quinta-feira, 2 de abril de 2020

Elvira Souza Lima - Pandemic and the Brain

Elvira Souza Lima , PhD

How does the brain respond to the present quarantine situation due to the corona virus pandemic?
The first point to consider, and this is very important, is that the pandemic has generated an experience of rupture in daily life. This happened very fast. A new and unprecedented situation altered everyday contexts, normal interactions and common expectations for the immediate future. In this new situation we can´t rely on our memory to provide initial guidance based on accumulated past experiences.

We understand things and we make decisions with the help of our memories and our emotions. The difficulty now, with the global pandemic, is our lack of similar experiences to rely on. The routines that regulate our lives (family, work, leisure, education), the priorities we establish, are all based on our daily scripts, and that has been undermined and will have to be reconstructed in different ways.
In this situation, discontinuity in chemical processes occurs in the brain and with it comes the pressing need to build new neuronal networks to support new modes of action.

However, the reorganization of brain functioning is not immediate; it does not depend solely on will and deliberation. It requires time.

We can´t change our ways instantaneously: change is a process of adaptation and modification of behavior with different and related phases of progress and regression, and this process establishes a path that will help form new behaviors in order to confront a new situation.

An important aspect of such process is that our emotional system will be intensely involved in it, and different types of emotions will surface, Emotions such as fear: fear of the new situation, fear of being infected, fear for our loved ones. The distress of uncertainty in this occasion is another emotional affliction: at this time, we don´t have sufficient knowledge to understand how things will evolve and what will be the results when this situation comes to an end. Uncertainty creates insecurity.  In situations of stress chemical processes in the brain occur that include or generate substances that affect our emotional stability and our states of mind. At this point, we need to search for balance and to counter these effects with the help of other processes and their related chemical substances in our brain that result in experiences and feelings of well-being.

What can we do to balance the mind? Some simple steps can help.

The brain needs pause, it needs to rest. That means, it needs sleep and therefore in our present situation we must guarantee a good night of sleep by protecting our eyes from the bright lights of screens, from portable phones and computers, starting at least one hour before going to bed.

The brain needs short periods of rest, 10 to 15 minutes, from two to four times a day.

The brain needs oxygen and therefore methods and techniques of slow and deep breathing are extremely useful to provide and regulate oxygen for the brain.

The brain needs to be “fed” by cultural practices and experiences that promote the circulation of positive chemicals, that is, those related to our feelings of well-being and good spirits.

Contexts of rupture demand critical thinking and creativity: to help our thinking we can and must count on the arts.

Neuroscience has produced a lot of research on music, more than on other art forms presently. We have a musical brain, that is, a brain that is genetically prepared or structured to respond to music and can in fact be transformed by music. We all are capable of singing spontaneously, that is, without having to take lessons on music, listening to or singing a melody is a characteristic of our species that is presented very early by babies. Music affects directly our emotional system, it produces emotional relationships and emotional contagion, that is, closely shared emotional experiences among people and therefore can be an important element in personal interactions in a situation of quarantine.
To listen to music, to watch musical presentations, shows and concerts on the internet, to sing, to play an instrument if you are able to, to dance (an art form that combines music and movement) are activities that must be part of the daily routine.

Literature is another art form whose impact on the brain has been investigated by neuroscience. There are important benefits related to the activity of reading quality works of literature. Poetry has a positive effect in the brain that goes deeper and way beyond anything that readers might or do expect from self-help books.

Therefore, this is a good opportunity to bring literature into daily life: reading at home individually or jointly. Also creating on line reading and discussion groups on literary works.

We are living a period of rupture that as such, dialectically, provides the opportunity to develop new strategies for humanizing our lives, and that can be done by fostering dialogue among all of us.

April 1st, 2020
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Elvira Souza Lima , PhD
Neuroscience – Psychology – Education


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