Dealing with change? Be sure to use your brain

Change is good, right? I like to believe that I am very adaptive to change — until my efficient brain and pride get in the way.

Why do we need a new television when the big box we have had for 20 years works well? Why do I need to invest $1,000 in a new cellular phone when the corded phone attached to the wall has great reception?

The benefits of a technology change usually affect me immediately, so it is easy to convince me to change. But what about changes that affect my emotions or security? What about changes that I do not choose, like a change in career or a change in health or a mandated stay-at-home order? How can I climb out of this challenge while my pride is damaged, and I feel helpless?

When the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, this is exactly how I felt — helpless. I am not a medical professional or a farmer or a seamstress who can figure out how to sew face masks. Some mornings I woke up feeling panicked.

There are two major portions of our brain that all stimuli pass through. Stimuli might be a physical touch or an emotion. The first is the limbic section, where emotions are experienced, and next is the frontal lobe, where facts and logic process.

The goal is to not process anything until it has completely flowed through both sections of the brain. This is called high emotional intelligence. When we react to our emotions without thinking, we are showing low emotional intelligence and usually are disappointed in our results.

Think about how you react when someone scares you. Do you scream or cry or put up your fists to fight? This is an emotional reaction. You have no time to consider factually what happened. Your body just reacts. Your brain is stuck in the limbic section. Once you have time to realize that someone you like was playing a joke on you, your frontal lobe activates in your brain and your reaction calms.

I have learned that when life catches me by surprise, crying, whining, complaining or being lazy does not make this change any easier. Being productive does.

When I am crying, whining, complaining or lazy I am stuck in the limbic section of my brain. I have not reviewed any facts or thought logically about the situation at all. When I focus on being productive my brain has shifted to the frontal lobe.

In 2012 I experienced two life changes. In May my son, Jordan announced that he was joining the Navy in November. In August, the doctors told us my husband, John, had cancer. I handled my husband’s cancer better than I handled my son’s decision to serve our country.

During the six months of preparing my son for boot camp, I was an emotional mess. I teared up at the thought of Jordan leaving home. I cried when Jordan would give me a hug. I had no idea what military life was about, and I could not prepare him or me for this adventure. I was stuck in the limbic section of my brain, allowing my emotions to rule me.

I did not know what living with cancer was like, either, but when the doctor shared with us John’s diagnosis, we had a plan of what to do next. I did not shed a tear. Immediately I was able to be productive. We scheduled chemotherapy appointments. I cooked his favorite meals. We adjusted family schedules. I was useful and was activating my full brain.

My husband successfully conquered cancer and Jordan safely completed six years in the Navy serving in Japan, Cuba and Virginia. And I learned a life lesson — to use my full brain and stay productive during change. Change might be a blessing and turn out good.