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Women’s And Men’s Brains And Coronavirus

Patricia Faust March 2020

Brain Health Kuel Category Expert: Patricia Faust, MGS

There has been something unnerving about the realization that I am in the ‘high risk group’ for contracting the Coronavirus.

I have never given these types of announcements any thought over the years. I am surprised that it shook me so. In my head I don’t see an older person when I look in the mirror. But, a pandemic doesn’t care if you think you are old or not.

I had to break out of that thought process because I am all about living a young life until the end of life. Our brain is ageless – meaning that your brain does not know how old you are. Chronological age actually means nothing.

But, in troubled times such as these we really don’t think clearly. Our brain is always surveying our environment to keep us safe. The primary job of our brain is to keep us alive.

When we are inundated by the crush of bleak information about the Coronavirus, we definitely go into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. This ability of our brain to protect us is hardwired – a gift from our prehistoric ancestors. In a situation like the pandemic we are all experiencing, our brain goes into overdrive. Now we are in a chronic stress cycle and we are unloading cortisol (the stress hormone) on our whole brain/body. This comes with the added effect of being reactive instead of proactive. We lose on this deal because we are not thinking or making good decisions.

For those of us in our midlife years and beyond we can usually look back over past experiences and feel comfortable in the decisions we are making in a crisis situation.

Women process information on both sides of their prefrontal cortex. Men process each hemisphere separately from front to back.

In essence, they process half of the incoming information at a time. Women take in everything and find the answers in a complete picture of what is happening. They think about the information and make their decision. This process can result in a longer time period to come up with an answer. Because men are only utilizing half of their prefrontal cortex at a time, they make decisions faster. It doesn’t mean that the decisions men make are wrong, they just might not take in the depth of the situation before they make a decision. Men tend to normally be more reactive because they have more testosterone receptors on their amygdala.

Where does that take us on decisions about the Coronavirus? Our older brains will look back at our past experiences to come up a workable plan to get through this. However, this pandemic is completely unprecedented and methods of protection that we normally would have considered won’t work.

Can we calm our brain down long enough to get through the onslaught of bad news we hear 24/7?

We can; if we use some stress-busting techniques to stop cortisol production. Some deep breaths will break the chronic stress cycle. We need to get some exercise to send the blood, oxygen, and carbohydrates to the prefrontal cortex for energy. Will there be a difference in the decisions that men and women make over this?

men and women working together to come up with solutions will yield the best results.

Women are more collaborative and want the best solution. Men can be competitive and want to have the best solution that they thought of themselves. In this situation, having men and women working together to come up with solutions will yield the best results. Women will consider all of the elements involved in a good decision, but men will make the fastest decisions based on less information. In this crisis we need quick decisions, but we also need well thought out plans.

Individually, we need to practice mindfulness to get through each day. Don’t jump ahead of the situation because we have so little control over what each day brings. Take advantage of what we do have under our control. Look for something positive every morning before you start your day. Remember, our brain adapts to our environment no matter if it is good or bad. We have the power to continually look for something positive to hang our hats on.

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About the Author:

Patricia Faust is a gerontologist specializing in the issues of brain aging, brain health, brain function and dementia. She has a Masters in Gerontological Studies degree from Miami University in Oxford Ohio. Patricia is certified as a brain health coach and received a certification in Neuroscience and Wellness through Dr. Sarah McKay and the Neuroscience Academy. My Boomer Brain, founded in 2015, is the vehicle that Patricia utilizes to teach, coach and consult about brain aging, brain health and brain function. Her newsletter, My Boomer Brain, has international readers from South Africa, Australia, throughout Europe and Canada. She has also been a frequent guest on Medicare Moment on WMKV and Cincy Lifestyles on WCPO.