3 Things You Should Never, Ever (Seriously Never) Do If You Want To Keep Your Brain Healthy

It's important to be intentional about what we let shape our mindset.

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Maintaining a healthy brain is probably one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of aging as slowly and healthfully as possible, but developing the necessary habits can be challenging.

There's a lot of conflicting advice out there, and knowing who to trust can be tough. But if we're going to take anyone's advice, a scientist who literally studies the brain would be someone it's wise to listen to.


Emily McDonald, a neuroscience consultant and researcher, shared three things that she will personally never do because she wants to protect her brain.



3 Things You Should Never Do If You Want To Keep Your Brain Healthy

1. Never watch negative TV shows or movies.

McDonald starts by saying that those late-night horror movie binges have got to go, as watching scary content can increase cortisol levels, which in turn messes with our sleep.


Despite these sometimes detrimental effects, around 10% of our population enjoys the reactions and feelings horror films give them.

Sociologist Margee Kerr told the Atlantic that this is mostly due to the intense relief we feel after watching horror entertainment. When we experience an intense reaction to horror, a positive feeling occurs. Think of it as a huge rise and a drastic fall.

Concordia University, St. Paul explains, “Horror entertainment can trigger the fight or flight response, which comes with a boost in adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine."

Our bodies have a negative reaction to the scariness of the film. Then, after seeing that we weren't in any immediate danger, our bodies release a huge sigh of relief.




Psychologist Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that while this seems harmless on the surface, “The release of adrenaline involves physiological changes like a racing heart and muscle tension, as well as mental changes, such as negative thoughts and catastrophic thinking.”

After the movie, we may become paranoid and have difficulty sleeping because our brain remains on high alert.

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Next, McDonald mentions that toxic TV shows need to be eliminated, as it reduces the amount of time we spend on healthier activities.

Exploring research on the effects of television viewing, journalist Jonathan Rothwell notes that what we watch can have a significant impact on our intellectual growth or stagnation, we well as on our perceptions.

Among the studies he references, one found that after six months of viewing, children who watched Sesame Street "gained 5.4 I.Q. points — a large effect — relative to the control group and showed stronger evidence of learning along several other dimensions."

Another suggests that those who watched Fox News showed an increase in Republican voting, while those who consumed MSNBC news showed an increase in Democratic voting.


All of this is to say, that what we consume can shape our thinking, as well as our behavior, so watching negative TV programs may lead to more negative thinking and behavior.

2. Never listen to music with emotions you don't want to align with.

McDonald states, “Listening to music activates neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to rewire.” She continues to explain that the words we sing are wired into our brains, invoking an emotional response. This can either be helpful or not helpful, depending on the type of music you listen to.



Research shows music can lead to rumination, writes board certified music therapist Roger Botello, MMT, MT-BC. This can be harmful, as dwelling on negative thoughts can contribute to depression and anxiety.


But don't delete your entire Taylor Swift playlist just yet! As the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media states, happy and upbeat music “can improve your mood, quality of life, and self-esteem.”

Just be mindful of the lyrics you sing and the music you listen to. Be sure your music reflects what you want to claim in your life.

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3. Never be judgmental of yourself or others.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned about mental health and mindset is that whatever you are judging other people about is linked to something you are judging about yourself internally,” states McDonald.


According to licensed therapist Laurie Leinwand, “When we judge people harshly, we use others as a basis for comparison... We don’t use our own goals and intentions as our yardstick or benchmark. Instead, we let others determine how well we’re doing."

The path of judgment is paved with dark roads that can quickly lead to a negative mindset, which can impact your mental health.

According to family doctor Hannah S. Packlam, "Not only can negative thinking adversely affect our mental health (by worsening anxiety and depression), but it can also affect our physical health (by raising blood pressure and making it more difficult to recover from illness)." So, how do we get out of this mindset?


Leinwand suggests that we should focus more on ways we can build ourselves up and foster positive connections with others.

"Use your judgment of others as a cue to check in with yourself and your thought processes," she recommends. "Ask yourself: Am I feeling insecure about something? Am I uncertain about where I fit in or afraid of not belonging? Do I need to develop something in me?"

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Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.