The COVID-19 pandemic which has spread from China, through Europe and is now increasing in the United States, in addition to the reaction by the World Heath Organization, Centers for Disease Control, state governments, state dental boards and the non-stop media coverage, is causing tremendous anxiety and uncertainty among the dental community. Congress has enacted legislation (HB6201) to expand sick leave and the dramatically expand the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which will now apply to business under 50 employees, causing dentists to scramble to decide how these changes could affect their business. The 2 trillion dollar stimulus package, S3548 Care Act, contains loans for small businesses to keep people employed provides some hope for dentists hoping to keep their teams in tact, but comes with the stress of trying to get approval before the money runs out. This environment has created tremendous anxiety and stress for dentists. Your practice needs leadership now more than ever! As leadership coach, Joel Small says, "Your leadership legacy is being forged right now!"
Modern neuroscience has come a long way with the devlopment of the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). This technology allows researchers to see the brain in action by visualizing the neural activity in real time.
David Rock, of the Neuroleadership Institute, coined the term neuroleadership to describe the application of the findings of modern neuroscience to leadership. This article will help you understand how your brain works and provide some tips to help you to better manage your own anxieties and negative emotions and better communicate, teach, train and mentor your team.
A Quick Summary:
The brain can be divided into the limbic system and the cortex.
The limbic brain is considered the primitive part of our brain because it is focused on survival. It is constantly scanning our world for threats and rewards. It the the emotional center of our brain and closely tied to memory. It has the ability to work at tremendous speeds and has inconceivable capacity. The limbic brain is the strongest part of our brain and will typically overpower/override our cortex. This part of your brain is causing you, and your team, to feel great anxiety in the current situation.
The cortex, and especially the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the younger, conscious part of our brain. It is the center of conscious thought, reasoning, decision making, memorizing, inhibiting, recalling and moderating social behavior. The PFC is slower, limited in capacity and easily fatigued. While our cortex can easily be overpowered by the limbic brain, modern neuroscience shows that intentional or mindful use of our PFC can change the electrical activity of our brain. By consciously activating this part of your brain, you can inhibit some of the negative emotions and threats you and your team are currently feeling.
Your Brain During the COVID-19 Pandemic:
Right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, your limbic brain is highly aroused and likely overpowering you prefrontal cortex, making it harder to make decisions and keeping you focused on the negative emotions and threats you are feeling. These threats include how to keep our teams employed, how to make rent, how to manage debt and cash flow, how to manage patient and employee concerns, how to interpret the laws that have been passed and applying and qualifying for loans with the CARE Act, just to name a few. Add to the fact that many employment lawyers and accountants are recommending layoffs or furlough for that team that you have worked with side by side for years. The 24 hour, non-stop media plays a huge role in activating a threat response in our brains to the current situation. Constant coronavirus headlines, drastic modeling predicting dire consequences make it worse day by day. Everything around you is stimulating the "fight or flight" reaction of the limbic brain. It's no wonder that we are all feeling threatened!
Overarousal of the limbic system overpowers and reduces the resources to the prefrontal cortex. This inhibits understanding, critical thinking, decision making, memorizing and inhibition, all of which you need to be the leader your practice. When the prefrontal cortex is overpowered, the we tend to do more "automatic" thinking and tend to respond more negatively to situations. We say things that we don't mean and that may trigger threats to the people around us. Because the limbic system is more affected by threats than rewards, you will find that threats to the limbic system come on faster, last longer and are harder to change. It becomes difficult to see the positive and we become more risk averse. We can only see the glass half full.
Neuroscience has shown that intentional use of the prefrontal cortex can change the electrical activity of the brain. The following techniques can be used to "put the brakes" on the negative emotions/anxieties that your limbic brain is currently focused on. These techniques can be helpful in every aspect of your life and help you as a leader.
- Symbolic Labeling: The act of consciously putting words to the emotions that you are feeling, expressed to yourself or others, actually stimulates the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (RVLPFC) which is the center of inhibition for your brain. This will help inhibit the negative emotions/anxiety that you are feeling due the powerful limbic response of your brain.
- Reappraisal: Reappraisal is another conscious activity of the prefrontal cortex which has been scientifically shown to inhibit the limbic response of the brain. Reappraisal is the conscious activity of looking at your situation from different perspectives. This requires more focus and energy, but has been shown to be more powerful than symbolic labeling at changing your brain's activity. Reappraisal can be done in the following ways:
- Reinterpreting: Consciously choose to reinterpret your current situation. Look for the positives and find opportunities in your situation. For example, "I have time to re-evaluation our systems" or "I have time to get more CE done" etc.
- Normalizing: Take a few minutes to focus upon what is normal about your situation. For example, "I am in the same boat as all the other dentists around me. We are all working through this together. etc."
- Reordering: Consider reordering what your values are in the situation. "My team or family's health is the most important thing right now." "I have to make this tough to decision to protect our practice so our team can have a job in the future."
- Healthy Brain Habits: Re-evaluate these habits in your life and prioritize them for better brain function.
- Sleep - get enough
- Nutrition - find balance
- Exercise - make time
- Breaks - time correctly
- Mindfulness Training - practice
Understanding how our brain works will not only help us in times of great anxiety and concern, but will also help us as leaders in our practices. Stay tuned for more brain hacks that will help you as a leader in your practice.