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Seven Tips From Neuroscience For Dealing With COVID-19 Stress

The brain excels at spotting threats in our environment but decision-making suffers

While many of us are used to managing stress and change in our workplace and daily lives, the layers of uncertainty and volatility the pandemic has created, have intensified the amount of stress we are all facing. This means even if you had good strategies to manage pressure before the pandemic, the unrelenting uncertainty and related insecurities are causing prolonged periods of stress and for many, extreme levels of pressure.

Our brains are designed to handle short bursts of stress; which can have benefits such as enhancing learning. We have personal ways of recovering from short periods of stress but what happens to our brains when we are in a chronic state of threat, uncertainty and fear? Understanding what is happening internally, enables us to create new strategies to proactively manage the impact of chronic stress.

The brain excels at spotting threats in our environment. Our ‘threat expert’ in the brain is a small but powerful region called the amygdala. Once it perceives a trigger, it rapidly gets us ready to fight the threat or take flight away from it, to ensure survival. To enable a fight or flight response, the brain shuts down all ‘unnecessary’ complex thinking that takes place in our prefrontal cortex (PFC). Unfortunately, this part of our brain is our ‘wise guide’ that we usually engage to strategize, innovate and integrate our thinking into informed decisions. In short, under stress, we become reactive, impulsive and anxious and less creative, resourceful and flexible.

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