New year, new neurons?
New Year is a time for resolutions and intentions for some, and yet dire mental health crises for others. Tweets, papers and news feeds show that there is a wonderful shared consciousness across the UK that we need to invest in and protect the wellbeing of the police and emergency services. So how does this consciousness and good intention actually help an individual today, or any day in 2018? We would argue it doesn’t– unless we take it on ourselves.
New chances to think
Right now, many of us will be facing 2018 with energy, clarity and focus on what we want to achieve, for how we want things to be, for how we want to be. For others, the chance of renewal and of new beginnings has slipped from view altogether, and all they can see is what they haven’t achieved, how they don’t want things to be. Both ways (and in fact any way) of seeing the New Year are options for us, whether we choose to be aware of it or not.
The uncomfortable—but unbelievably empowering– truth is that in every moment our brain has the potential to fire any thought pattern we choose; it’s just that the moment of choice gets subsumed by our busy minds.
Could this Cherokee saying apply to the life of a Policing Mind?
There is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is FEARFUL, angry, disillusioned, resentful, closed, tired, self-absorbed, chased by the past into the future. The other is FEARLESS, appreciative, focused, compassionate, steady, open and accepting to what is happening now as a new experience.
Which wolf wins? THE ONE YOU FEED.
Neuroscience is unpacking some important recent discoveries to apply to everyday life.
Trauma resilience is not a question of whether individuals are just “the right person for the job” or not, but of how process experiences in the brain. The ‘thin blue line’ between resilience and burnout in policing may in fact be between which circuits we naturally default to when we make sense of our experiences.
For example, recent studies show that healthy individuals (as well as those with post-traumatic stress) may employ associative, fear-based circuitry more to process incidents if they are regularly exposed to trauma and that this unhelpful bias may be exaggerated by age or even genetics*. So what can we do about how we use our minds at work and at home?
The best news from neuropsychology is that we can learn to correct these biases and -through practice- we can grow new neurons and re-wire our brains to make us more agile, resilient and happy long term.
This is hugely important for emergency services and in 2017, The Police Dependants’ Trust launched a two-year project with the University of Cambridge to develop new techniques to help officers, staff and management
improve trauma processing and resilience in operational policing.
To find out more about the project visit www.policingtrauma.sociology.cam.ac.uk
So as your New Year unfolds, remember that in any moment you have a choice to be aware of how your mind is approaching an experience. Our happiness and resilience likely lies in the wolf we choose to feed.
If you would like to explore how to develop techniques to improve your awareness and cognitive agility, visit http://www.rickhanson.net/articles/positive-neuroplasticity/.
Alternatively, spend a few minutes a day watching your thoughts—even book a session with a counsellor, make notes, or download a mindfulness app’ if that helps.
Every step towards knowing your brain grows new neurons for new possibilities. Happy New Year!
*Miller, et al. (2017) The Impact of the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Gene on Trauma and Spatial Processing. J. Clin. Med. 6, 108.