The Neuroscience of Letting Go
Our brains have a superpower, known as neuroplasticity, that allows it to adapt to new circumstances. Here, how it works — and how to harness it to your advantage.
With the uncertainty of the world at the moment, you may be feeling anxious, depressed or any other number of complicated emotions. We are living in a time of firsts for most of us, and it’s not always comfortable — to say the least.
However, we can change our mental state to let go of these emotions and move into a place of joy. Wait, joy right now with all of this going on? Yes, it is possible!
In my extensive studies of neuroscience and from what I have observed in my years of counseling work, our brains can adapt to a lot of different realities — from the lockdown to the reopening that many states are beginning to go through now.
As the coronavirus infiltrated the U.S. and many of us remained under stay-at-home orders, our brains adapted to our strange new circumstances — less sunlight, less social interaction, different foods, working from home, caring for and/or home schooling children every day and perhaps even caring for a sick family member or friend. How did our brains adapt to all of that? And how will our brains react now that we are coming out of quarantine to a different world?
The brain is neuroplastic, meaning that it can change its actual physical structure and the way it operates, allowing us to adapt to new (and unprecedented) circumstances. Research on stroke survivors back in the 1960s actually allowed us to learn more about the brain’s abilities to continuously learn and create new memories, thereby creating new neural pathways, or links within the brain and the body’s systems. These neural pathways are like the freeways of your brain. One thing connects to the next, and the next and the next until you have a full grid system of freeways and roads to help you navigate your day.
Just as our brains adjusted to staying at home, they will adjust to our new normal as we leave quarantine too. The latest neuroscience research shows us that change and learning are cognitively beneficial, and even anti-aging for our brains.
The brain’s neuroplasticity also allows us to let go. We can feel those emotions of fear or anxiety about rejoining society again, but our brains are actually trying to help us let this go.
Letting Go, Post-Lockdown
Emotional memory is an important factor in this process. Your older memories of social gatherings, for example, are likely not marked by viral fear. We all have at least one social memory that we can look back on as a positive experience, full of joy and interaction with others that was meaningful for us.
As we decide to leave the house for our very first post-quarantine social gathering, we may be feeling some anxiety about getting sick, getting too close to people or any other number of things. As this is happening, the brain may be sending off signals to the rest of the body to go into fight or flight mode, accompanied by sweaty hands and feet, accelerated heart rate and a number of other symptoms.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. We can retrain our brains to accept and even enjoy the new normal. As I teach this process of letting go using Transformational Healing in my workshops and in private sessions, I've seen people have astounding results. Transformational Healing incorporates neuroscience and spiritual processes to recircuit your brain, allowing older and unpleasant memories to fade and replacing them with new thoughts and processes to heal.
We can retrain our brains to accept and even enjoy the new normal.
For example, Jennifer, a client in my private practice, had been holding on to the memory of a chronic illness she carried for nearly 10 years. Though it was managed and not a daily issue for her anymore, she remembered months on end spent in bed, too tired and sick to do anything but watch TV. Quarantine triggered this feeling to a point that was intolerable for her, and we began to work on retraining her brain to get out of this state and back to happiness.
She spent a great deal of time in our sessions remembering positive times spent at home — staying home with her college roommate and binge-watching movies, staying up late with her favorite ex talking until the wee hours. We focused on these memories, and then visualized new ones to reassure her limbic system that all was well.
Jennifer lives in California, where they have started opening things back up. She is overjoyed to be outside again. But she is also still enjoying nights spent in. Using Transformational Healing to rewire her brain, she was able to break the cycle of sadness and welcome happiness in her new normal.
Because we are human beings with complex emotional lives, our brains can get caught in loops of fear, anxiety or other unpleasant emotions. It is within our power, whether quarantined or not, to take this control back and retrain our brains to experience pleasure, happiness and even joy.
Adalina East, M.Sc., is an international lecturer, educator, mental health expert and healer, working with a global clientele to recover from trauma and bring forth inner guidance. Founder of Transformational Healing™, Adalina draws upon her neuroscience and counseling backgrounds, as well as her spiritual gifts to lead others through a soul-driven process to retrain their brains and adapt to new experiences. Adalina’s decade long career with the United Nations and other humanitarian aid organizations brought her to serve thousands of people in eight countries to overcome trauma and welcome innate wisdom to heal.