Thursday, 21 May 2015

Adaptability is underestimated.

This is the *extended Wellbeing column from the York Press, May 
4th, 2015

Spring is here! Now to choose what to wear. The weather is so changeable that making the right choice can be a problem, especially if travelling. Some springs are warmer, wetter and windier than others, but this year spring has gone from warm to cold and back again several times in a few weeks. Just when we think about wearing less clothing, using lighter bedclothes and turning the heating down, the temperature drops and we go back to needing to feel warm and cosy again. 

It amuses me when we wear clothing in April that we wouldn’t have worn in January, even though the temperature is the same. We adapt, our bodies acclimatise. Just as they do when going abroad or experiencing extremes of temperature in the UK. At first, the body can be overwhelmed, but then we become more used to it. Though possibly still uncomfortable, we are able to tolerate the change more easily than when first experienced.

*Many people say that they wouldn't live 'in the north' because it's colder and my mother was one of them. We love the cooler, less polluted weather up here in Yorkshire and do not find the thought of a possible move south in the years to come, an attractive one. Though we would acclimatise, as we did coming north over twenty years ago. It fascinates me how the spring sunshine brings out the 'T' shirt and shorts wearers, even if the temperature then turns to below 10c and wind is biting, which it has done too many times this year. It would seem that once out of the wardrobe, they are staying out, whatever the conditions. Living in a seaside town, this phenomenon is highlighted. The variety of clothes worn can be a picture. Someone wearing a strappy top, standing next to someone in boots, coat and scarf, even a hat maybe. Looking at pictures from a race meeting can be even more entertaining! I know that living in the north appears to highlight the choice of clothing.

Adaptability is an underrated skill. People express displeasure in change, but necessity can often mean having to adapt quickly. Most human brains are equipped for changing and learning, while we should remember that no success is reached, without failing on the way. Our brains adapt to change all the time. It could be a new phone, TV, computer, workplace, washing machine, car or a different climate. 

*We have spent many holidays doing self-catering in a variety of  locations and accommodation. At first, the kitchen is a voyage of discovery, but we quickly adapt to a very different set of crockery, cutlery and kitchen equipment and it soon becomes 'normal'.

Interestingly, as we adapt, especially using something technical, deep rooted feelings of failure can quickly rise to the surface. We become frustrated, emotional and our logical brain shuts down, which makes decision-making poor and we can panic and become angry.* If it’s something we really don’t have to do, we may stop trying. Forget the unhelpful, ‘practise makes perfect,' but remember, ‘practice does makes better.’ Keep going!

* Supermarkets can be an irritation. People are generally short of time and do not want to spend their time trying to find where something has been moved to. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of the smaller/local shop, which the major chains have discovered. Less choice, quickly done. My husband, Adrian, wrote about the eventual decline of out-of-town large supermarkets in the 1997. Very few wanted to know. Certainly not the companies, developers, councils, planners and anyone else with financial gain in mind. Perhaps if Tescos had taken notice, instead of rubbishing the ideas, they wouldn't have made such a enormous loss recently.

Scientists talk of the brain being plastic, as it can be remoulded in different ways. New neural pathways are developed. Like computers, new software can be installed and hardwired. There is plenty of evidence of people who have recovered from major illnesses or brain injuries.

In practice, I found that using the computer metaphor was helpful for the majority of clients. Obviously, for those that used computers. It proved even more helpful in guided visualisation, when creating new folders and moving old files to the 'trash can'. 

James, a teenage boy, was at home where there was a large, family dog, Casper. James had smoked cannabis and was now convinced that he’d damaged his brain. I couldn’t promise him that he hadn’t, but I could say that the brain can adapt well if old neural pathways are damaged. New pathways are created and repetitive action sets them in place.  He was questioning the validity of what I was saying, when I saw the dog. “Look at Casper," I said, “he was badly injured by a bus and lost a leg, but does that stop him behaving as a dog should do?” Casper was bounding around the room on his three legs, as I spoke. “He has learnt to adapt or rather his brain has.” James smiled, looked at the evidence and believed me. He had given himself a shock, but chose not to take the risk with cannabis again.


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