By Jeanne Erikson, PhD
Do you cringe when you read that word?
To be complex is to be intricate, knotty, elaborate, sophisticated, and complicated according to Webster. Does this sound like your world?
With the exception of WWII with its huge complexity, fifty years ago we did not know about melt-downs in Japan, exact and updated death tolls from tornadoes and hurricanes and floods, changing weather patterns, the Medicare donut hole, or everyone’s sexual indiscretions. We would have known about our own job progress, our overt health status, our children’s grades, and the neighbor’s business we could hear from our porch.
I have been reading “The Practical Neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson, PhD, a book about how to actually cope with complexity. It reminded me that our brain has evolved slowly over time, but retains the reptilian basic structures, as well as the squirrel ones of the mid-brain, and the monkey ones of the complex brain. All three methods of coping can get triggered when we face complexity. The author points out that when we allow brain overstimulation for hours a day, our brain copes by lighting up various systems. Resources shift away from building a strong immune system and preserving good mood to managing chaos. The end of this complexity cycle has two bad outcomes. We can eventually quit/ get fired from the things we love to stop the anxiety, depression, and discouragement, or we are forced to stop when we flame out with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, immune disorders, and back pain.
I have these suggestions for you to try in the next 30 days:
1) Decide how much noise and “input” is too much for you.
How many hours a day can you have background sound before you feel stressed and overloaded?
If you pay attention, you will find this happens fairly rapidly. We have gotten so used to input overload that we ignore the discomfort. How often do you try to increasing coping by reminding yourselves to focus? How often do you begin inattentive multi-tasking?
Plan for the quiet time each day that you need.
Could it be that introverts need more than extroverts partly because of how their brain operates?
2) Substitute soothing nature noises for electronic noises part of each day.
Nature noises like bird songs and wind through trees can help, as there is a predictable pattern for your brain to process. Part of combating complexity is discerning organizing patterns. Our brain makes one adjustment, then stabilizes. When we bombard it with continuously variety, it eventually fails. It reminds me of the Eastern U.S. electrical grid during Summer peak use.
3) Do intentional brain-calming activities.
Pair passionate motivation with deliberate, reasoned activity. For example, when you bowl or play golf, set your “I will be satisfied when..” goal in the mid-range of your skill. That way you do not over-stimulate your brain, and the amygdala does not send you into a tirade when you miss a spare or a par. When you begin work on a project for work or home, break it down into sequential pieces you can celebrate finishing.
4) Actively notice good news in your life to let your brain systems experience pleasure.
Pay attention to when someone is nice to you. Enjoy the smell of a peach. Praise yourself for making it through a trip to the swimming pool or lake without yelling at or trying to control your kids. Enjoy minor successes at work. Dr. Hanson suggests continuing to focus on each happy thought for as long as 20 seconds to assist brain function. Try it!
We can’t choose our brain, but we can choose how to challenge and soothe it.
How do you want yours to work?
I want mine to be on that poster that says “This is your brain at peace.”
To your wellness,
Jeanne Erikson, PCC