Ep. 62 – The Biology & Brain Science of Sudden Change

Imagine for a moment that you are on an airplane. 

You’ve been traveling for a while and it’s almost time to land. You have a good plan for the trip ahead. You’ve packed what you needed, you’ve done your research, and you’re really eager to get started. 

As the wheels touch down, a voice comes over the speakers and says, “Welcome to Holland!”

Wait, what? Holland? That’s not where you are going. This is a mistake. 

You try to flag someone down, you turn to ask the people around you. 

“Yes,” they say. “We’re going to Holland.”

“But I’m not supposed to be here,” you insist. “This isn’t where I was going. I need to go back.”

They don’t hear you. They’re already moving off the plane. 

You look around at your stuff. This is all wrong. You don’t have the right things. You don’t even know what to do next or where to go. 

Your heart is pounding but your feet are moving slowly. You step off the airplane and look around. Everything seems foreign. Everyone else looks normal and they’re moving about with confidence. 

You start wandering aimlessly. You know you need to get help, but you don’t know who to ask or how to even speak the language. 

Finally, you see a sign that says ‘Information’ and you walk up to it. 

“Please,” you say. “I think I’m lost. Can you help me?”

The person smiles and says, “Yes, I can. Welcome to Holland.”

“I don’t know how I got here,” you respond. “I’m not supposed to be here.”

“I understand that you didn’t plan to come here”, they say, “but this is where you are.”  “You’re not alone, though. Others are here as well.”

“What about my loved ones?” you ask. “I was supposed to meet them somewhere else. They don’t know where I am. What do I tell them?”

“It’s okay,” the person says. “They are still your loved ones. There is still a way to connect with them. For right now, the people who are here in Holland can help you right away.”

This episode is about finding your way when you land somewhere unexpected – when sudden change alters your destination and thrusts you into a landscape where you feel lost and alone. 

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that when we find ourselves in new ground, it’s important to look for the information booth. Life does not come with a map, but you can find others to help guide you when your journey changes. 

Change is always a part of life. It’s how we grow and evolve. But sudden change is a shock to the system. It jolts you from the inside. 

I was watching a television show the other day and one of the characters said: “Sometimes shit happens to you that you couldn’t have seen coming and it knocks you into a different life.”

What the change is or how fast it happened are simply details. How it affects you is the real impact. When you find yourself off balance, you don’t need to justify the experience. The significance of the change is often known really just to you. Not everyone may understand or recognize that you’ve been knocked into a different life. And that is part of the change, too. 

In other cases, it may not be change that happened to us, but we find ourselves trying to support someone we care for who has, suddenly, become really far away. 

So whether something has happened to you or happened around you, big changes require big adjustments. And big changes that happen suddenly have extra layers of adjustment.  

Often your body will feel the pivot of change before it fully registers in your brain. Sudden change kickstarts stress response in the body. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up, your muscles are tense, you might start to feel warm, or find it hard to breathe regularly. Your nervous system is on high alert to see which of the fight-flight-or-freeze responses are needed. 

Your brain is processing things slow and fast at the same time. It’s clocking the shift while seeking the details to explain what is happening and why. Sudden change feels dangerous, and an initial instinct is to remove yourself from the situation so you can process. Seeking help is a survival instinct as well. 

During all of this though, your brain is trying to help you- it activates its internal superpowers. It has a remarkable ability to adapt to change through neural plasticity. As you are taking in new information, your brain is already working to recognize its neural connections and form new pathways. These elements open you up to new skills, coping strategies, and even quick ideas as you are navigating unfamiliar situations. 

The biology and brain science of change provide the very tools you need to help adapt to the situation. Being able to accept the change, however-that comes from the community around you in this new land. It’s natural to want to turn back to where we were – and there is some support to be found there. 

If you find yourself feeling lost, look for the information booths. Who has been here before you? Who can speak the language? Who else knows what it’s like to be in this very place?

While your body and brain are firing on all cylinders, you still are in need of basic care: food, water, rest. And all of those things may be disrupted, which is why tending to your energy is one of the best ways to provide yourself with important fuel as you navigate this change. 

Most of the time, change is a layover, not a final destination. But while you adjust, there are two energy efforts that are helpful. The first is focusing on hydration. Because of the revved up emotional and physical adjustments, your brain and body are doing the equivalent of cognitive cardio. 

Being intentional with water keeps your engines operating or helps reboot it. Your appetite might take a hit but pay attention to hydration so you can keep moving through the change. 

The second thing is movement itself. Even walking as you think helps metabolize the surge of stress hormones. Just as your mind may be buzzing, your body might be shaking-it’s on high alert. While it may not be possible to do regular exercise, movement of any type can help regulate breathing, process blood flow, and helps change the visual scenery. 

More than ever, times of big change are when it’s important to take good care. And one day, your current journey may help you serve as an information booth for others. 

Whether this episode applies to you now or one day or applies to you personally or to someone near you, I hope you are able to find fellow travelers in all your journeys. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.