This Is Our Moment to Transform Our Brains
Just as we were beginning to experience quarantine fatigue (an indifference and lack of fear) over the coronavirus, we in the United States are thrown into racial unrest. I am not going to speak politically about the causes of these protests and riots, but I do want to talk about all of the repercussions these extreme stressors are having on our lives.
There are many of us who are truly enlightened and understand the chaos we are all experiencing. Although we are anxious to learn from them, our brains haven’t been capable of attaining any sense of peace. Right now, our brains are like a winning slot machine – constantly ringing, and lights flashing. When our brains sense threat, they go on high alert. The autonomic nervous system is paying attention to everything internally and externally in our lives. It is not under conscious control. Our heart rate and breathing are being operated automatically. And there are three parts of the ANS: the sympathetic nervous system– fight or flight; the parasympathetic nervous system - rest and repair; and the enteric nervous system. This is such a fine-tuned way of getting what we need for an immediate stress event. But now we are in a chronic, toxic stress zone and our brains and bodies are turning on us.
We have heard a million times how deadly stress can be. But like quarantine fatigue, we are not paying attention and taking the necessary steps needed to take care of ourselves. I don’t mean to scare you, but we are traveling in the toxic stress zone. Toxic stress isn’t so much about the cause of the stress, but about the chronic and ongoing nature of the stress. Toxic stress can change the structure of the brain. The brain gets accustomed to the danger-survival cycle and often floods the body with stress related chemicals at the first hint of any kind of threat – even if the threat is long gone. Stress-related chemicals can have a lasting impact on the body – leading to a susceptibility to chronic disease and addiction.
We can reclaim our brain. There are many different modalities that we can use, but I wanted to share five Buddhist teachings to help bring peace back into our lives.
Acknowledge the fear: the nature of reality is that we are subject to aging, sickness and even death.
Practice mindfulness and meditation: curb impulsive behaviors with awareness of our bodies. Regular meditation can allow acknowledgement of the fear, anger and uncertainty and make it easier to recognize that these feelings are simply passing reactions.
Cultivate compassion: When emotions around fear and anxiety become too strong, we should recall examples of compassion, kindness and empathy.
Understanding our interconnections: With every action one takes for self-care, they are also helping to protect others.
Use this time to reflect: We can transform disappointment with the current moment into motivation to change one’s life and perspective on the world.
This is our moment of opportunity to change.