Feeling angry, frustrated, anxious or depressed? Itching to get outside and get your life back? Feel like your trapped inside a box just wanting to stretch your legs?
“Chronic social isolation can lead to lower serotonin levels, anxiety and depression”
Anxiety Is complicated series of events affecting multiple areas of the human brain. Anxiety occurs when the emotional centres of the brain become higher in function, then the area is responsible for calming the brain. For most people this is a combination of increased limbic system activity, decreased prefrontal cortex activity and decreased hippocampal activity.
When this occurs the rationality centres in a frontal cortex fails at controlling our emotional centres and we become more and more emotional about everything. This results in an increased activation of our hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis which is responsible for producing our stress hormones. The stress hormones in turn stimulate an area in the temporal region of the brain called our hippocampus which should turn off the stress mechanism.
When stress becomes chronic to this area, the hippocampus is damaged and starts to shrink reducing the ability of the brain to switch off the stress response. Long term this shrinking of the hippocampus leads to changing in memory, navigation skills and spatial awareness.
This entire mechanism is either enhanced or suppressed by specific neuromodulators within the brain itself. The two key neuromodulators being serotonin and dopamine.
When serotonin levels begin to fall, many people will start experiencing anxiety, frustration, aggression, fixation on negative thoughts and obsessive compulsion. In some people this may also lead to changes in hunger patterns which can further disrupt blood sugars, creating more problems for neuromodulator production, altering stress hormone production making the problem worse.
There are many ways that we normally help keep all serotonin levels and dopamine levels elevated. One of the keyways we keep serotonin levels up is by human contact and touch. This becomes a huge problem for most people during lockdown simply because the lack of human interaction limits the ability for the brain to develop Serotonin.
In addition, lockdown produces another important effect. When people are deprived of their ability to achieve things on a daily basis, our main reward neuromodulator may also be limited. This neuromodulator is known as dopamine and is one of the key neuromodulators responsible for motivation.
I remember watching famous motivational speaker Tony Robbins talk many years ago about just how important fulfilment is in human life. Fulfillment is all about achievement and, in reality, achievement is all about dopamine.
When we isolate people and prevent them from achieving, it tends to have the effect of both lowering Serotonin and potentially dopamine leading to higher levels of mental health problems.
If we understand this, we can understand how we can hack our own brains during these times to potentially prevent emotional problems from taking over our life.
There are many other ways that we can help elevate serotonin. For example, exposure to sunlight and blue skies can stimulate the dorsal raphe nucleus helping to increase serotonin. Exercise can also help increase serotonin.
Focusing on what you can control and seeing the opportunity that lies whilst we’re in a locked down, then working to achieve these opportunities can give purpose, achievement and fulfilment even under these circumstances.
Having structured routine, a good diet, turning off the media and news reports and doing exercise can all help control emotional stimulation, Hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis function and hippocampal health.
Simple steps taken by looking at things that are under your control right now can go a long way to reducing the stress an emotional discomfort that’s associated with the current proceedings.
So, I put together some tips for what you can do right now to help keep your emotional state under control.
Here’s my top tips for hacking your brain right now and preventing the downward emotional spiral:
See the opportunity – whilst in lockdown most people are becoming the victim. They are taking on a personality of either the bully and playing the blame game, the victim and sitting in self-pity or the rescuer, I’m trying to save everything and everyone with knowledge any theories. Don’t go down this path, see the opportunity that currently lies available to you and focus on getting ahead of everybody else. If you’re an athlete, majority of athletes right now aren’t training. If you train every week that you’re training you’re getting 2 weeks ahead of your competition. If you have knowledge, a skill, there’s a whole lot of people sitting around doing nothing right now looking for things to do. Develop a series of videos and start teaching your skill, this could generate a whole new occupation for you by the end of lockdown.
Achieve and thrive – once you’ve seen the opportunity, set yourself goals and get to work. Every time you achieve one of those goals, you’ll have a sense of fulfillment. You start generating something you’ve never done before and now your life once again has purpose. You say that you’re running out of time to complete all the things you want to do during lockdown. When this occurs, the concept of how long lockdown is lasting will change your focus, you will be removed from the reality of what is happening and you’ll lose interest in what’s happening in the media.
Exercise – daily aerobic exercise has been shown to do wonders for the brain. Reduce stress, improve neurotransmitter and modulator function and stimulate a substance called brain derived neurotrophic factor responsible for stimulating growth in the hippocampus. In short, exercise has been shown to have a wondrous effect on mental health
The sun and blue skies – the sun does more than stimulate vitamin D production (a key hormone in regulating brain health). We’ve been lucky this year in Melbourne and have had bright skies throughout winter. Getting into the sun when your shadow is shorter than you, during the middle of the day, is critical for improving your brain health during these tough times.
Surviving lockdown is all about surviving your own head space. It’s about finding ways to hack your own brain to generate the result that you need to keep you growing and focused on the future. Simple tricks added to your life can make a huge difference to this process, improve your mental health and create a winning attitude.
If you need any help at all though during this time, I’m here for you. This is not the time to be afraid of meeting new people or doing new things or reaching out. If you need any help at all please just contact me or my team. You can do this by clicking on the message button, by sending me an email by calling my office on 93187758 or by reaching out on Facebook.
Together we can achieve anything.