Anxiety and stress don’t always show up in our lives as nervousness or as a full-blown freak-out. They are often more subtle than that. Stress and anxiety can even be good for us, because they are part of the functioning of our survival brain, which helps keep us alive. That is, until it takes over too much of our thinking brain and gets in the way of optimal functioning.
An example of anxiety and stress manifesting itself in these times is when we find ourselves daunted by those day-to-day tasks we have in front of us. Your brain can feel hazy and fatigued in the face of it, preventing you from moving into action. Do you ever feel stuck or like you want to shut down when faced with something on your long list of to-dos?
If yes, guess what? You’re human. In times of deep stress and/or when you’re navigating burnout, moving into action can be even more difficult. If you notice that you recoil from the thought of a looming task, that is a sign that your brain is being emotionally activated by the thought. The key is to turn things in a new direction.
The opportunity in neuroplasticity is that it allows our brains to reorganize themselves by forming new neural connections—and getting rid of old ones throughout our lives. Neuroplasticity is the mechanism by which we can intentionally build a resilient brain.
Rick Hanson, one of the greatest minds in neuroplasticity and brain resilience, articulated my most-often quoted definition of resilience in his book, Resilient: “Resilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and pursue our goals despite challenges,” But wait, there is more… The second part of that definition explains what resilience does: “It helps us survive the worst day of our life and thrive every day of our life” (Hanson, 2018).
Our brain is constantly evolving and trying to find ways to survive, and it’s not static. To live our best lives we need to not only survive, but also thrive. As an emotional trauma survivor myself, I can tell you there is an important distinction between those two terms.
Surviving is facing the challenges that life is putting upon you—moving through them and not succumbing to them (which is a good thing), but thriving goes much further. Thriving is facing the challenges that life puts upon you, and learning and growing through them, while also seeking new challenges—ones that matter to you and that you want to experience. Our brain is capable of changing itself, especially when we are intentional in being in a relationship with our brain and our body.