You did everything right. You stayed home, masked, vaccinated, distanced, ‘pivoted’ endlessly with family and work responsibilities, and stayed on top of the data and numbers. You bolstered those around you and did your best to remain positive, but almost two years into COVID-19, many of us are feeling the adverse effects of an unpredictable, ever-changing situation.
“We have no control over external circumstances such as a pandemic, but we know so much more now about how to manage the effects. Like most people, I’ve experienced feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, but taking conscious, directed action has made a real difference. We are so much more powerful than we know,” shares Stacy Cowan, Urban Legal Recruitment founder.
Neuroplasticity, our brain’s ability to adapt and rewire, may just be our best defense against the physical, mental, and emotional trauma caused by this pandemic.
Historically it was believed that the brain was fixed and limited to a finite number of neurons that don’t regenerate. Today we know through scientific research that our brains can reorganize and form new neural connections that make us more resilient and better at managing change and stress.
Here’s a simple analogy. You drive the same way home from work every day for years and are very familiar with the route. You know every stop and turn, and that makes the drive feel safe and predictable. When road construction forces you to take a new route you may initially be uncertain. Over time, however, you fall into the same comfortable familiarity with the new route as you did with the old one. Now, not only do you now have a second way to get home, you have increased your ability to respond to change and it won’t be so hard the next time you have to unexpectedly change your route.
Challenging life events happen to us all – whether related to work, family or a pandemic. These are some things we can do to increase our ability to do more than just survive using our greatest superpower – our brains.
Learning something different creates new connections between neurons and rewires our brains to adapt to novel situations. This happens every day on some level, but deeper learning boosts our neuroplasticity. Taking up a new hobby, learning a new language or musical instrument, travelling or channeling the artist/baker/gardener within all help the brain create new neurons and build new networks.
Next time you find yourself reacting with fear or anger to news or an event, STOP and make a conscious effort to engage your ‘thinking brain’ (prefrontal cortex) and move out of your ‘survival brain’. Our thinking brain allows us to view our (usually) overinflated fears with more clarity and make better decisions. Over time you will rewire your neural pathways to adopt the more conscious and logical response. This is not about seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses but about being aware of being hijacked by your survival brain.
Introduce practices that help you stay in the moment such as deep breathing, meditation, and massage. By focusing on the ‘now’, you are balancing your sympathetic (‘fight or flight’) and parasympathetic (restoration, rebuilding and repair) nervous systems and shifting into a calmer, clearer space. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness produces structural changes in the brain and new pathways associated with positive feelings.
Moving your body (ideally through natural spaces outdoors for maximum benefit) not only affects your physical health, it reduces stress, depression, and anxiety. If you absolutely can’t get outside, even 10 minutes of stretching or dancing around your office increases neural connectivity and gives you renewed energy and a clearer mindset.
Studies have proven that getting an adequate amount of sleep is essential. Sleep gives your brain a chance to reset itself and facilitate brain plasticity.
Most of us have never experienced the amount of upheaval wreaked by this pandemic. Our ability to anticipate and predict has been completely upended.
The upside is that the constant challenge of trying to adapt and readjust is increasing our brain plasticity. We are learning that being ‘trapped’ in our homes doesn’t mean we have to be trapped in a mindset of frustration, worry and anxiety. We CAN choose how we respond to circumstances outside our control.
Rewiring your brain takes time and hard work but will have lasting positive effects beyond the pandemic. Sometimes though, you can’t do it alone. Never hesitate to reach out for support, whether from close friends and family or from the many resources available.
Life. Career. Opportunity Awaits. If you have any questions, are considering a change, or just want to chat, we would love to hear from you.
At Urban Legal Recruitment, we have experienced, along with our clients, the impacts of COVID-19. We’ve made the necessary adjustments to ensure the safety of our team members and our clients.