We work in a very competitive industry where tight deadlines, high complexity and continuous learning are the norm. Also, our work is 99% mental and 1% physical, and the physical part is just typing on a keyboard. This can lead to stressful situations and brain fatigue, you know that case when you need to solve a bug and it’s just a missing semicolon, a typo that’s staring at you or testing in the wrong environment.
We all know how to take care of our bodies. Eat healthy, exercise and sleep well. But how do we take care of our brain? First, we need to know a little more about how it works. Our neurons communicate with each other using synchronized electrical pulses. This generates brain waves which are categorized by frequency, and the predominant frequency determines our current brain state:
Our brain waves
a. Gamma Waves (100Hz – 32 Hz)
These waves are related to deep meditation state, the kind of state that Tibetan Buddhist monk achieve. It is also when our brains work at peak performance with increased memory recall, sensory perception and focus.
b. Beta Waves (32Hz – 12Hz)
This is the normal range when we are awake. It can be split between High Beta and Low Beta, depending on the frequency.
- Hight Beta (32Hz – 20Hz). This is often called the fight or flight state, on in which our body prepares to defend from a perceived threat. Then our mental functions like learning, problem-solving, and reasoning are inhibited, and it’s directly related to stress. This is a state we want to avoid. In this condition we make rushed decisions we usually end regretting.
- Low Beta (20Hz – 12Hz). It is associated with alertness, focus and concentration. It’s the state we want to be in when focusing on a logical problem to solve.
c. Alpha Waves (12Hz – 8Hz)
This is the resting state of the brain and it’s related to mental coordination, calmness, light meditation, mind/body integration and learning. Our brain is relaxed with increased communication between both hemispheres. It’s the best state for learning something new, and when we need to be creative.
d. Theta Waves (8Hz – 4Hz)
This is a deeply relaxed or deep meditative state and it also occurs during REM sleep.
e. Delta Waves (4Hz – .5Hz)
This is deep sleep state.
Some clues to navigate between states
The good news is that it is relatively simple to move from one state to the other.
- Transitioning to Alpha State
If you want to transition to Alpha state, you can close your eyes and take a few deep conscious breaths. This reduces sensory overload from our environment and increases the flow of oxygen to our brain cells, resulting in an increase of Alpha waves.
Petting a dog or a cat, or even watching fish swim also increases Alpha waves and help us calm down and relax.
- Transitioning to Theta State
For a deeper relaxation state, you can walk barefoot on the grass or on the ground. This releases any excess of electricity in our body, including our brain, and generates frequency waves between Alpha and Theta.
You can also try meditation. If you have never meditated, you can try One Moment Meditation or Headspace which provide easy to follow, short guided meditations.
- Transitioning to Beta State
If you need to be alert and focused, you can jumpstart your brain with a quick puzzle or crossword. It should be difficult enough, so our brain will concentrate. You can also try reading compelling books or articles. These two methods increase the Beta range waves. The key is to make our brain work, but without stressing it.
Need a break?
Also, you can use Binaural Beats to transition to any of these states. These are tracks that must be listened with headphones, that send a slightly different frequency to each ear. The brain perceives a third tone based on the difference of the frequencies and generates waves at the same rate of Hz. You can find a wide variety of Binaural Beats on YouTube and Spotify
So next time you feel stressed or tired and need a break, instead of smoking or having yet another cup of coffee, try some of the alternatives above and check out the difference.