While the majority of us are celebrating the relaxing of mask mandates and getting back to “normal,” our nervous systems are actually preparing to adapt yet again to a new environment.
The brain does a lot of work in order to adapt to change. We are constantly learning and adapting. We’ve all experienced the superpowers of our brain’s ability to adapt. Within a week of moving to a new place, you already know the way to work and can drive there on autopilot. Think about how you adapted to illness. Growing up with multiple sclerosis, I quickly adapted to traveling with syringes. It became almost “too normal.” I had a system for packing them and always had to let TSA know why I had them. The first few times were strange but then I knew the drill. Even adapting to being healthy now has taken attention and care and I have used the tips below. We all have these experiences of adaptation, but do we notice how much work goes into the transition for our brain?
Our brains are built for adaptation. On the one hand, it’s what makes us so good at being human and living in ever-changing circumstances. On the other hand, we can take it for granted and forget to give ourselves the space and time we need to adapt.
We have been in a constant state of change since the beginning of 2020. Remember the first few times you tried to social distance in the grocery store and all the awkward maneuvering? It was only a week later that everyone was smoothly shifting positions and giving each other extra space without incident- as if it’s how we always interacted. We adapted. It was like our brains came up with a new map and instructions for when, how, and where to move. Suddenly, without even noticing the transition, we were seamlessly behaving in a way that was completely foreign to all of us just moments before.
It wasn’t just moments though. Our brains were working very hard to create new neuronal connections (communication between nerve cells in the brain) to adjust to our new skills. Remember how tired you felt in those first few weeks? The brain was working hard to adapt to significant change. The brain needs lots of rest to build new connections so that we can develop new skills. Depending on where you live, you adapted to the new environment two years ago and with every new restriction along the way.
And now, as restrictions lift, your brain must adapt again. We might think that it will be easy because it’s just going back to the way things were. But the truth is, we are yet again creating a new normal. With the amount of fear and anxiety over the last two years, many people are experiencing fear in getting back to “normal.” That’s because the fear has been hardwired to protect you. Your brain adapted all those months ago and it has to re-learn that people and travel are safe.
While in some ways, it will be easier in the sense of having “muscle-memory” to go back to a way of life we knew, we are different now. So, we aren’t actually going “back” to the way things were. We need to honor that for our bodies and ourselves. Any change, especially on a societal level, is strenuous on the body. The nervous system is trying to make sure you are equipped for the change, so it is hard at work.
For a healthy person, it is important to acknowledge these factors and give yourself extra support during big transitions. For anyone living with chronic illness, it is essential to manage transitions well so that you maintain health and reduce any potential exacerbation of disease.
- Plan Ahead
With any transition you want to prepare yourself in advance- even if it’s just being more conscious that change is coming. Think through the ways in which the change or new situations might impact you. Talk yourself through it the way you would a child. For example, “the circumstances are different now and it’s OKAY to trust my immune system and calmly be around others again.”
- Make it Positive
Since the subconscious processes change as bad, you want to help show it what is good about this new transition. For example, “I LOVE socializing and traveling, and it is going to feel so good to do all of that again!” For a family transition, it is especially important to talk a lot about the new normal that you are all about to experience together. Get others in your family on board in the process by talking about the new fun experiences that await with this transition. This will help reduce a lot of the stress on the nervous system.
- Extra Self Care
While a change like being able to travel comfortably again is amazing news for most of us, remember that your brain is adapting. Give yourself extra self-care in the transition through activities like extra sleep, a walk in nature, plenty of water, and other nourishing things that help regulate the nervous system.
- BONUS: TAPPING – Emotional Freedom Technique
The first three steps are enough to help you with any transition but to help the brain even more, I recommend something called tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Tapping is a modality that calms down the brain’s fight or flight response and essentially tells the brain you are safe. It’s an easy technique to learn and I offer a free tapping workshop to Sanguine’s audience twice a year. You can also watch some tapping videos on my Instagram.com/kaleyzeitouniofficial. To tap for a transition, just do some silent tapping periodically throughout the process so that the brain knows that all this newness is safe. It will help support your body during the shift.
Remember that change is good and we just need to support the nervous system through adapting so that it does not aggravate disease. The best kind of disease management is wellness management. As our society continues adapting to a new normal, I hope your bodies will have an easier time adapting than in the last couple years. Wishing you much health as always!