Your Brain In Quarantine
What we learned from those quarantined in Toronto during the SARS outbreak is that many experienced psychological distress including depression and PTSD afterwards. Research of those affected by natural disasters shows an increase in addiction and anxiety afterwards. Men were more prone to suicide after the 2008 stock market crash. Knowing this, what can we do to adapt and be as resilient as possible while social distancing continues?
Brain Health & COVID 19
The world is now struggling with illness, separation, loss of financial security and social distancing. There will be longer term effects. How can you prepare and protect against the fall out?
Practice Gratitude: this changes your brain to seek out what is working. The past few weeks have seen changes we never knew would happen and certainly not this quickly. By noticing where safety, support and nourishment are, our brains fire differently.
Lower Expectations: transitioning to working or schooling online is an enormous feat. Don’t expect to get it perfect or even close especially if you are doing both at once! Choose one thing to be successful at today and you’ll go to bed satisfied.
Don’t Multitask: as a full-time single parent entrepreneur I’ve tried it all. My brother gave me a tip when I was starting to practice online. He said, “the most successful, productive people do ONE thing a day.” Our brain works best this way.
Schedule in rest and play. This makes you more productive. Your brain needs creative breaks. Socializing looks different during COVID but planning a video call with a friend or scheduling in time to watch a comedy allows you to adapt and be more resilient.
Meditate: I often say this is just simple and intelligent. The research shows that when we take time to be with ourselves without distractions our bodies regulate. Every disease state whether physical or mental/emotional benefits. Your brain LOVES it!
Digital Breaks: turn off your notifications. Unplug for a few hours regularly or take a day each week to experience freedom from technology. Limiting how much information you take in from the news right now is really important for your well-being.
Stress, Light & Memory
When you open your eyes in the morning your stress hormones increase rapidly so that you are alert within thirty minutes of waking. If you wake up feeling tired, depressed or anxious then it’s telling us about your stress response. If your heart is racing then it’s likely that your cortisol awakening response (CAR) is running high. If feel burnt out you may have a dopamine deficiency or a blunted CAR. To know for sure I test. What you can do is experiment with a couple of the suggestions above. Make it really simple so you can do it.
Catecholamines are both neurotransmitters and hormones that your adrenal glands produces. They are released into the bloodstream when stress is high. Dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine regulate basic physiology like heart rate and breathing. They play a role in our recovery and resiliency. We can help them by noticing where stress levels are throughout the day. Do this by ‘shrinking the change’. This means start with one action that is easy for you to do and build on it slowly. Momentum is powerful.
Are you forgetting things or is your memory recall down? This could be a cue to turn down your stress response with a relaxation practice or another practice. Our brain is tied to these hormones in a number of ways. By ensuring your have an appetite and eating regular meals can trigger the parasympathetic response which protects your brain. Talking with a loved one, time in nature or moving your body can also do this. Strength training is especially effective because it tells our animal brain we are safe.
Other Health Consequences
Cortisol plays an important role in decreasing inflammation meaning every chronic disease is implicated. Stress also affects reproductive hormones and works closely with our metabolism. It is normal to have a cycle that is a little different this month or feel like you appetite has changed. Digestive symptoms may flare as well. This negatively impacts your immune system. Slowing down and tuning into your body will help. COVID may provide an opportunity to do this as normal activities are interrupted.
Bouncing back can happen if we prioritize a few healthy habits. The longer high stress levels go on without a break, the greater the consequences. Focusing on what we can control means a lot can happen. Our connection to the global community is felt more than ever right now. We can be a positive force if we put on our own oxygen mask first. Remember, our physiology is wired to endure times like this if we engage it in small ways often.