Community Spotlight: Brain Health and Resilience in the Era of COVID-19
by Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
As a nation, we are now four months into the COVID-19 pandemic. As a global community, the impact reaches back even further to the end of 2019 (World Health Organization). But when the initial outbreak was first reported, could anyone foresee the cross-cultural effects this virus would inflict on life as we knew it?
Did it seem possible that healthcare systems would be overwhelmed, streams of income would be halted, social connections would be distanced and a mounting death toll would be feared? These circumstances have become our new reality, but it’s still hard to predict just how this collective trauma might shape our mental health over time.
Will the children who are separated from their teachers, friends and classrooms find it difficult to reintegrate when school is back in session? Will the adults who are unemployed suffer anxiety or depression as they contend with an unstable future? Will the essential workers who stepped into this frontline turbulence still bear that pressure for years to come? Will the immune compromised be afraid for their lives when they enter public crowds? Will those who are now food or housing insecure feel an urgency to continue in survival mode?
Will many—if not, most or all—of us internalize some residue of all this stress and tension in our psyches even after the pandemic ends? That is one of the questions The Brain Wave Center in Sarasota is working to address at this moment in real-time. “Almost nothing is currently known about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on our nervous systems, but a healthy brain has never been more important than it is right now,” emphasizes Gregg Sledziewski, Executive Director of The Brain Wave Center.
“Fear, worry and apprehension are normal human emotions. Anxiety can be described as an extreme version of them. While those other emotions ebb and flow in most people, anxiety sufferers constantly live with these sensations, often limiting their ability to perform basic tasks. Then along comes COVID-19—an invisible threat which forced us all into quarantine with no social interactions, potential job layoffs, virtual education and a general sense of ‘What just happened?’ Decades of research have determined that a poorly regulated human brain leads to irregular brainwaves which can release chemicals in the body that cause anxiety.
“So optimal brain health starts with detecting where the anxiety stems from and confronting it at the source. If you were in a healthy and balanced state of mind prior to COVID-19, then simple relaxation techniques and a structured, productive routine might be all you need. But if you have suffered an acute impact from this or if you are more susceptible to anxiety, then pursuits such as meditation, walks and yoga will not always be enough to withstand a crisis. Therefore, checking your brain health with more advanced tools might be helpful to find answers and devise an action plan to target your specific needs.
“For example, children might need extra support, as we do not yet know the long-term effects this period could have on them—especially children who were already vulnerable to mental health concerns. In such cases, a more direct and intensive approach to manage the buildup of anxiety would be neurofeedback therapy, combined with psychosocial assessment tools, to restore a sense of calmness, structure and relaxation,” Sledziewski points out.
But what does this mean exactly, and how can it benefit those of us who feel the mental and emotional burdens in sharp focus right now? Sledziewski elaborates, “When The Brain Wave Center first opened, we specialized in qEEG Brain Map Guided Neurofeedback. In other words, we used nationally-recognized brain mapping techniques to quickly establish brain function and initiate healthier patterns with non-invasive, customized and drug-free neurofeedback brain training. As we successfully worked with more clients, it soon became apparent that combining neurofeedback with other practices such as nutrition counseling, psychotherapy and meditation can be incredibly effective.”
Along with this diversification of treatment modalities comes a physical expansion for The Brain Wave Center too. “Being able to offer these services, combined with our influx of new clients, requires a larger space than what we currently have,” notes Sledziewski. To that end, within these next couple months, The Brain Wave Center will relocate from Main Street in downtown Sarasota to its future address, 640 South Washington Avenue.
“Our new easily accessible location offers ample free parking and will be more special needs friendly than our present location. Conservatively, we plan to be moved by the middle of July 2020. Our investment here is three-fold. First, we aim to improve as many lives as we can. Second, we participate in research initiatives to further legitimize the efficacy of our programs. Third, we are committed to help as many children as possible with neurofeedback,” he adds. Here are some of the most recent initiatives The Brain Wave Center is rolling out:
A continued expansion of the core programs which include neurofeedback, psychotherapy, nutrition counseling and hypnotherapy, among others
A launch of a medical division in order to build new platforms that will assess and treat attention deficits, spectrum disorders and other brain-borne issues
A new center for the research and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)—through The Brain Wave Center’s charity partners, if a family desires to utilize these services, the costs will be covered based on what the family can afford
A partnership with European Wellness Centers to develop a modern, world-class center for holistic rejuvenation and health in order to treat the “whole person”
Of course, in the midst of all these advancements, bolstering the health and resilience of our community remains at the forefront of The Brain Wave Center’s mission, and never has this felt so urgent than here in the COVID-19 era. “We believe it is important to share new brain research and findings, as well as provide coping mechanisms to address the difficulties that isolation can cause. We are also creating tools to serve our first responders and other essential workers who have been so instrumental in this crisis.
“In addition, we have adjusted our safety measures to follow CDC standards. These new sanitary requirements prioritize the health of our clients and employees. The use of hand sanitizer and temperature readings are incorporated into our workflow, and all our technicians wear both masks and gloves.
“Temporarily, we have modified our hours of operation and reduced the number of clients we see each hour in accordance with social distancing parameters. We have also taken precautions such as adding UVC light to our HVAC system, installing special air filters and making sure the office environment is always clean. Most importantly, we are attentive to the concerns and well-being of our clients, then we respond based on their needs,” Sledziewski concludes. Intentional, mindful actions from a true mental health advocate.
The Brain Wave Center’s forthcoming new location will be at 640 S Washington Ave., Sarasota. To learn more about the treatment modalities and services offered, call 941-552-4500 or visit BrainWaveCenters.com.
Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota–Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer. Her personal blog HealthBeAHippie.Wordpress.com features tips for embracing an active, nutritious, balanced and empowered lifestyle.