10 Ways Your Brain Reacts to Uncertain Time

Neuroscientist Amishi Jha explains how the pandemic is hijacking our brain’s attention.

In an article in November, 2020, Jha states that Volatility, Uncertainty,Complexity and Ambiguity describe the type of high-demand scenarios that can rapidly degrade one of our most powerful and influential brain systems: our attention. Jha’s research states the following challenges:

1. Your attention creates your reality.
Your attention is powerful. It determines the moment to moment experience of your life – what you perceive, feel,remember, think and do.

2. Your attention is vulnerable to stress, threat, and poor mood.
During this protracted pandemic, we’re all experiencing a heightened sense of threat, new and constant stressors, anxious feelings, and more.

3. Your attention is limited – and so is your working memory.
Our memories are like a mental whiteboard: a temporary scratch space where you can jot down crucial information. You can only fit about 3 or 4 items on it before you max out of space. And it uses disappearing ink. In this COVID era, we are all running up against the limits of our whiteboards, all the time. Our vulnerability and attentional resources are sucking up our limited attention and our working memory capacity, leaving few cognitive resources for anything else.

4. Your attention wanders often.
During this pandemic, we struggle with poor mood, often heightened by a sense of isolation and loneliness, creating the perfect circumstances for our attention to get easily, and constantly, hijacked.

5. Your attention is linked to your emotions.
One of the biggest surprises about attention is how deeply it’s connected to emotion. When we recall happy or sad memories we use our attention and working memory to do so. All of these require fuel. If your fuel is in short supply, you won’t have the cognitive resources to regulate your emotions effectively.you end up feeling unsteady and disregulated.

6. Your attention is essential for connection.
Paying attention is one of the most compelling ways by which we can show our interest, care, and love for others. Yet, while physically distancing, we can’t offer up our attention in the usual way right now – COVID is depriving us of the essential ways in which we connect.

7. Your attention can time-travel.
A recent study found that the more COVID related intrusive thoughts people reported, the more depressed they were, and the poorer sleep quality they reported. These are some of the unfortunate consequences of mental time-travel run amok – especially now.

8. Your attention is easily fooled.
Our attention gets hijacked by mental content tied to stress, threat, and poor mood. And when this happens, we are more error prone, our perception is dulled, and our mood sours. COVID thoughts and worries can take attention away from what we are doing and it’s hard to pull it back. And a critical aspect of our attentional control May falter. We forget that thoughts are not facts.

9. Your attention can be a bad boss.
Overcoming our social habits can be attentionally exhausting to work against.we instinctively want to hug our loved ones. So, keep in mind that sometimes your attention may direct you to do something that isn’t in your best interest. It’s a bad boss.

10. Your attention is trainable.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation, practiced regularly, protects attention under the pandemic conditions. Mindfulness practice is about keeping your attention in the present moment without judgement, elaboration, or reactivity, so it becomes a kind of “ mental armor “ against some of the most damaging habits of the mind: mind wandering, rumination, and catastrophizing, which are numerous in times of our pandemic. Although a minimum daily practice is best, Studies show that as little as 12 minutes a day for 3 days a week is protective over high stress intervals. The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the more you benefit.

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