The neuroscience of new beginnings: how do our brains help us to adapt to a new way of life?

By Dr Samantha J. Brooks Ph.D.

We are now into a new year – 2021 – and can thankfully put the awful 2020 behind us with good  riddance! Heralding the start of a new year allows us to feel optimistic about fresh new beginnings, having reflected on the harsh lessons we all had to face last year.  And perhaps the harshest lesson of all has been having to accept that nothing will ever be the same again. We can read the stories and lessons of the last pandemic – the Spanish Flu of 1918 – which lasted approximately two years. But this time we are experiencing first-hand the Coronavirus and the deprivations that have come with having to adjust to a wholly different way of life. Not only did we have to get used to wearing masks and being more meticulous about our personal hygiene in 2020, but we also had to become socially distant. And you may well catch yourself watching movies depicting people in the pre-Covid days of mingling in crowds, exploring the streets of new cities without worry of infection, and cementing new friendships with a spontaneous hug. It is no small feat that we have learned to get used to life without these simple pleasures, and may never again in our lifetimes enjoy the carelessness that we had before 2020. So how does our brain enable us to face a different future – starting in 2021 – with these new realities, and to help us relinquish some of the things of the past that we took for granted?

Flexible thinking is an executive function associated with the prefrontal cortex that enables us to adapt and to accept new situations quickly without resistance.  It is a cognitive function that has contributed to the success of our species.  Homo Sapiens have been the most successful in our planet’s history, not because of our longevity on earth (compared to other species – if the history of the earth was a 24-hour clock, we would only have arrived at one minute to midnight – much later than many mammals), but due to our ability to survive and adapt.  We are top of the food chain, because we have managed to flexibly change ourselves in the face of changing environments and to manipulate natural resources to our advantage (but to the detriment of climate change).  So, it makes good sense to build on this natural talent that led to the evolutionary swelling of our prefrontal cortex, and use it to adapt to this very novel pandemic situation we find ourselves in.

Survival is a gut instinct and is represented in the brain by various homeostatic processes, which keep our bodies on an even keel when outside circumstances change.  For example, if the weather gets too hot, our bodies cool us down by sweating, an involuntary function controlled by the anterior hypothalamus, which is a region in the centre of the brain.  The hypothalamus is also a structure that regulates many other functions, such as appetite (gut function), stress and sleep.  And while the hypothalamus function is involuntary, it is maintained and altered by experience, which is processed consciously at first by the prefrontal cortex.  So, for example, if food suddenly becomes scarce, our prefrontal cortex will hold on to this information consciously until our appetite adapts to the changed environment.  The sooner our prefrontal cortex is able to update non-conscious, involuntary processes, the quicker we can survive in our new environment.  But this isn’t an easy task – our brains also register a sense of change as a sense of loss, which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. However, learning is simply a process of transforming conscious (prefrontal cortex) information into unconsciously processed habits, and learning helps us to control our negative emotions too.

With all this in mind, if the changes brought about by the pandemic make us feel like resisting and  holding on to the past, or worse, make us suffer from anxiety and depression, we have to try to maximise the ancestral strength of our prefrontal cortex function.  If we can apply our conscious learning processes, to train ourselves to find new joys in this new situation, then we will quickly adapt and survive.  For example, for those of us able to use computers to connect to people online, we might find ourselves talking to far-flung friends more often or attending courses online that would not have been possible before.  But for those of us who don’t have such online access, what other joys can be found in social distancing, or reducing our social bubble to only a few people?  We can for a start, explore the good things on our doorsteps and learn to value the small things that people have to offer.  We might not see as many people on a day-to-day basis as we did in the past, given that we are forced into our homes and into working remotely.  But a smile from a stranger in the street, or small talk with a friend or relative on the phone, or even just a casual chat with a shop assistant, can mean so much more to us now than it ever did.

The new pandemic era of 2021 – which will hopefully bring vaccination to Africa soon – will at the very least teach us to adapt to the simple pleasures of everyday life that we may have forgotten in the busier lifestyles we led in pre-covid times.  So, let’s see this as a real positive, as a way to enjoy our new social lives, as we continue to survive.  Happy New Year Harfielders!

Dr Samantha Brooks is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, specialising in the neural correlates of impulse control from eating disorders to addiction.  For more information you can contact Samantha at: 

Click to read all previous articles by Dr Samantha J. Brooks Ph.D.


You might be a weekend warrior or even a professional competitor – but whatever your fitness and training goals are for 2021, make sure that safety is part of your resolutions for the new year.

“The start of a new year is a perfect time to focus on shaking off the holiday kilos and shape up for a new you. There are a few basic tips to follow to help make sure that you can focus all your attention on your training without having to worry about criminal elements,” says Charnel Hattingh, Head of Marketing and Communication for Fidelity ADT. 

An important safety aspect to consider this year, she adds, is health related measures linked to the coronavirus pandemic. The department of Health and local authorities may impose restrictions and limits depending on the spread of the virus, which could also impact on outdoor fitness regimes. “Always make sure you know exactly what regulations are in place.

 Hattingh further recommends:

1. Identification – Carry some form of identification on you, so that any bystanders will know who you are and who to contact in case of an emergency.  Most exercise gear has small pockets for this very reason  

2. Safety in numbers – Hattingh strongly discourages running or cycling alone. Rather join a group of people who can look out for your safety and also offer moral support along the way when muscle pain or cramps set in

3. Tell someone – Another good idea is to ensure someone you trust, knows that you are headed out for a run or cycle, has an idea of the route you plan to take and when you should be returning. In this way, they can quickly raise the alarm if you do not return as planned

4. Be visible - Wear reflective clothing to make sure you are visible to other road users. Run against traffic and cycle with traffic. This makes you even more visible to others. If you can, make use of pavements or any designated cycle tracks

5. Vary your routine – Changing up your route and training time makes it difficult for any would-be criminal to anticipate your movements. The change in scenery can also make the physical exertion more bearable

6. Charge your phone battery – Make sure your cell phone battery is fully charged so that you are able to call for help in case of an emergency. It is also important to save the correct emergency contact numbers on your phone, so that you can quickly contact the police, your security company or your neighbourhood watch when you need them

7. Mobile tracking – Find out from your security company if they offer a mobile tracking app which can be downloaded on your cell phone.  This is an effective way of alerting emergency service providers when you need them while also giving them your accurate location, especially if you are running or hiking along a mountain path or in a forest

“Good luck for your fitness plans, no matter how intense they might be. We hope you reach whatever goals you have set for yourself,” says Hattingh.


It seems almost counter-intuitive to say that 2021 looks set to be a bumper year for the housing property market, given the challenging few months we have just experienced. But overall, it has been a surprisingly good year for the property market with five consecutive repo rate cuts taking the prime lending rate to a record low of 7%, the lowest in five decades. The forecasr for the next 12 months looks positive, with several key trends expected to gain momentum:

1. We expect more young, female invest­ors to enter the property market. Data from TPN shows that the average inve­stor in South Africa is female and in her early twenties to mid-thirties. FNB repo‑ s that the market recovery in the R750 000 to R2 million price band is being driven by this demographic - mo­stly fir­st - time buyers younger than 35. BetterBond’s average deposit required by a fir­ -home buyer dropped by 18% in October, year on year, meaning that less finance is needed upfront to secure a home. The amount required as a deposit for a bond has dropped across all price bands, with the average deposit for homes of between R1 million and R1.5 million coming down by 24% year on year, and dipping by almost­ 17% for bonds of between R500 000 and R1 million.

2. A growing preference for online bond applications as buyers take control of their home buying journey. The increased appetite to apply for a bond, given the favourable interest­ rates, has seen buyers wanting greater control over their application process. This has resulted in the increased use of digital platforms that allow the user to control the application process end-to-end, rather than sending their documents through and waiting for feedback. As more buyers continue to make the most­ of the low interest­ rate, we expect to see more applicants making use of our digital platforms. BetterBond’s application volumes were up 32% year on year in November, and this st­rong activity is set to continue as the South African Reserve Bank’s forecast­ shows that the repo rate is likely to gradually increase towards the end of 2021.

3. Fir­ -home buyers will continue to drive the property market’s recovery and resurgence. More than 70% of BetterBond’s applications, since June, have been fir­ -home buyers making the most­ of the favourable interest­ rates. Instead of tapering off, as the prime lending rate has stabilised at 7% with no further repo rate cuts since September, there has been an almost­ 17% year-on-year increase in fir­st home buyer applications. We expect this trajectory to continue well into 2021.

4. Semigration to coa­stal areas and smaller towns as remote working changes the way we live. Light­ one property data notes that house prices in the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga have been growing at increasing rates and they now top provincial growth with house price inflation currently above 5% per year. KwaZulu-Natal enjoyed the strongest­ house price growth in November, year on year. Nelson Mandela Bay is the leading metro market for the year to date, outperforming in terms of house price inflation at 5.6% for the year. This is well above the national average of 2.5%. BetterBond has seen an increase in bond applications across all regions compared with the same period la­ year. Bond applications are up 11% in KwaZulu-Natal, compared with this time la­ year, while in the Ea­stern Cape, bond applications have increased by 13%.

5. Increasing home values in all price bands with a particular interest­ in areas that are close to transport, work opportunities and schools. House price growth in the R2 million to R3 million band is strengthening, while the so-called luxury market, of R3 million upwards, will continue to be sluggish. BetterBond has seen an 11.7% year on year increase in bond approvals for homes of R2.5 million and R3 million, and an 11.3% increase in approvals for bonds of between R2 million and R2.5 million. While national house price inflation will continue to slow, there will be some growth in the lower to middle price bands, as demand increases. The freehold housing market, referring to properties where the buyer owns the land and the house, will continue to outperform in terms of house price growth, possibly as the lower interest­ rate means that buyers can now afford 30% more than they could in January, when the prime lending rate was 10%. Also, buyers are prioritising quality of life after months in lockdown, and properties that can offer a garden and space for a home office, may mean that freehold properties are more appealing.

6. Developers will ramp up supply to meet the increased demand from the next generation of buyers. There are no transfer duties payable on a property in a new development, making them ideal for fir­ -home buyers. The average bond size currently approved by BetterBond is ju­st over R1 million, which is the price point at which many new developments are coming onto the market. The large­ po‑ ion of BetterBond’s bond approvals - ju­st over 40% - are for homes priced between R500 000 and R1 million. With the current low interest­ rates, it’s possible to buy a property in an area that is guaranteed to have a positive rental yield, creating oppo‑ unities for the buy-to-let market. According to TPN, 87% of the invest­ or market own two to four properties, so we expect to see more buyers adding to their inve­stment portfolio in the next 12 months.

7. Interest rates will remain in the single digits - and probably below 8% - throughout 2021. The South African Reserve Bank has indicated that there will be no repo cuts in the short term, and potentially two increases of only 25 basis points in the third qua‑ er of next year. There is ­ ill ample opportunity to make the most­ of the favourable lending rate - 2021 will ­still be a good year to bond.

Anne-Marie Bamber is Norgarb Properties dedicated Home Loans Consultant. She has over 15 years’ experience in assisting clients with their Home Loan needs and has placed many happy families in their dream homes.

Contact her today for no cost stress-free home-buying.
Anne-Marie Bamber
Home Loans consultant
Tel: +27 (0)21 851 3568 | Fax: +27 (0)21 441 1494 | Cell: +27 (0)82 071 1665


You can support ARO by donating any unwanted quality household goods. All goods are sold in the ARO Charity Shops to raise funds to relieve the suffering of sick and abused animals living in poor communities. 

Animal Rescue Organisation
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ARO Bergvliet Charity Shop
51 Main Road, Bergvliet
021 715 7525

Opening hours:

Monday to Friday: 09h30 to 17h00
Saturdays: 09h00-13h00
ARO Kalk Bay Charity Shop
70 Main Rd, Kalk Bay
Geraldine: 082 805 5005

Opening hours:

Monday to Sunday: 09h30 to 16h00



We've made it to 2021! While it's just a date and things don't change overnight, somehow the turning of the year offers a boost of energy and hope for the year ahead. 

The seasons continue to stretch and Summer has arrived relatively slowly and gently. Temperatures have definitely increased, which is great for growing food. Make sure your beds are mulched, so that precious water doesn't evaporate and can still nourish the plants. Wishing you all an abundant start to the year. 

The plant list for January is:
Amaranth, Climbing beans, Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Butternut, Cabbage, Carrots, Chard/Spinach, Chinese cabbage, Chives, Chilli pepper, Cucumber, Kale, Kholrabi, Ginger, Globe artichoke, Leek, Lettuce, Potato, Pumpkin, Radish, Rhubarb, Tomato, Watercress and Zucchini.




Rabe Bouers CC v Chaya (2328/2015) [2020] ZALMPPHC 83 (30 October 2020) 

The Housing Consumers Protection Measures Act has a double-edged sword. If the home builder is not registered with the NHBRC, has not paid the fees and enrolled the homes that he’s building for a housing consumer(his client), then the builder may not demand payment from him. By the same token, such non-compliance reduces the housing consumer’s recourse against the NHBRC in the event of poor workmanship. The judgment illustrates the considerations practically. Click on the links below to read more.

The Judgment                                                                                                                 


Govindasamy and Another v Pillay and Others (D7270/2015) [2020] ZAKZDHC 49 (12 October 2020)

This judgment tells the story of a deceased person who made over the family home to his two children and stated that it may only be sold if both were to agree thereto. It is with reluctance that a court will order that a will must be amended, even where an agreement between the heirs appear impossible to achieve. The application in this matter was successful and the judgment explains the considerations that a court will weigh up before doing so. Click on the links below to read more.



We hope that, even with the Covid 19 restrictions in place, you managed to have a relaxing time over the festive season. The year 2020 certainly had its challenges; we hope you weathered the storm and that 2021 will be a good one.

2020 saw lots of changes at Kenilworth Vet Hospital ,vets have come and gone , consulting hours have changed and after nearly 20 years of service we lost our  receptionist Angela to the UK!

If we learnt anything during lockdown,   it was the importance of having our loved ones close to us - both human and animal. Never have our pets been so important to us, providing unconditional love, laughter and companionship. Together we can ensure that your pets live a happy and healthy life.

Thank you for your loyalty and your ongoing support. Stay safe and we look forward to seeing you in 2021!