Brain, Cognition & Mental Health

These are some terms we hear all the time. People in the field know exactly what this is all about. Other people know that the brain is just a matter inside your cranium and when talking about mental health, they automatically think about how to stay sane in a world where the cumulus of information freaks everybody out. Cognition? What is that?

This Monday we are sharing some light on who we are as humans, how do we function neuroanatomically and how do we keep our brains safe.

The study of the brain is one of the most specialized and deep medical fields there are. Depending on the topic of interest we have the biological aspect (neuroanatomy), the study of behavior and mental processes (psychology), the study of nervous system disorders (neurology), we also have prevention, diagnosis, and cure of neurobiological pathologies (neurosurgery), diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders (psychiatry) and of course neuroscience, the study of the brain in-depth combining a series of medical and non-medical fields. 

Every one of us is different from several particularities, with a certain behavior sculpted in our childhood, certain character features, physical differences such as eye color, hair, skin, etc. But these differences make us who we are, unique. Practically this is the universe allowing us to be authentic.

 Everybody uses the word ego, practically very out of context. According to Freud ( father of psychiatry), human analysis consists of 3 very important interconnected steps. Id ( biological/anatomical matrix), Ego (representing the mental subconscious side) and Superego ( social side, outside of the human body). There is a direct and dependent connection around these 3 key indicators because one cannot exist without the other. And as we are so anchored in each of them we must nurture and protect each one by raising our consciousness around who we are (will discuss in-depth in another article). The ego mediates between the id and the superego. The id is trying to get you to do things like eat cakes and not go jogging, and the superego is trying to get you to make good decisions and be an upstanding person. So the id and the superego are always fighting with each other, and the ego steps in between the two. (Study.com, 2020)

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Now that we have shared some light around the subject we shall resize to the cell level of the brain. This way we will see how the id, ego and superego interconnection starts.

According to Oxford Medicine, the brain is the most complex organ in the human body. Comprising of two hemispheres, the brain is our central processing unit combining the somatosensory side, the part involving the nerves and chemical and electrical impulses with the motor side, the part enabling us to move, involving movement and action.  Among 100 billion nerves and 86 billion neurons, we are made of small electrical impulses that guide us to every single task we do each day. 

 How do we form neural connections and what is that all about?

 The most important part of the brain down to the cell level is the neuron. Being the core of our neuroanatomical existence, the neuron gives us the power to collect memories, to study, to work, to function, etc. Neurons can connect to about 10.000 other neurons changing electrical impulses through synapses, therefore, making a neural web. You can call that a memory.

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“Unlike other body cells, most neurons in the human brain are only able to divide to make new cells (a process called neurogenesis) during fetal development and for a few months after birth” according to Human Memory Online. 

Without the possibility of creating these patterns, we cannot develop normally and have the life we dream of. There are a series of diseases referring to that which I will only name and discuss in-depth in another article. So here we have aphasia, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, cerebral atrophy, etc.

The neuron is a highly excitable cell that sends information by electro-chemical signaling to other neurons in the brain. “Estimates of the human brain’s memory capacity vary wildly from 1 to 1,000 terabytes (for comparison, the 19 million volumes in the US Library of Congress represent about 10 terabytes of data)” says The Human Memory. 

Consisting of ions of sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium, the neuron has an electrical activity that can be displayed as a waveform also known as a brain wave or brain rhythm. Due to the existence of these chemical elements the activity in the brain is not singularly electrical but electro-chemical. Therefore we assist in the formation of electro-chemical connections between neurons. The information is being transferred through neurotransmitters that contain the chemical information passed by from one neuron to the other. 

 What is cognition?

 Knowing all this we can now talk about cognition. It is the mental process of acquiring and practicing knowledge and understanding through experiences and senses. We can also refer to cognition through other terms such as perception, discernment, awareness, apprehension, learning, intelligence, reason, reasoning, thinking, etc. 

 This term is analyzed from a variety of spectrums. We have linguistics, neuroscience, computer science, biology, neurology, psychiatry, anesthesia, etc. All these areas are explained and studied under one big umbrella called cognitive science which is served as an academic discipline among others in medical school or else.

 As we have highlighted how does the thinking process starts anatomically with the neurons and neural webs, we can now go in-depth with a general approach inclining to the social side of cognition.

 The human cognitive cumulus is made of the conscious and subconscious, abstract and concrete, intuitive and conceptual. We talk about processes as memory, association, problem-solving, critical thinking, formation, pattern recognition, language, attention, mental imagery, and recent emotion. Originally, the emotion was not studied under cognition. It is known that at the moment research is undertaken to examine the cognitive psychology of emotion, methods of cognition under emotions also known as metacognition.

 We hear so often people talking about mental health, being safe and protecting our minds. We see business people running ads and writing articles with nothing conclusive. Some people know that having a relaxed work ambient and a good professional – personal life balance will keep everything in place. That is true, I could not agree more. But where does it all start? How do we nurture mental health? How do we keep a brain safe?

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 Having a good, in-depth knowledge of self, aka your cognitive process, will allow you to understand the inner mental processes transiting under the roof of your head. Therefore you will be much more aware of what you can or cannot do so you can set targets and improve. Be aware of what you know and what you don’t, setting new learning outcomes. It will make you aware of your natural state and current condition forcing you to higher standards and make you want to outgrow.

 But what are the exact processes or actions we should take to make sure we enhance our cognitive process and evolve?

 Based on A. Romila, a Romanian psychiatrist, nobody is born savvy, it comes to the process of maturity and understanding of sacrifice, having a purpose and defining attention to be able to learn or pursue any educational activity. Therefore the processes prior mentioned are extensive reading, exposing your thoughts artistically, writing and expressing your mind, choosing an entourage wisely, making mistakes, apply multiple tries to any action, do not back up, always insist, be self-taught, ask as many questions as you can, work hard. 

 There is a balance in which we can accomplish al these. Social activities either compulsory or optional such as school, reading clubs, drama plays, extracurricular activities, etc., might complete and own up to only 50% of your cognitive maturity. But you need more than that to fulfill your dreams. Sometimes the energy you put yourself by being aware is the most important part of the entire cognitive-enhancing process.

 Psychotherapy, psychiatry, and psychology highly talk about lifestyle as a decisional point in setting or establishing a diagnosis together with other series of symptoms. What do I mean by lifestyle? It is the cumulus of activities and factors that represent who you are, what you do and it can talk a million words about yourself with you not saying a single word. What sports you do or you don’t, the words you say or you do not say. The dreams you talk about and the actions you take or not for reaching those dreams. Hating on people or not could, write a book about your behavior. So it is simple to discover somebody by answering only a few questions.

 Making sure you have an organized and active life, you will, therefore, ensure mental health. This way you will also ensure homeostasis, a natural balanced form of any organism. (Haematology, Hoffbrand, 2020)

 Knowing that as humans we are supposed to feel down, to be happy, to have feelings, to accept defeat, to lose, to cry, to learn, to laugh, to suffer, to endure, etc., We must understand that maintaining ourselves in balance, could mean to keep ourselves in the normal state between depression and mania. We must understand the role of hard work and sacrifice. This is the natural human state according to Carl Jung. Life is about having a bit of all. People running constantly after infinite happiness are prone to mental pathologies because that is a chase that will never end.

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Other activities could improve cognition, therefore, mental health. Try as much as possible to do outdoor activities, recent studies show that it improves metabolism with 90% as well as your ability to learn faster and more due to the big amount of oxygen (O2) running through your brain. Eat healthier or study ketogenic diets as well as intermittent fasting. It is shown to improve digestion therefore mental activity studied through specialized techniques such as EEG, MEG, fMRI, PMT, TMS. ( Oxford Medical, 2020)

 How do we know we do not do the right thing?

 Feel anxious, feel more irritable, have trouble concentrating, energy loss, changing sleep pattern, finding no fun in anything, the low mood in the mornings, loss of interest. These are some of the key indicators you are having some contraceptive measures to take. These are also symptoms of depression. These are the results of having a passive, not active life. Watching Netflix all day will eventually lead to this. We need real human interaction, we need to go outside and run, go to the gym, go boxing, etc.

Feeling bored is a result of not having a plan, not having boundaries, something to fight for, a hobby, something healthy and sane to keep you grounded and active. The answer I am bored with the question of how are you is a direct decisional and describable factor about you!

Concluding the topics we have described today we can realize that our mental health comes down to the function of our brain and the food intake and activities. It is important to ingest high vitamins and minerals to support our neural activity, stay active and keep our brain trained like a muscle. Engaging in social activities, hobbies, games, sports, we ensure a high metabolic rate which translates in better cognitive processes, better learning outcomes, and an enlightened power to accumulate information.

The power of having a purpose or a dream can change your entire day to day activity, mounting you to be the active person you always wanted to be. Think about the times when you had a vacation planned the next day, you could not sleep the night before from pure ravishing excitement. The sense of purpose changes your entire processing making you aware, responsible, willing, active, energetic, powerful, insightful, etc.

Protecting your brain functions also ensures your mental health with its wide spectrum of significance down from the neuroanatomical level to the social level. So now knowing some of your anatomical processes you start asking yourself some questions. Am I doing enough? Am I reading enough? Am I socially active enough? ( Now this is a wide controverted theme, being on social media, does not mean you are socially active, on the contrary.) Eat better, do sports, engage yourself in activities of all kinds. You will start seeing the benefits.

References:

Longstaff, A., 2011. Neuroscience. London: Taylor & Francis.

Wilson, S. and Bruce, A., 1955. Neurology. London: Butterworth & Co.        

World Health Organization. 2020. Mental Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.who.int/mental_health/en/> [Accessed 20 April 2020].

Mental Health Review Journal, 1997. The Mental Health Foundation: Race and Mental Health Development Programme. 2(1), pp.28-28.

Yarzagaray, L. and Linardakis, N., 2000. Neuroscience. New York: McGraw-Hill, Health Professions Division.

OXFORD MEDICAL PUBLICATIONS., 1907. Oxford Medical Publications. Henry Frowde; Hodder & Stoughton: London.

Schilder, P., n.d. Psychotherapy.

Romila, A., 2004. Psihiatrie. București: Editura Asociației Psihiatrilor Liberi din România.

The Human Memory. 2020.Bra

in Neurons & Synapses | Action Potentials & Neurotransmission

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Dr. Ananya Mandal, M., 2020. 

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OutLife. 2020. 5 Ways To Improve Your Mental Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.outlife.org.uk/fs149-5-ways-to-improve-your-mental-health?gclid=CjwKCAjwkPX0BRBKEiwA7THxiCZ15wFHQA56opGTZTIfp53rpefeGILBCKHnnSE0H5DAwkpFdSMm5xoCHrsQAvD_BwE> [Accessed 20 April 2020].

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