As we processed the individual and collective experiences of the pandemic, our brains were reshaped by them. In my opinion, this is a more useful way to understand how the past year could have affected us: instead of just saying, “This is your brain about COVID,” we can see that our unique minds are filtering our unique experiences, and we can learn how to deal with the changes.
The level of anxiety has increased dramatically, which has affected the way our brains function in everyday life – especially if it is left untreated for a long time. Not to mention the negative effects on our brains and bodies from social isolation, insecurity, physical symptoms of COVID-19 (for those who have become infected), financial loss, grief, and more – these are incredibly adverse circumstances, and ours Brain is designed to change in response to adversity.
While we can’t change the fact that we experienced something as traumatic as the pandemic, it’s nice to know that we can change the way it goes in our minds, brains, and bodies. Yes, that’s easier said than done – the past year has been incredibly tough and healing, both individual and collective, will take time. If you are still feeling anxious, worried, or vulnerable, there is nothing wrong with you. These are normal human reactions.
All of our experiences are anchored in our brains as habits that become behavior changes. When these habits and behaviors are negative, the mind, brain, and body generate emotional and physical warning signals: they signal the need to pay attention to what is happening, or things can get worse.
During the pandemic, we’ve had many opportunities to wire negative experiences to the brain that can affect both our mental and physical health – but these changes are not set in stone. With targeted thought input (what I call “thought management”) we can learn to shift and direct these neuroplastic changes in our brain.