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Toddler Brain vs. Adult Brain: A New Challenge

Toddler Brain vs. Adult Brain: A New Challenge

What does the Covid pandemic have to do with our inner toddler? It involves our brain.

As mental health ramifications from the outbreak continue certain trends have come to light. One notable factor is regression to a more “primitive” mindstate. It all starts with our limbic system.

The Limbic System

When we were toddlers (from age 1-3) we were largely influenced by our limbic system. This is a structure on the inside of our brain which controls, among other things, our body’s automatic reactions to stress. When we become anxious, tense up, and our heartbeat starts thumping, you can thank the limbic system.

It functions as an integral part of our neurological system to keep us safe. As we grow up, we graduate from this “primitive mind” and develop an “adult mind.” The adult mind functions mostly by our prefrontal cortex, in the front section of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is considered by scientists to be fully developed at around 25 years of age.

With the adult mind, we can understand abstract concepts. This leads to better interactions with the world around us. We can more fully comprehend reality, managing our reactions to stress and other perceived threats.  

A New Challenge

The problem with these uncertain times is that our brains now see a brand new stressor.

Our adult minds developed by observing the world and learning how problems are solved. Since our current circumstances are unprecedented, our mind has no frame of reference.

This is where the regression happens. When confronted with a novel hardship and no familiar solution, our brains don’t know what to do. They return to solving problems as a toddler. And toddlers are not the most skilled problem solvers.

The primitive mind leans toward selfishness, oversimplification, and a lack of critical thought.

Symptoms of Uncertainty

Regression leads some people to deal with an issue in various troublesome ways - many of which we have discussed in previous blogs. This may include a relapse of previously treated mental health disorders and a worsening of active disorders such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Insomnia

  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

  • Paranoia disorder

Regression can also result in other issues:

  • Drug/alcohol abuse

  • Domestic violence

  • Criminal activities

  • In severe cases, suicide

A Mature Solution

How can we kickstart our adult mind? How can we “grow up” even when the world is facing the great unknown? The answer to this question is in a deeper meaning. 

The prefrontal cortex and our adult mind thrives on activities with a sense of purpose. By intentionally filling our lives with meaningful acts like spending time with family, reaching out to our social circle, enriching ourselves with various hobbies and passions, and other productive measures, we can remind the adult brain to take control once again!

Replacing the toddler brain with the adult brain is, fortunately, very possible. We can shift from fear and aversion to a new mode of altruism and optimism. It just requires a generous portion of good intention and self-care.

If self-care measures are not enough to help with your mental health, please reach out to a trusted professional. Bregman Medical Group has years of experience in psychiatric treatment, therapy, and other mental health solutions. We offer telehealth straight to your smartphone or computer. Simply schedule an appointment online at or call 305-740-3340.

By BregmanMD | December 18, 2020 | Mental Health

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