Why Almonds?

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Recently, looking into the benefits of Mindfulness to support staff working on my ward, I became aware of the importance of the Amygdala.

The Amygdala is part of our ‘primitive brain’, sometimes called the lizard brain as phylogenetically it is part of us that has been present throughout our evolution; it is responsible for controlling or managing our emotions, in particular our fear and flight or flight responses.

When the Amygdala (Almond in Latin, given its shape) is activated in response to a threat, the image I have is that of Mario Puzo’s Corleone family – ‘going to the mattresses’ lying low and waiting for the threat (police, IRS, other gangsters, etc) to pass.

When we are in this state, little comes in or goes out, in other words, we aren’t open to learning and we struggle to be creative or imaginative – literally, we wait for the threat to pass.

As to the threat – that can come in many different guises and is very individualized – what might threaten one person might not even arouse the attention of another.

In my own experience, when working in teams, in order to achieve the best outcomes, to collaborate, to use the combined intelligence, experience and learning of those around you, the Amygdala has to be quiet; individuals have to feel safe and secure in order to think creatively, to imagine, to not worry about saying something daft or illogical.

It is often the daft and supposedly illogical ideas that change the way people view the world.

When Ignaz Semmelweiss in the 1840’s suggested that doctors not washing their hands might be the cause of women dying from post-partum sepsis, his thinking was not welcomed, indeed, it took decades before his observational data was demonstrated by microbiological studies by Pasteur, Lister and others that doctors started to wash their hands.

Ideas, like children thrive in places of safety and security – that is why one of the fundamentals of the team and in particular the team-leader is to ensure that all members are being looked after, cared for, assured and insured.

Over the years, the NHS has spent millions on trying to find solutions to complex problems, often going overseas or employing high-priced consultancies to give us the answers. The NHS with its 1.6 million staff has all the answers – we just need to create a culture that allows people to think, imagine and dream beyond their immediate work directives and restrictions, to allow the passion for learning and development that is central to all humans to find a place in the system.

By nurturing and cultivating the almond in our brains, no challenge is beyond our abilities.

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