By Jo Britton, Certified Neurosculpting® practitioner
This week I want to talk to you about your poor pandemic brain. Yes, it’s a thing in case you’re not aware. And it’s likely to be affecting your performance.
Because if, at times, you’re finding yourself struggling a bit more than you were – perhaps with an inability to focus, you’re getting more easily distracted or overwhelmed or maybe you’re forgetting appointments, not finishing tasks, have brain fog, losing your train of thought mid-sentence or just generally feel like you’re losing the plot, then you may have pandemic brain.
Neuroscientists, neurobiologists and neuropsychologists have been investigating how the pandemic may have altered our brains in the last 16 months.
This is both physically in those that have received treatment for serious Covid infections. And mentally as a result of the stress, social distancing, unpredictability and uncertainty we’ve been experiencing.
They’ve discovered that many of those receiving treatment for serious Covid infections have shown a reduction in grey matter volume. Our grey matter is a major component of our central nervous system which allows us to control movement, memory and emotions.
Additionally, research conducted by Barbara Sahakian, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge on the effects of social isolation and loneliness on people’s brains during the pandemic, has revealed changes in volume seen in the following regions of the brain:
– Temporal lobe – creating and preserving both conscious and long term memory
– Frontal lobe – controls cognitive skills such as emotional expression, problem solving, memory, language, judgement and sexual behaviours
– Occipital lobe – visual processing
– Subcortical regions – social functions
– Amgydala – generally regulates emotions such as fear and aggression and is involved in applying emotional meaning to memories
– Hippocampus – storing long term memory
This is profound.
The unrelenting chronic stress of the pandemic may be at the root of a lot of these changes in the brain.
The stress we’ve been experiencing in the form of negative emotions such as fear, anger and frustration for instance all play a role in arousing the sympathetic nervous system.
Adrenalin and cortisol (the stress hormone) are pumped around the body. This prepares us for fight or flight. When this happens our pre-frontal cortex (the executive functioning part of the brain involved with problem solving, rational thinking, creativity, compassion and empathy – the bit I nick name our Einstein genius) goes off-line.
This would explain those feelings of brain fog, a mental slowing down, overwhelm, inability to focus on things we’d normally be able to focus on.
Here’s the thing:
We’re not supposed to sustain these levels of stress in the body for prolonged periods. Yet the prolonged nature of the pandemic has been a massive contributor to this.
We also know from neuroscience that prolonged exposure to cortisol not only increases risk of things like heart disease as well as anxiety and depression but our cognition is affected too.
And chronic stress has been found to kill brain cells and even shrink the size of the prefrontal cortex .
What can you take from this and put into action?
Being able to use strategies to down regulate stress are not only important to our performance but also to our long-term health.
Practise building a more resilient brain.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience in the brain means protecting against stress-induced changes.
From a neurobiological perspective, resilience is the ability to modulate and constructively harness the stress response.
But resilience is not an on-off switch. And some of us are genetically born with naturally more resilience than others. However, we can learn how to be more resilient.
How can you build brain resilience?
There are different ways to do this, and research has suggested that meditation and mindfulness practices really help. Studies have shown that meditation over just an 8 week period reduced the inflammation response caused by stress.
Neurosculpt brain resilience
In light of this, I’m going to introduce you to Neurosculpting® in more detail. It was something that I turned to which helped me so profoundly that I trained and certified in the practice. Now it helps my clients to improve their personal performance.
In Neurosculpting® think brain training, rewiring, performance optimisation and flow all within a 5-step guided meditation process.
It takes a whole brain approach enabling you to disrupt or release neural patterns that aren’t serving you well (such as stress, fear, anxiety) and script more supportive and empowering ones.
In steps one and two, we calm the fear centre of the brain by focusing on the breath, activate our prefrontal cortex in ways that our PFC likes through curiosity, novelty and humour. This creates heightened neuroplasticity in the brain (neuroplasticity is the way our brain learns things so we don’t have to relearn them). There a big health benefits of these first two steps too as you down regulate stress and decrease inflammation, bring digestion on-line, slow your heart rate, deepen your breath and relax your muscles.
In step 3 we look at the story (the neural pattern) that has been activating maybe your stress or an unpleasant feeling. There’s also a particular way that we do this so that it change what it does to your body, nervous system and your brain. And we use the two hemispheres of the brain activating in an alternating pattern. This creates more cross talk across the midline of the brain, helping us to either break or change a neural pattern or establish a new one.
In step 4, we exercise Hebb’s law of neuroplasticity and use the body creating a motion and tap where you perceive you are releasing that unhelpful pattern
In step 5 we give the experience a name to associate a linguistic reference to your experience.
Steps 4 and 5 provide for more retrievability inside or outside the Neurosculpting® process in every daily life ie. Tap the body and say the name of your experience in daily life to retrieve the pattern.
Want to try out the power of Neurosculpting® to improve your performance?
It is helping my clients to optimise their performance without holding back and burning out.