What I learned from Kate Silverton about our brains and how to look after them
by Louise Scodie, NABS senior PR and communications manager
What do the lizard, the baboon and the wise owl have in common?
According to Kate Silverton, the TV broadcaster, journalist and now child counsellor, they all represent different parts of our brain. By using these simple animal analogies, we can understand what makes us tick, how we’re hard-wired to respond to certain situations, and how we can best support ourselves and the people around us.
Kate joined us for a NABS Talk to mark Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) 2022 and delighted us all with her warmth and wisdom. As a mum of two, Kate knows first-hand about the challenges of working parenthood and is passionate about our role in supporting our children’s mental health. During the fascinating hour we spent together, Kate discussed how we can support our own mental health and that of our colleagues by understanding the same principles of neuroscience that she’s brought to life in her bestselling book There’s No Such Thing As Naughty, written for parents of young children (I’ve read it. It’s accessible, supportive and useful.)
The lizard, the baboon and the wise owl
The aforementioned animals hold the key to understanding ourselves and others. The lizard is the survival part of our brain; the baboon the emotional brain and the wise owl the oversight part of the brain, which soothes and problem-solves. Under-fives haven’t developed their wise owls yet and although all adults have, that doesn’t stop us going into lizard or baboon brain mode – panic, shouting, fear and so on – when we’re placed under stress.
It’s science made simple to explain the brain.
When we understand how our brains operate and develop, it takes the stigma and mystery away from mental health.Kate Silverton
Which led to my key takeaway from the event – we are hard-wired to have a stress response. We react the way we do in certain situations because of the way we’re built. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you’re not alone or weird – we all feel this way. It’s the design.
This was very reassuring indeed. Even more reassuring was Kate’s advice that there are things we can do to help ourselves and others.
How to help ourselves and others
Make time to support and soothe yourself regularly with a rhythmic or soothing activity. Kate recommended knitting, drumming, yoga and meditation – the former two connect with our internal rhythms, which the latter have been scientifically proven to change our brains for the better. Build up your reserves of calm, and you’ll be able to face stressful situations with more wise owl and less baboon.
How to support colleagues
In terms of supporting your colleagues, and especially given that the theme of this year’s MHAW was loneliness, being an active listener and being emotionally available are two key actions that Kate recommended. Ask someone how they are doing, and really listen to their response.
Continuing the loneliness theme, Kate also encouraged us to be “be brave and curious” to connect with other people. Even if you’re a lone wolf, there will be other lone wolves out there you can team up with.
I particularly enjoyed discussing the importance of oxytocin on the brain. It’s a feel-good hormone that’s released in many ways including via a good cuddle, which provided a fine excuse to have a virtual hug through the screen with Kate as we ended the Talk. A reassuring end to an hour with a very wise owl indeed.