“An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” — Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
For weeks — it seems like forever — we have been hiding out from an enemy we cannot see. At any moment, this invisible tiger could pounce.
What does the mind do when we are faced with such real and potential danger? In the deep recesses of the brain, just above the brainstem, the amygdala keeps watch. This “fight-flight-or-freeze” command station scans for possible danger – real or perceived.
While the world around us is gripped by the novel coronavirus pandemic, our bodies surge with adrenalin — epinephrine — that readies us for battle: heart rates accelerate, breathing becomes more rapid, glucose is released into the bloodstream to be used for combat or flight, muscles tighten, our senses are on guard for danger.
In answer to these physiologic alarm bells, our minds echo back, “Beware! Beware!”
Add to this adrenalin surge the fact that our current pandemic has no predictable course and no defined end date, and we can better understand how this perfect storm of uncertainty heightens our worries. Humans do better with adversity when we know exactly what we are dealing with and for how long.
I often talk with patients about the after-effects of this hyperalertness and anxiety.
“No wonder you’re tired!”
“No wonder you have trouble concentrating!”
“No wonder you’re grumpy!”
When the body lets down, it wants to be off guard duty. It wants to rest, zone out, chill. Our new normal asks us to lessen our expectations of ourselves and each other. Even as we are resilient and we adapt, we are weary.
Lead with kindness. Follow with more kindness. Walk together, at least 6 feet apart, with kindness. We can catch this tiger by the tail.