Today’s topic involves adaptation to the environment. The word “adaptation” may remind us a bit of high school biology, but it is so relevant when it comes to mental health as well.
Why is environmental adaptation important in the discussion of mental health, you may ask?
Well, one definition of mental health is the ability to do well in your surroundings, and to adjust to them in the ways that are necessary.
This doesn’t mean conforming to the expectations had of you if you cannot meet them, but it does mean making the best use of the unique qualities you have to do well wherever you are.
There are a few methods of adaptation, in our context.
- You can adapt using neurobiological means to adjust your brain’s functioning to that which might be more ideal for a given environment or to that which decreases impairment or distress. This method screams, “Oops! We have a problem which must be solved quickly and forcefully!”
- You can use behavioral training in order to manually train yourself, and as a result your brain, to respond to your environment by conditioning your responses in a certain way. Like the previous method, this can introduce permanent changes into your psychological patterns. This one tells you, “There’s a chance you might have some challenges navigating your world because of_______. There is a way to address this yourself without fundamentally changing anything in your brain other than what affects this challenge.”
- Behavioral accommodations are essentially saying, “Hey! It’s OK if for some reason you’re not responding well – or at least the way that most people around you are – to a certain environment. This in no way means you are deformed. Instead you’ve just got to use some tricks to make the environment work for you!” Of course, nobody is suited to adapt equally capably everywhere. There will most likely always be places where we just don’t do very well. The key here is finding the external tools that can help you navigate that environment as best you can, while using your innate skills to the best of your ability in that environment to let yourself shine in the area in which you are meant to do so.
Here is an example:
Say, you’ve been diagnosed with the condition known as ADHD.
- If your ADHD is impairing you, you presumably have the disorder and may be able to benefit from such treatments as neurofeedback, medication, good nutrition and exercise, alternative medicine, and lifestyle changes. These all directly target the neurobiological factors in your brain that could be causing distress or impairment of functioning.
- If your ADHD is less severe or at least significantly responsive to behavioral training treatments – or if you are simply, without diagnosis, a more “scatterbrained” or nonlinear thinker by nature and want to improve your attention skills – behavioral training allows you to manually influence the brain pathways through psychological work. Manual attention training exercises condition your brain and can help you learn to focus more easily. Of course, there are limits to what this kind of treatment program can do, and it likely won’t be able to fully change the brain type that you have, but it often is effective at removing some of the difficulties that come with a less directed attention span.
- Accommodations are excellent both for those who have been diagnosed with ADHD and for those who are naturally more nonlinear and outside-the-box. Our modern education system is arguably unfairly tailored to those whose minds are more linear and logical. Our complex world today also requires individuals to be able to think straightforwardly and make organized decisions and plans. These tasks may be difficult if you have ADHD or if you do not have ADHD but are simply suited for a more free-spirited setting. The purpose of accommodations is to help you navigate the parts of life that do not come easily to you. Accommodations run the gamut from technology that helps you stay organized to extended time on exams in order to let you show what you know even though your brain may work a bit more slowly because of reduced working memory capacity. Such accommodations are what often raise the question pertaining to the gray area between (over)-diagnosis of ADHD and the acceptance that nonlinear, “all-over-the-place” thinking (which is a common foundation for creativity) is not by definition problematic.