Train Your Brain

Solutions for Surviving Stressful Times
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Wow—talk about a curveball! That’s what one of my clients said at the beginning of the pandemic last year. Yes, no one saw that coming . . . the uncertainty, anxiety, disruption of so many of our routines. The loss of lives, of livelihood, and of the sense of personal stability that we all value.

So, here we are, nearly a year into this, with 2020 in the rearview mirror. And yet it feels like 2021 is offering up more of the same. Futurists are telling us that we will see more change in the next two years than we have seen in the last 10 years. The challenge for all of us is to accept ongoing change and shift our minds from what’s been lost to what is possible. This has significant implication for our mental and physical health and well-being.

So, what can we do? I believe we can train our brains to create new, generative, and sustainable behaviors and take charge of our health and well- being—for good.

Let’s start with a basic understanding of how our brains work during times like these. We have two neural networks: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), our “fight or flight” response, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is often called the “rest and grow” response. We live most of our lives in SNS mode. With the chronic stress of our current times, stress is multi- plied, making it difficult to have healthy practices.

The antidote to this debilitating state is activation of our PNS, where we experience positive physiological, emotional, psychological, and cognitive benefits. Being in this state activates the brain circuits associated with human flourishing—like creativity, problem-solving, inspiration, and possibility.

Great! But how? The good news: There is growing evidence that we can shape the wiring in our brains by learning to consistently activate the body’s PNS. The not-so-good news: While it is surprisingly simple, it does take commitment and work.
Here are a few practical, science-based ideas to get you started on your way to improved health and well-being.

• Focus on what’s important to you. This sounds clichéd, but by linking your behaviors and actions to your values and dreams, your PNS lights up.
• Connect to your strengths. This is a fundamental principle from positive psychology and fuels a critical mind-set shift that allows us to see what we have, not what we lack. Eliciting positive emotions like hope and gratitude builds resources in the brain that we can call on when we are in stress mode.

• Use appreciative language. An intentional shift in reminding people what we appreciate about them turns on the power switch in the PNS and creates an infectious response in others.

We are going to be living with increased stress, change, and anxiety for the long run. What I am suggesting here is simple and powerful. We are training our brain to become more resilient and adaptable, to activate the system that ameliorates the ravages of chronic stress and enables the body, mind, spirit, and heart to literally rebuild itself. This is the formula for thriving during uncertain times. DW


By Bobbie LaPorte

Bobbie LaPorte is CEO of Bobbie LaPorte & Associates, a consultancy focusing on helping leaders and organizations manage through uncertainty.

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