- Your brain type may affect your happiness and how you deal with coming out of the pandemic.
- Psychiatrist and renowned author Dr. Daniel G. Amen explains how five brain types may adjust differently during and after the pandemic.
- Understanding your brain type and personality type can help you cope as you return to pre-pandemic norms.
Adjusting back to a life that resembles the days before the COVID-19 pandemic may bring challenges for some. As you navigate the transition, understanding your brain type and its connection to happiness could help you embrace how you get back into the world.
“The pandemic just devastated brains. Not only did COVID negatively impact your brain, but the chronic stress [and ways of coping] damaged your brain — the alcohol, marijuana, drugs, bad food, obesity. It’s really important to work on having a healthy brain,” Dr. Daniel G. Amen, psychiatrist and author of more than 40 books, including “You, Happier: The 7 Neuroscience Secrets of Feeling Good Based on Your Brain Type,” told Healthline.
After studying more than 200,000 brain scans of people from 155 countries, he discovered five primary brain types that he believes influence happiness: balanced, spontaneous, persistent, sensitive, and cautious.
A person’s brain type influenced how they dealt with the pandemic, as well as how they will manage in a post-pandemic time, according to Amen.
“Ultimately, we want to work toward the balanced brain type. You can move toward that with the right strategies and help, through honoring how your brain is wired,” said Amen.
While there are variations of brain types, below are descriptions of Amen’s five main brain types.
People with balanced brains tend to navigate life in an organized way. Their traits include:
- good impulse control
- emotional stability
“During a pandemic, [they] tend to do OK… because they’re flexible and can sort of roll with the stresses. They listen to government, they’re cautious and careful, and able to sleep. They don’t allow the sky to fall on them,” said Amen.
He expects people with this brain type to do well coming out of the pandemic for the same reasons.
Those with a spontaneous brain type tend to be the “life of the party” and enjoy trying new things. Their traits include:
- creativity, out-of-the-box thinking
- varied interests
- short attention span
- impulsiveness; careless mistakes
- love of surprises
- tendency toward ADHD
A shift to the “new normal” will require those with a spontaneous brain to work on impulsivity and decision making.
“Goal setting is critical for this group. You don’t want to just be living in the moment, you want to be living in all the moments. You want to enjoy today, but not at the expense of tomorrow,” said Amen.
Persistent brain types like to get up in the morning and tackle their day, but their persistence can work against them too. Their traits include:
- strong will
- preference for routine
- inflexibility or stubbornness
- easily “stuck” on thoughts
- tendency to see what is wrong
- opposition, argumentativeness
- obsessive-compulsive tendencies
Amen said the persistent brain types suffered the most during the pandemic because routines were broken and life was unpredictable.
“Depending on what side of the vaccination issue they’re on and their political [stance], they spent a lot of the pandemic angry and unhappy,” he said.
Returning to normal may be harder for this group, but Amen said if they can increase their serotonin levels through exercise, foods, supplements, or medications, they will adjust better.
“We want to move them toward being more balanced,” he said.
Those with a sensitive brain type tend to see the glass half empty. Their traits include:
- deep feelings
- mood variability
- lots of negative thoughts
“They love connection, and social isolation [during the pandemic] was just brutal,” said Amen.
As they come out of the pandemic, he said rekindling connections will help them most.
“Whether it’s in groups you like or church… put aside the political and societal differences and reconnect, ’cause that will ultimately make you the happiest,” he said.
People with a cautious brain tend to be self-conscious. Other traits include:
- risk aversion
- difficulty relaxing
Because people with a cautious brain love security, Amen said during the pandemic, they tended to be anxious.
As that anxiousness carries on during a post-pandemic world, he said the cautious type might already be planning for the next pandemic by doing things like stocking up on toilet paper to feel safer and more secure.
“Give yourself a half hour a week to plan for [another pandemic], so you don’t have to think about it all the time,” Amen said.
Natalie Dattilo, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of psychology at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, said psychologists often use the Big Five personality “types” rather than brain types to help understand and predict how a person might behave or respond to a situation.
While the Big Five share similarities to Amen’s brain types, they specifically include:
- openness to experience
“It’s almost guaranteed that a person’s character traits will influence how they experience and deal with any challenging situation, especially a pandemic and even a pandemic recovery,” Dattilo told Healthline.
For example, she said a person who scores high on openness to new experience will likely fare better than someone who prefers stability, predictability, and routine.
“A person who scores high on conscientiousness will take great care and precaution and will likely be concerned with the well-being of others as well as their own. A person high on neuroticism will likely be anxious, preoccupied, worried, and controlling,” she said.
Understanding your brain type and personality type may help you adjust to a new normal, according to experts.
Know your brain type
Learning what your brain type is can be a good start to navigating a new normal, said Amen. He offers a free assessment to learn what your brain type is.
Once you know your brain type, he said to consider the following to help bring happiness to your life as you navigate adjusting to a new normal:
- Ask yourself if what you’re going to do for the day is good or bad for your brain.
- Love food that will love you back. This means eating food that will nourish you and make you feel good.
- Gain psychological distance from the noise in your head. For example, limit negative news to 15 minutes per day.
- Make someone else happy, which in turn can make you feel good about yourself.
- Notice the good in others instead of noticing everything you don’t like about yourself.
- Have clearly defined values, purposes, and goals. Base every behavior you engage in off of those.
- Avoid labeling people with negative terms like “liberal,” “conservative,” or “anti-vaxxer.” Labeling them gives you a reason to judge them or write them off.
Know your personality type
To best navigate the post-pandemic adjustment period, Dattilo suggests taking a test to identify where you fall on the continuum of low to high for each of the Big Five personality types.
“In general, people who score higher on open to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness tend to adjust in more adaptive ways than people who score lower on these dimensions,” she said.
- Extroverted people tend to be more externally focused when under stress and will likely adjust better when they spend time with groups and others who are faring well.
- Introverted people tend to be more internally focused when under stress and will likely adjust better when they have time to themselves to process and plan.
- Those who score higher on neuroticism may struggle most because they tend to worry excessively and have a high need for control.
No matter where you fall on the personality scale, Dattilo said gaining the ability to “go with the flow” or be flexible with changes is ideal.
“The good news is that this is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice,” she said.