Dogs, cats, darkness, spiders, worms…most of these things are neutral. It’s what we attach them to that creates a positive or a negative impression. For some, dogs are great! For others, dogs are to be feared. There was a mark put on the brain at some point, through information, a direct event (dog bite) emotion or encounter (either direct or indirect) that labeled that object or experience as either safe or unsafe.
Behaviors begin to be shaped from day 1. We, as parents, create the first impressions on our children as we sculpt our children’s lives and minds through our own minds, perceptions, reactions, and direct guidance. How powerful is this knowledge! Now, it is important to note that there are “tendencies” in our children that are pre-determined (trait anxiety). Some of my kids are more anxious than others for sure. Some of my kids are more behaviorally challenging!! But ultimately, I am continually shaping them and teaching them and modeling for them. They will learn the most from me and from my own response to stress and reactions to anxiety-provoking thoughts and situations.
In this time of quarantine, try not to worry so much about the education or lack of education right now. All families have the same questions about the future. The biggest test of perseverance in faith is moving forward into the unknown with confidence.
Our world suffers from two major conditions: anxiety about the past and anxiety about the future. We need to focus on our NOW and help our kids focus on their NOW. When you lie down to go to sleep at night, it’s crucial to be in the NOW because the NOW in that moment, is rest and sleep. If you can’t sleep, it may be that your brain is undergoing “rapid-fire” thoughts and concerns about issues past or issues future. When you are laying in bed, there are NO issues present but yet we often can’t experience the comforts of laying in bed. We can’t get to that place of “not having a care in the world” and it’s exactly what we need to do to settle ourselves and get a good night’s sleep.
Our brains need a break from worrying and figuring out our problems and analyzing the next steps in our lives. Often we lay there and spend time in “replay” – where we repeat a scene in our heads and allow our frustration, regret, hurts or any other emotions take over. Going to bed at night is not a time to solve things. It is a time to put down our concerns and let our brains rest and reset for the next day so that with a hopefully, well-rested, fresh mindset, new ideas will be born and we can tackle the challenges of our day, one by one. Worrying doesn’t fix anything.
How do we do this? Focus on breathing. Go to a nice place in your mind and in your thoughts. Be aware of your heartbeat, be aware of your wandering brain and bring it back to your calm breath and calm body but do NOT let your mind go wandering into the past or the future. Keep it in the NOW. It’s work. It’s hard work, but with practice, you will develop new behavior patterns. Our brain will always default to the neural pathways that are well worn and most used.
Our brains get good at things they do consistently – like anything in life: practice makes perfect. If our brains slide down the worry track a lot, they will get really good at that and always choose that pathway. We need to create the new pathways.
What we do know through research is that because of neuroplasticity, we can, in fact, create these new, healthier pathways but to do that, we must not choose to travel down the old ones. New, fresh neural pathways will form but not if we stay on the old ones.
Think of the top of a snowy hill. If you are the first kid to arrive and sled down, that first run-through is not smooth and it’s a bit uncertain. Even little kids know it takes time to get that track to be slick and smooth after many uses. If it’s a smooth path, it will get used over and over. The problem is, our automatic brain doesn’t analyze the results of the pathways we choose, so if our pathway is an anxious one, the brain doesn’t stop itself from traveling down there. The brain thinks it’s doing what it’s meant to do. We need to stop the pattern and make new tracks.
It is important to understand that even when we create new pathways for our brains, the old tracks never actually disappear. That’s why we see relapse patterns. We just have to be continually aware that we are CHOOSING a different path – forcing ourselves to use the not-so-deep tracks and make a new one for our brains so that they become automatic and the new patterns of thinking and behaving become the default.