, praying or meditating.

• If you read, make sure it's a paper book, and one written by an author that you like and have read before so that the style and topic is predictable for using less brain power.

• Listen to music that is also very familiar, in fact, so familiar that you feel you can hum the tune in your sleep. Don't listen to anything new for the same reasons; it will likely lead to more brain activation as you try to learn the tune and the words, keeping you from falling asleep.

• You'll find some television shows relaxing and others invigorating, so use your best judgment.

• Try a crossword puzzle, if it feels brain-calming. Again, use your best judgment.

• Store all digital devices in an area of the house other than the bedrooms.

• Use an alarm clock rather than your smartphone as a wakeup device.