As the chapter on Rowan House draws to a close so new opportunities will present and although the closure may not be a contributor to your frustrations, worries or sadness it will be for some of those professionals and their clients who have called Rowan House their home. So, thank you to Rachel and team for the kindness and making us so welcome, appreciated and valued over the years. As we move forward continue to be kind to yourselves, stay well and be safe.
Change is inevitable, what isn’t inevitable is how we chose to behave in the face of that change. I want you to know that we all can foster our own agency over change. Please understand it will be your positive mindset that will make the difference when faced with adversity. You are stronger than you feel you are and this is where we start to think about what can be done.
Neurologically our minds have adapted to change phenomenally well. Evolutionists state that humanity advanced out of Africa to successfully inhabit every corner of the planet. In doing so we overcame draught, famine, disease, extreme weather, crossed oceans, fought of packs of wild animals, survived wars and along the way adapted to agricultural, industrial and societal revolutions. There are currently 7.5 billion people on the planet with projections suggesting that number will hit 9 billion in 50 years.
Neurologically this has resulted in our innate and unquestionable ability to survive. It is in our DNA, our ancestors passed on these survival protocols or quite simply we would not exist. The human mind is 86 billion neurons, that function as a consequence of electrical and chemical reactions at over 200 times per second. The human mind is complex, discoveries and understandings are being made all the time but how are we to get our heads round the complexities of neurology, psychology and what this all means for our mental health?
It helps to think of your mind in two distinct parts; to survive or thrive that is the choice. The survival part of the mind has at its centre the Amygdala, commonly referred to as the fight, flight or freeze part of the mind. When this part of the mind is ‘calling the shots’ you are chemically compelled to repeat patterns of survival behaviour you have done before. This is because the hypothalamus floods our minds with adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol, stress chemicals. When those stress chemical fuel our mind the hippocampus, that stores our survival behaviours is activated meaning that we are compelled to hit it, run away from it or hide from it. Diagnostically we are talking about anger, anxiety or the signs and symptoms of depression, the minds primitive opt out clause(s). We can accept that when this part of our mind is in charge, we are not at our best so what can you do about it?
Survival is the automatic response many of us will neurologically experience when faced with change. It makes sense, for that part of our mind, the survival part, is delicately attuned to change. For historically, out there surviving as hunter gatherers, change was rarely a good thing. It meant something didn’t feel right the Amygdala deployed the appropriate fight, flight or freeze response ensuring our survival. This was the right behaviour when faced by a pack of wolves or marauding enemy but not the right behaviour when faced with our child not tidying their room, our partner not taking the bins out or people at work liking our colleague more than us.
Change requires you to be, or get back to, that best version of ourselves. Neurologically this means we need to operate from our pre-frontal cortex. This is a part of your mind you do not share with any other animal. When you operate from this thinking centre, as opposed to the feeling survival part, of our mind you are positive of thought, feeling and behaviour. You can make a proper assessment of each situation that presents, problem solve and identify the right solution for you and those people you care about. This is part of the mind is only accessible when the hypothalamus, that controls the chemicals in the mind and the body, produces serotonin. Serotonin is the happy chemical and when the serotonin flows your brain is fuelled correctly to thrive and be that best version of you; strong, confident and in control.
It’s that part of the mind that saw humans cultivate crops, farm animals and navigate huge distances. It’s the part of the mind that retained those skills, the ability to find water, hunt larger pray and in time discover vaccines in response to a global pandemic.
Think of it like this. If you hear a loud bang, what do you do? Most of us will ‘jump’ and if not, literarily we will notice our ‘hearts skip a beat’. This is a hardwired behavioural response to a perceived threat. All humans are hard wired to respond to loud noises in this way. Much the same as we whip our hands away, protect a child from and are wary of heat in general. All other fears are to a greater or lesser extent a product of our environment. This literally means we learn to be frightened of those things that we are exposed to; spiders, air travel or starting a conversation with somebody new. So, if we can learn to be frightened it must logically mean we can learn to cope with change and in time thrive?
This is not to negate the harsh realities of loss, the sadness that ensues or that sense of being constantly overwhelmed. Stresses are numerous and the nature of our 21st Century lives mean that it can feel like there is no respite and consequently our proverbial stress bucket overflow’s. The skill is to understand what you can do to reduce the amount of stress you put in your bucket and in time actively mitigate the filling of your stress bucket by learning to ‘turn a tap’ that allows this stress to flow out.
It’s ok to feel frustrated, scared or sad it’s not ok for those survival behaviours to define who you are. Notice when you are experiencing these emotions and take the time to ask yourself what you can do to be less cross, worried or upset; what will be [better] different for you when you commit to this change? Please note it must be in your gift to enact this change in behavioural response and please do not entirely rely on a ‘third party’ to do something different or validate you. Whether they do or don’t do something must not be the measure of success. If you put too much stock in the actions of the third party, you risk not getting a return on your investment aka serotonin. Serotonin is what the brain gets for learning a new behaviour, a little reward, that strengthens understanding and fosters development of those new neurological pathways. Therefore, by focusing on and committing to what you can do in the face of change will increase the likelihood of you producing more serotonin and by doing that return you to that best version of you and begin to thrive once more.
If you are to enact change you seek you must accept that what you are currently doing is not working and commit to the necessary action, professional help can help. I empathise that life is stressful however, when you assert yourself and identify what you can do you, rather than obsessing about what you can’t or why somebody else isn’t, you start to turn that tap on your stress bucket and in doing so that bucket is not going to fill up as fast. As you practice these new behaviours, reflect in and on action you will notice, savour and value how you can adapt to change, returning you to that best version of you.
Brett Rennolds is a psychotherapist DSFH, HPD, MNCH NCH Supervisor and registered with the Complimentary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Brett specialises in a solution-focused approach, complimented by the principles of CBT, ACT, mental health first aid and hypnotherapy. He continues to provide therapy online, via an encrypted platform. For more information, please visit his website.