Staying Sane While the World Goes Crazy
May 29, 2020 05:54PM
By Annalise Combs
One morning we woke up and our reality had been turned upside-down while we slept. Our job, family, shopping, dining and other familiar routines were now menacingly dangerous for who knows how long. Thankfully, nightmares don’t last forever, and neither will the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, it’s important to maintain a healthy perspective and apply some self-healing practices to stay on an even keel. Here, North Texas Brain health experts give us some tips and strategies.
Nearly half the workforce reports burnout, and parenting, too, is a high-stakes job. Chronic stress increases the size of the amygdala (involved in the fight-or-flight response), causes premature aging and reduces connections necessary for memory, learning, critical thinking, attention and emotional regulation. Self-care is crucial to mitigate the damage of toxic stress. Here are some strategies to help:
Be mindful and mindless: Burnout is an accumulation of inconspicuous disappointments. Thus, mindfulness, or being present in the moment, is central to gathering an internal, nonjudgmental weather report. Doing so while moving the body in rhythm with our breath adjusts neurological chemistry and boosts oxygen and blood flow to the brain. Exercise enhances attention, motivation, learning, memory and mood, and provides sensorimotor input that improves the body-brain communication. Conversely, sometimes it is essential to stop thinking. Research demonstrates this is when we maximize creativity and enjoy “Aha!” perspectives.
Nurture relationships: Laugh, have fun, and share emotions to deactivate the amygdala.
Journal: Celebrate victories, reframe setbacks as growth opportunities and practice gratitude to reduce stress and resolve conflicts. As a bonus, this fine motor task bolsters self-regulation.
Reconnect with a purpose: Write down commitment dates for engaging in hobbies or causes that set our heart on fire but have been sacrificed.
“I am overwhelmed and don’t know if I can even begin,” is a warning that our well-being is at stake. Take baby steps. We are significant and deserve to find wholeness again.
Heather Wells is the executive director of Brain Balance of Southlake and Mansfield. For more information, call 682-400-4930 or [email protected]
We are continually inundated with information; much of it unsettling, with COVID-19 developments and economic forecasts evolving each day. Many of us have become news junkies, glued to our screens as we try to make sense of it all. We are continually stuffing ourselves with information. Too much of it overloads the brain, impeding brain efficiency, mental alertness, decision-making and fluid intelligence. And the more we take in, the shallower our thinking, the lower our logical reasoning ability and the less likely we are to act wisely.
In effect, our mental agility and active decision-making capacity get mired by having to sift through excessive data. To make matters worse, much of the news is negative and frightening—and that increases our cortisol (stress) levels and builds counterproductive pathways in the brain, hindering our ability to regulate fear and anxiety, as well as our capacity to imagine a better future.
The key to staying informed and brain health is to limit what we take in. The brain responds more effectively when presented with bite-size amounts of objective information that allow us to weigh both sides.
We can feed our brain and strengthen the right neural connections by putting ourselves on a healthy “information diet”. Ration daily intake of negative news; for example, set a time in the morning and early evening to turn off news notifications on all devices for the rest of the day. Nourish the brain by consuming positive stories and having non-COVID conversations at mealtimes. Treat ourselves to some “dessert” by imagining days beyond this time. This kind of possibility thinking actually helps us stay resourceful and flexible in a changing environment.
It’s a paradox that more information can make us less able to process, understand and act, but the science is clear.
Dr. Sandi Chapman is the chief director of The Center for Brain Health-The University of Texas At Dallas. For more information, call 972-883-3400.