Posts Tagged ‘emotional health’

Catalyzing Change and the Brain

Article contributed by guest author Sandra Marin

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Since the beginning of time, people have liked routine. We like the known. It makes us feel in control. Safe and comfortable. Boy does this ever resonant now during these Covid times. So, it is no surprise that many of us resist change. Even if we are not 100% satisfied with status quo, we will hold onto it. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. But maybe not….

Our resistance to change is not because we are stubborn or want to be difficult (at least not you or me). It is a reflection of our brains. The brain loves to make sense of the world and helps us control our lives. This is an excellent thing. It keeps us safe.  And, like so many things, if overdone, can be harmful. The inability to change or grow can result in stagnation. No progress. Not good for an individual, a society or a country. 

February’s “coffee chat” topic, hosted by The Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence was Catalyzing Change. This is one of the 26 competencies that make up their social and emotional intelligence model. 

During our chat we talked about many things and what I want to focus on today is the benefit of becoming more of a change catalyzer and less of a change resistor. In particular focusing on one critical benefit that may not be the first one that comes to mind: the positive impact of change on brain health. Yup, change can help our brains remain agile throughout our lives. 

Neuroscience: 1 second intro

Our brains grow and change naturally. Often quite dramatically until around our mid to late 20’s. Historical thinking about the brain was that once we became adults our brains were “hard -wired” and stopped changing. The die was cast. Or so we thought. Recent neuroscience research shows that our brains are much more flexible than we first thought, hence the term neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the term that describes the brain’s ability to create new neural pathways and ignore or lose those that are no longer used. We can change our habits, biases and behaviours. Not easy, but possible.

The main benefit of becoming a change catalyzer is that change can help keep our brains agile throughout our life. We can lead richer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, according to neuroscientist and author David Eagleman the single most important thing we can do for our brains is to cognitively challenge them. And that means embracing change. 

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Embracing Change: So what can you do to become more of a change catalyzer and improve the health of your brain? Start small to build your comfort level with change.

For example:

  • Take different routes to and from frequent destinations.
  • Try new restaurants and new types of cuisine.
  • Switch hands for common tasks such as brushing your teeth.
  • Expand your horizons in general. This can be listening to music, reading books, watching movies from styles and genres that you normally wouldn’t.

Of course the small things are not enough. Move on to more challenging activities and behaviours. Such as:

  •  Learn a new language or instrument. 
  • Embrace mistakes. We learn through trial and error. Think less about failing and more about exposing yourself to new activities and experiences. 
  • Practice, and more practice. Simply doing something once is not enough to create a new pathway in the brain. Try, try, and try again. If not perfect, practice does make better. 
  • Be open to new ideas and practices.  Maybe you have heard someone (not you of course) say “ if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” or “ we’ve always done it this way.” Resist the urge to stop there.  Go further and ask “ so what if it did change?What then?” 
  • Focus. Be present. Breathe. Deeply. Forget multi-tasking. Our brains are not wired for that. In fact the more we take on, the more our bodies are flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Take up yoga, meditation or simply go for a walk in nature. 
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“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” Robin Sharma

I hope I have whetted your appetite for more on neuroscience, change and emotional intelligence. Please feel free to share your comments, questions, tips.

Resources 

There are many excellent resources on neuroscience. Here are three that relate to this article. 

 “The Nun Study”. This study showed that multilingualism and linguistic ability may reduce the risk of developing dementia. Science Daily September 12, 2019 University of Waterloo.

 “The Four Underling Principles of Changing your Brain “Tara Swart, neuroscientist and author, Forbes March 27, 2018.

 “Livewired” by David Eagleman 2020

Five Simple Ways to Develop Your Child’s Emotional Self-Regulation Skills

Article contributed by guest author Stephanie Pinto.

We’ve all seen those kids in the supermarket who meltdown when they aren’t allowed to have some lollies. The children who appear to bully others because they are so unhappy. The teens who mope around because they didn’t get invited to a party, and “it’s like, the end of the actual world”. For some of us, maybe that’s OUR kids. Maybe it was us when we were younger.

My point is, everyone has difficulties managing big emotions at one time or another. Even as adults we often need a friend’s shoulder to cry on, or a partner to confide in. We just cannot always solve things on our own. And hey, that’s okay.

Building emotional intelligence in kids requires a solid foundation of being aware of one’s own emotions. This allows them to start learning how to manage them appropriately. Let’s look at five simple ways to develop our child’s emotional self-regulation skills.

1.     Co-regulate to self-regulate.

We must allow our kids to co-regulate first – this means we allow them to stumble and trip, whilst navigating their emotions. We can’t expect them to regulate big emotions on their own. Be there for them when they need it. Allow them to cry and be upset – but come from a place of teaching and supporting. Show them ways to cope. Brainstorm how to solve the problem. Help them sit in the emotion without judging or hurrying. Hold space by allowing the flow of anger, frustration, or whatever is coming out. And tell them you will figure this out together.

2.     Model emotional regulation for them.

We are our kids’ best teachers. They watch us, without even realising, and pick up traits and habits that we display. Are we showing behavioural self-control ourselves? If we are modelling volatile, snappy behaviour when stressed, how can we expect our kids to keep calm? I like to model emotional language during and after emotional events too. “Wow I am getting so frustrated with this!”, “I was pretty embarrassed before, I think that’s why I snapped at you”. And of course, apologising. “Sorry buddy, I was feeling disappointed with something else, and I accidentally ignored you”. And lastly, modelling how you deal with emotions, goes a long way to helping kids learn what to do: “I know what I need, space and quiet time to calm down”.

3.     Develop their self-awareness.

At a really early age, we can teach our kids how to be aware of their body, thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Use parallel talk to help map out what they might be feeling or thinking. “Wow seems like you’re feeling overwhelmed”, “I can see you have lots of energy in your body right now”, “Looks like you’re starting to get anxious and jittery?” When we talk about what is going on for our kids (parallel talk) it helps them to identify it in themselves as they grow. It may seem unusual but kids won’t notice. With time you will start to notice your child monitoring their own feelings and what’s happening in their body – and this shows good self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

“Kids can actually be quite creative in finding their own calming strategies.”

4.     Brainstorm coping strategies.

Explore and build a toolkit of coping strategies for your child to use when they are feeling stressed. Kids can be really creative with finding ways to calm themselves, but initially they may need some prompting to discover strategies. Google has an amazing array of coping strategies posters available. Feel free to get creative and make your own with your child, cut and paste, colour in and list 10 to 20 things your child loves to do. Keep this somewhere handy e.g. on the back of their bedroom door or on the fridge.

5.     Making Mistakes is OKAY!

I include this in many lists and articles I write because it is so powerful! We must actively teach our kids that making mistakes is NOT bad, it is actually GREAT! Even as adults many of us fear getting something wrong and the judgement that comes along with that. When we can’t make mistakes, our creativity, happiness and confidence are stifled! Let’s celebrate mistakes that our kids make, and model being okay with our own errors or mishaps too. This allows our kids to better regulate negative emotions when things go wrong.

Which one of these 5 top tips will you use with your kids this week?

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