A Requirement Of The 21st Century: Brain Hygiene
Updated: Sep 26, 2020
Like every other species, human beings are evolved to adapt to their environment. Our intelligence helped us survive the wild nature of the earth and went ahead to manipulate the environment for the benefit of humankind. Today the majority of us live in an artificial world that is very different from our ancestors' world.
While enjoying the conveniences of it, it would be wise to pay attention to the consequences of living in an environment we did not evolve for. For example, there used to be a time when people did not have toothbrushes, flosses, or dentistry. Why do you think our early ancestors did not have to worry about it but we do?
Let me tell you why: Tooth decay became common in humans when agriculture became widespread. With the introduction of carbohydrates and sugars to our diet, the age of the bad teeth began because the human tooth was not evolved to deal with that specific bacterial environment.
To counter the effects of our new diets on our dental health, we now regularly practice dental hygiene by brushing, flossing, mouth washing, etc. We do all these so that we can eat so that we don’t suffer from pain, and so that people find us attractive. And, so that we don’t torture others with our stinky breath.
Now let’s draw a parallel to another organ: the brain. Our brains evolved to adapt to our ancestors' world; a world that is very different than ours.
What happens to our brains in the age of high technology, constant stimulation, and constant stress?
What if this artificial world harms our brains like sugar harms our teeth? How would you know if it did?
The brain does not ache, we can’t see it, we can’t smell it; yet it affects everything about us. Our health, our performance, our emotional wellbeing, and our interactions with others are all governed by our brain.
What if the damage of this new world on our brain shows itself as physical pain in our bodies, emotional pain in our hearts, as professional pain in our performance and social pain in our interactions with others?
And what if there is something we can do about it?
Thanks to neuroscience, today we know that the experiences we are exposed to can change both the brain’s physical structure and functional organization. Our exposure to the external world, our actions and thoughts make little changes in our neural pathways non-stop. Whatever gets in, shapes the brain. That means if we select and regulate at least some of the experiences our brain is exposed to, we can intentionally reshape the brain to create better outcomes. We can adopt brain hygiene practices for our brains to function optimally in this novel environment like we adopted dental hygiene practices to adapt to our diet.
And if we can, I believe we should.