Intellectual wellness: Caring for the super-computer
By Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, Chief Happiness Officer, VETgirl
In today’s VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl’s Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW reviews intellectual wellness. How do we care for ourselves in veterinary medicine?
When we think about wellness, it makes sense that we might default to thoughts about physical health and emotional balance… but the key here is “thoughts,” recognizing that the degree to which we exercise our minds and deploy our attention toward fulfilling and challenging endeavors is highly correlated with how well be feel in all other aspects of our lives. “Intellectual wellness,” then, is comprised of intellectual/creative stimulation, as well active participation in scholastic, cultural, and community endeavors that allow us to both learn and teach across the lifespan.
Active learning, which is often triggered by novelty and meaning, puts the ruminative mind on pause. The ruminative mind, while not always problematic, is the seat of “stewing and brewing” about the past and the future – and stewing usually produces discontent. Active learning, on the other hand, focuses us on the present, allows us to pay attention to the emergence of pattern and meaning, and put us in an inherently less distracted mind state. Less distracted = more present, and more present often makes us more productive and more cognitively, socially, and emotionally healthy. Exercising our minds in a positive manner is therefore correlated with better overall health over the life course.
So how do we achieve intellectual wellness?
Those who choose to work in an intellectually challenging field will already be a step ahead, particularly if they are pushing themselves to regularly attain new knowledge (the
dictum of “lifelong learning” comes in handy here). There are other ways we can intentionally deploy our minds toward meaningful (and healthful) challenge, though, including:
• Exposing your mind to novel and interesting stimulation. Listen to new music, explore a museum, read a [GASP!] non-professional book for pleasure, or watch a documentary. Let your mind stretch beyond the bounds of its usual diet.
• Exploring an issue from a different perspective. In what is often described as a highly polarized cultural environment, we can find ourselves “dug in” with our own views. Challenging yourself to analyze and understand more than one side of a personal, professional or political issue is therefore considered a ‘high intensity workout’ for your brain. Remember that understanding does not have to equate with agreement – but it can make our minds more limber.
• Engaging in brain play. Puzzles, trivia, and card/board games are great for building critical thinking and strategy – and they also give our brains a break from high stakes, sometimes chaotic professional work.
• Taking up a new hobby. The act of learning about something new and then putting that learning into practice is great for building new neural pathways. And neither the learning, nor the hobby itself, need to be labor or time intensive. A weekly piano or cooking lesson, or even researching how to train for a 5k, can engage multiple parts of the mind simultaneously – and as we practice a new skill, we cultivate focus and build mastery (which are great for cognitive, emotional and physical health).
• Sharing your knowledge with others. Teaching others, whether formally or informally, is socially useful and intellectually useful (to the teacher as well as the student). Sharing knowledge imparts it, of course, but the two-way exchange of information and feedback also stretches our communication and critical thinking skills. Remember that a growing mind is a happy mind, and a great deal of learning happens in discussion.
• Getting creative. Creating something new is a form of play for many people, and creative play generates both new thoughts and new solutions. Creative play can include gardening, painting, woodworking, writing, cooking… just about anything generative builds intellectual wellness.
• Eating a healthy diet. Why is a note on diet included in a blog post on intellectual wellness? While there is much left to learn about the gut-brain connection, science indicates that fuel that is good for your gut and heart is *probably* going to enhance your brain’s ability to process, remember and integrate new information. A diet that is best for overall health and wellness tends to lean heavily on fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains while minimizing sugars, processed foods, and red meat.
Busy professionals often struggle with finding time to fit wellness-related activities into their already-packed daily lives. However, even professional thinkers (a category under which veterinary professionals fall) can benefit from stretching their minds in new and meaningful ways – and these ways don’t have to strain your schedule. Making small changes to your daily routine in ways that intentionally build curiosity, focus, and understanding can yield big rewards in both short- and long-term wellness.