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Don’t let your pre-frontal cortex melt down before you take a break

Noting that the prefrontal cortex is the region in the human brain involved in planning complex cognitive behaviour, decision making and moderating social behaviour, Annelize van Rensburg, Director of Executive Search at Signium Africa and Chair of Signium Global Board, has a simple message: Don’t let it melt down....

“The human brain is generally a robust piece of equipment and its abilities are staggeringly remarkable,” says Van Rensburg. “That is, of course, unless it’s overloaded with pressure caused largely by ongoing and untreated stress.”

According to Van Rensburg, while the festive season brings joy and togetherness for some, for many it is a time of added tension and worry too.

“For those lucky enough to have a supportive family and circle of friends, along with the finances to participate in what is an increasingly expensive season, the holidays can be the highlight of the year.

However, for many people it brings social pressures where family dynamics are difficult, and even the office party can be a source of stress.” Continuing she comments “There are those who feel obliged to rise to the family occasions, no matter how stressful they feel. And at the other end of the scale, those who have no family or friends to spend time with experience a seasonal loneliness that adds immense sadness to their stress.” 

Here, she notes that the planning, decision making and social expectations piled into a brain that has been hard at work all year can push individuals into attending functions and faking happiness they may not be up to.

Actions that can prevent meltdown

“Take a moment to review what you’re feeling, and note excess stress around the season, like having to buy gifts, cook meals, host parties when you really would like to just relax.

Signs to watch for that indicate stress overload include forgetfulness, and inability to articulate what you need, difficulty with communication and often, overwhelming fatigue. If you’re feeling any of these emotions or difficulties, do yourself – and your mind – a huge favour and try a few ways to distress,” she says.

  • If you’re on leave, start your day with a short walk or some yoga-type exercises
  • Don’t turn your alarm on unless you have to – wake when your body is ready
  • Spend time with uplifting people and avoid the negative conversations
  • Quiet time – no TV, no news, no social media – can give your brain a good rest
  • Try to let go of the year’s troubles and focus on the things you’re grateful for

With all that’s happening in the world and our country, says Van Rensburg, it’s not always easy to ignore the negative. “Find some balance. For every stressful or negative thought you have, find one positive. Note that your own expectations of yourself are far higher than anyone else expects of you and taking a break from expectations could be the best gift you can give yourself.”

For those required to work through the festive season, extra self-care will be needed, Van Rensburg asserts. “But for those fortunate enough to get away from it all, focus on the small delights – green grass after the rains; seashells if you’re at the beach; time making gifts with family”.

“Anything you can do to give your brain a holiday this year will be actions well-spent. Pack away all but the best lessons your learned in 2022 to give yourself a less stressful start to 2023, and avoid overloading your magnificent brain to burn-out, melt-down stage.”

Above all, Van Rensburg suggests, “Remember that the power your brain requires to worry is the same amount of power it needs to seek peace and joy. Here’s wishing you all some quiet, happy moments as we bid farewell to 2022.” 

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