Your Brain in the COVID-19 Crisis

How can we foster good thinking?

COVID-19 PERSPECTIVE: Charles Stone

West Park Church, London, Ontario, Canada

Church leaders today are scrambling to find creative, innovative and workable strategies, plans and ideas to minister in our COVID-consumed world. I appreciate the plethora of blogs, podcasts, videocasts and seminars offered to help us respond well.

However, there is a fundamental process that precedes 100% of all ideas.

And what is that process? Thinking.

Thinking precedes leadership, outreach, preaching and pretty much everything. And clear thinking precedes good leadership, and all the rest.

In fact, the word mind (which is where thinking happens) appears over 160 times in Scripture. It was one of the Apostle Paul’s favorite words and he admonishes us to “think” in certain ways (Phil. 4.8).

So in this age that requires great ideas and great leadership, how can we foster good thinking?

Here are five suggestions to help keep your mind clear, focused and working at its best, given the circumstances.

1. Recognize that brain fog is normal.

Realize that as things change hour to hour, we will sometimes feel that we are in a brain fog, finding it difficult to focus and concentrate. This is normal because the COVID-19 uncertainties incite our fight-flight centers (the limbic system) that in turn dampen the ability for our brain’s CEO (the pre-frontal cortex) to think most effectively. This is normal. You are not losing your mind. When this happens, don’t get frustrated at yourself because when you do, you engage your fight-flight center all the more and clear thinking gets further diminished.

2. Build in regular breaks.

Take a few minutes break every hour or so. When we use our brain, it uses energy. But over time, that energy gets depleted and we can’t focus as well and our willpower gets depleted. It’s called ego depletion. That is, mental energy and willpower is a limited resource. Taking breaks can refresh your brain. I use an app called Time Out (I have no ties to this company) on my computer. I set it so that every hour it slowly dims my screen for three minutes. During those three minutes I do a short mindfulness exercise by closing my eyes and taking slow deep breaths. This is proven to refresh your brain.

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3. Label your feelings.

This COVID-19 scare is stirring up many unpleasant feelings like worry, anxiety, anger and fear in church leaders (Is our church going to survive?). The Christian world often implies that good leaders should not have these feelings. As a result, we stuff or ignore then. However, neuroscience has discovered that when we suppress negative emotions, ironically, it makes those emotions even stronger (called the ironic process theory). So, label your difficult emotions during this time. Be honest with God how you are feeling. In doing so, you will take the power out of them.

4. Mind your mind.

Everywhere we turn we are reminded about the horrors of COVID-19. However, without intentional conscious awareness, these terrible thoughts can become a regular part of our subconscious (and conscious) thinking. It’s called rumination, a mental process when we repeat and mull of over negative thoughts in our mind (think of a scene on a DVD repeating over and over and over). To mind your mind means to periodically conduct a thought check. Ask yourself, “What am I thinking about at this very moment?” In other words, think about your thinking (it’s called metacognition). If you find you are caught up in negative thinking, change your mental channel. Referring again to what the apostle Paul wrote about in Philippians 4.8, he says we must think about certain things. Unless we think about our thinking, we won’t know if we need to change the mental channel.

5. Create certainty.

The brain loves certainty. It predicts what it thinks will happen next. If circumstances indicate a fair certainty of what happens next, it likes it and remains relatively calm. But with uncertainty, the fight-flight centers kick in and compromise clear thinking. How can you create certainty in a very uncertain church world? I suggest two ways. First, each morning write out your priorities, set some goals and schedule when you plan to work on them. Creating and following a schedule will help your brain calm down because you are creating certainty. Second, read and meditate on the great stories of biblical heroes who had great faith. They lived in uncertain times, not knowing the future. But they trusted in the One who was consistently and perfectly certain, God. As a result, they experienced the benefits of certainty.

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A few Google searches will reveal many great ideas on how to do church in these uncertain times. But remember, good thinking always precedes great ideas and great leadership, which we need in these uncertain times. Practice these five brain tips to maximize your thinking as you lead, preach and serve in these challenging times.

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