Mind the Brain: Managing During UncertaintyNov 18, 2020
Please join us as we begin the second series of the Mind the Brain podcast, where our focus will be 'Managing During Uncertainty.' In our first episode, Dr. Neill Epperson is joined by family and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, Laura McGladrey. Laura is a senior instructor teaching in both the undergraduate and graduate programs in the College of Nursing at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Her background is in emergency medicine, humanitarian aid and wilderness medicine. She is currently working as faculty in the UCHealth Emergency Department’s psychiatric consult service and staffs a stabilization unit for the child and adolescent population. She also works to support frontline workers in our national parks, rescue teams, fire, police, emergency medical service workers and educators.
Is Anyone Thriving?
This opening episode focuses on reassessing our definition of “thriving” as we continue to live through uncertainty and a rapidly changing reality. Laura discusses the intersection between having exposure to trauma and the ability to do anything about it – in this case, experiencing the upheaval related to the pandemic and feeling like there isn’t much we can do to stop or change it. For teachers, this can manifest as seeing their students struggling with the transition to online learning but not knowing what to do to help make it better. Individuals who have a high level of traumatic exposure with a low level of control over making change are the ones who often experience the most distress. She gives several tips on ways we can protect our minds in these cases.
Laura further discusses the importance of naming our traumatic experiences – that it’s okay to call what we’re experiencing a ‘crisis’ – and that naming it can help with releasing some of the trauma. The conversation also touches on the unique circumstances of the pandemic - that we are in a time when it’s important to readjust our expectations of ourselves and others as we simply cannot continue with our old way of doing things. She remarks that individuals who just keep hoping for things to go back to normal and try to maintain their previous way of doing things are those most at risk for experiencing the trauma of uncertainty most strongly. She suggests that we shift our definition of “thriving” from exceeding goals to accepting the moment we are in, allowing ourselves to write new rules for what we will accomplish. Setting the bar too high, namely expecting ourselves to thrive during the pandemic, adds unnecessary pressure and leads to self-deprecation. Hence, managing during this stressful time may be a better, more supportive goal.
Adjusting to the New Normal
Laura also talks about the importance of allowing the grief process to apply to what we’re currently experiencing – to recognize that life is different from what we were expecting and it’s okay to feel grief over the loss of our old “normal life.” She discusses the sixth stage of grief: giving meaning to trauma. She remarks on how rewarding it is to watch patients managing with the aftereffects of trauma and adversity. Instead of trying to get back to their previous way of living, they work through their pain and begin to see a way forward. They become stronger than ever by accepting and making the best of the change in themselves. "If we can learn to understand that just because we’ve never seen something before doesn’t mean it’s going to be terrifying, we may be able to keep enough mental and emotional capacity to be able to respond and innovate. This is a large part of continuing to view ourselves as thriving during uncertainty."
Listen to the Episode
Dr. Neill Epperson and Laura McGladrey discuss the concept of managing our expectations during a pandemic and coping with our new normal.
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