Explore what's next in brain health, including Dr. Amen's nootropic approach and the significance of achieving the flow state for optimal cognition. Contact us!
The brain is one of the most complex and important organs in the entire body. Research shows that the brain uses 20-30% of caloric intake, blood flow, and oxygen, yet it is only 2% of the body’s weight. As the controller and regulator of thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger, and more, the brain epitomizes the intersection between mental and physical health: what goes on in the brain on a biological level, impacts us on a psychological and emotional level.
This concept is the basis of new-wave wellness movements that strive to “biohack” the brain with nootropics, transcendental meditation, and the importance of getting your brain into “flow state” for optimal work ethic and mental health.
According to Medical News Today, “flow state” describes a mental state in which a person is “completely focused on a single task or activity.” This involves directing all attention towards said task and not experiencing many thoughts about themselves or their performance. This is sometimes referred to as being “in the zone.”
The term flow state was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, an influential psychologist in the field of positive psychology. Since then, the concept of flow state has become increasingly popularized as it references situations of productivity and mindfulness, which can empower people to thrive.
Although flow state is a newer term, many of us have likely experienced the phenomenon during activities before. Examples where flow state may be induced include:
During a state of flow, several changes take place in the brain, mainly the brain’s reward system begins to play an important role.
Studies have shown that levels of dopamine increase during a state of flow. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that supports feelings of motivation, pleasure, and reward while also suppressing “distracting” sensations such as hunger. This is likely why when you are “in the zone” focusing on something you are passionate about, you may realize you have forgotten to eat.
People in a state of flow have higher levels of dopamine, which could explain why they might not notice that they are hungry or tired.
A small-scale 2021 review argues that the brain’s locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system is also involved in flow. This neurological system helps regulate decision-making and engagement with tasks. Interestingly, this system seems to only regulate properly when high levels of engagement are met with a challenging task that matches your skill level. It is important to note that it is unclear whether entering a state of flow causes these changes or whether these brain changes cause or enable flow. It is possible that both are true.
Researchers have proposed two main theories for how flow affects the brain:
Transient hypofrontality hypothesis: This more popular theory suggests that executive function in the brain declines, leading to a decline to prevent self-focused thoughts, enabling immersion into a task.
Functional MRI studies reinforce this as there is evidence of lower levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex, a primary area of executive function, during flow state.
Synchronization theory of flow: Proponents of this theory believe flow state is characterized by improved communication between areas of the brain. The brain is better able to coordinate and control activities, this would mean higher executive functioning. Studies on this theory have used neuroimaging during hypnosis and meditation that show higher levels of activity in the frontal cortex.
In addition to flow state empowering you to focus on something meaningful or satisfying, there are other benefits to a state of flow including:
Positive psychology also links flow state to reduced stress levels, improved mental well-being, and more.
A lot of the time, gettting into a flow state happens by accident. You sit down, slowly become invested in what you’re working on, and you’re in the “zone.”
There are ways you can create the circumstances that encourage entering a flow state. First, experts recommend reflecting on what scenarios do you enter a flow state naturally, is it when you’re writing? Reading? Playing sports?
Next, think about the environment you are typically in: Is it in a quiet space? Do you like some background noise? What helps you focus naturally?
Lastly, note the mental state you are typically in when you get in the zone: you are likely alert, but not overly frustrated or hyperfocused.
Considering these three factors (type of task, environment, and mental state), can help you create a flow state naturally.
Experts also suggest allowing enough time (not forcing yourself to work on a time crunch) and eliminating or minimizing distractions.
Over the past couple of years, we have collectively begun to recognize the importance of brain health, especially with stars like Chris Hemworth taking time off work to rest as he discovers he’s at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
As many of us shift our attention to brain health, Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a psychiatrists, brain health expert, and New York Times bestselling author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, has become a leader in the field of psychological wellness.
Below are some of Dr. Amen’s top tips for brain health:
Nootropics are supplements, herbs, or foods that may improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity or motivation:
If you’re interested in supplementing with high-quality nootropics, consider FullScript, a highly trusted online dispensing platform.
Did you know that low blood flow is the number one brain imaging predictor of Alzheimer’s disease? This is in part why Alzheimer’s disease actually starts in the brain 30 to 50 years before you have any symptoms: it is a condition that happens slowly over time and low blood flow can be a major contributor.
Dr. Amen’s research shows that anything that negatively impacts blood flow is bad for the brain, which is why low blood flow to the brain is also associated with depression, ADD/ADHD, schizophrenia, and alcohol abuse.
Dr. Amen, along with other thought leaders in the field of health optimization, encourage the use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for brain health as this treatment empowers you to take in three times the oxygen you breathe on a regular basis, increasing the blood flow to the brain.
A study in the Journal of Neurotrauma showed that blood flow to the brain increased after one single hyperbaric session, and it went up significantly after 40 sessions.
By utilizing this cutting-edge technology, you have the potential to “change your brain,” and “change your life,” as Dr. Amen says.
Interested in booking a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy appointment or speaking with a Wellness Expert about what’s best for your brain health?