• Amber ANN LISW-CP, MPH, CHES

Reducing Cognitive Debt Part 1 - The Power of Mindfulness

Updated: Jul 11




Welcome to Part 1 of the Reducing Cognitive Debt Series in Honor of BIPOC Mental Health Month! Part 1 explores Mindfulness as a tool to reduce Cognitive Debt. Are you new to the term Cognitive Debt? Checkout the introductory Reducing Cognitive Debt Post to learn more.

What is Mindfulness? How does it reduce cognitive debt?

Mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” (Oxford, 2020) Mindfulness plays a key role in reducing cognitive debt.

Mindfulness has been shown to increase brain volume and neuroplasticity, two indicators of abundant cognitive resources. Mindfulness may help prevent thinning of the frontal cortex of the brain which may reduce age-related memory loss - a potential consequence of cognitive debt. (2)

Mindfulness promotes neuroplasticity or the development of new neural pathways in response to experiences such as mediation. Mindfulness related neuroplasticity includes more cognitive flexibility, improved emotional regulation, heightened creativity and innovativeness, higher levels of well-being, and more empathy due to increased levels of alpha and theta wave activity. (5) Better emotion regulation can include better control over negative thinking. Reduced negative thinking and the increase of cognitive resources through neural pathway development can offset cognitive debt.

How to Practice Mindfulness:

1. Guided Meditation

The Liberate Mediation App offers guided meditations designed for the BIPOC experience.

Meditation reduces cognitive debt by improving cognitive resource consuming conditions such as depression and anxiety. Meditation may also directly reduce age-related memory loss which is a risk factor associated with cognitive debt. (1) Meditation improves sleep. (3) Sleep allows our brain to remove toxins (4), which is important to maintaining cognitive resources and functions.


2. Grounding Exercise

Try out the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique:

5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you.

4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you.

3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear.

2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.

1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste.

This technique can help you tune into your present environment. It is useful in de-escalating cognitive resource consuming thought processes and events to include panic or anxiety attacks.

3. Mindful Breathing or Breathwork.

Try a 4-7-8 paced breathing exercise:

  • Inhale through your nose for 4 counts

  • Hold for 7 counts

  • Exhale through your mouth for 8 counts. You may add a swoosh sound to your exhale for enhancement.

Interested in taking your breathwork to the next level, check out my sister in wellness, Jasmine Marie of Black Girls Breathing!

Black Girls Breathing defines breathwork as “not your average meditation. it is a powerful active meditation technique used to usher stagnant energy out of the body, help acknowledge and release difficult emotions and traumas, and decrease anxiety and stress by reframing the nervous system’s response to triggers; thereby creating space for more creativity, self-trust, self-love, and the ability to be your own healer.”

Breathwork benefits to include releasing difficult emotions and traumas and decreasing stress and anxiety help free up cognitive resources consumed by anxious and stressful thoughts or traumas, thus reducing our cognitive debt.

Be sure to follow @blackgirlsbreating on Instagram for information about free virtual breathwork sessions and breathwork sessions in your area (when it is safe)!



Sources:

1. Khalsa DS. Stress, Meditation, and Alzheimer's Disease Prevention: Where The Evidence Stands. J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;48(1):1-12. doi:10.3233/JAD-14276


2. Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., McGarvey, M., Quinn, B. T., Dusek, J. A., Benson, H., Rauch, S. L., Moore, C. I., & Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893–1897. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.wnr.0000186598.66243.1


3. Martires J, Zeidler M. The value of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of insomnia. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2015;21(6):547-552. doi:10.1097/MCP.0000000000000207

4. Understanding Sleep, NIH 2019


5. Widdett, Richard, "Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness Meditation" (2014). Honors Theses. Paper 2469

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