Fight or Flight

As a writer, I spend a great deal more time writing for other people than for myself. I’m not complaining because it pays well, and it also forces me to research stuff I would never think of on my own. During some recent research, I learned something about the brain.

I’ll readily admit I know little about the physiological aspect of the human body. However, I do know enough about the brain to recognize when people are using theirs or when they have left it in the garage. This recent research led me to the discovery of how the brain reacts in frightening situations.

Specifically, I wanted to know what happens when a police officer, soldier, or any person is confronted with the possibility of death. For example, when a police officer responds to a shooting situation and hears gunfire or sees an armed suspect. The sympathetic nervous system is activated, caused by the sudden release of hormones. This results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Perhaps you have heard of this condition labeled as “fight-or-flight.”Fear

What is happening is that tiny part of the brain that controls emotion asserts itself over the much larger frontal cortex which controls rational thought. You can imagine what happens when emotions are more powerful than reason. I was surprised that the conditions of tunnel vision and tunnel hearing are common for a person in that state. In other words, their attention, both sight and sound, are narrowly focused, to the point they miss out on everything in the periphery.

This can be a good thing if there is only one source of danger and that danger is the object of your focus. However, it also means you fail to consider other pieces of information. There might be other dangerous people in the area, or you might be focused on the wrong thing, or there might be an even greater threat.

This condition can be exacerbated for the person who frequently faces the threat of danger. If a cop is frequently in dangerous situations or a soldier is in combat for an extended period, then the ability to cope with everyday life is reduced.

I described all of this to suggest our country might be in a prolonged period of stress and danger. I’m not a historian or psychologist, but it might be correct to say that this period of stress began in September of 2001 (you remember what happened then). Here’s how it has gone since then. We spent an intense time learning who attacked us and then watching our military exact revenge on two countries.

Next, we spent several years arguing about whether or not we should have even attacked one of the countries. That was followed by investigations and then a historic presidential election where we chose our first black president. Consequently, just as we were winding down the argument over needlessly attacking Iraq, now we find ourselves embroiled in a centuries-old kerfuffle over the inferiority of black people.

That began with questioning whether he was legitimately qualified to be president and included a Congress controlled by a political party openly vowing to do everything they could to undermine his presidency.

People on both sides fought long and hard for their positions. We decided if our politicians can’t compromise and cooperate, then neither can any of us. We opted to turn every issue into a major fight—health care, gun violence, education, blah, blah, blah.

By the time his eight-year term was complete the pressure was intense, and it only got worse. We had a presidential campaign between in immoral buffoon and a woman hated by half the electorate.

That brings us to our current situation where every issue is life or death. It seems that everyone is living in fear. Democrats are deathly afraid that the president is going to start a nuclear war, destroy the economy, drive out all immigrants, let poor people die in the streets, and kill puppies. Republicans are equally afraid the Democrats want to waste the nation’s budget on poor and lazy people, that black people are getting too uppity, that foreign nations are stealing our jobs, and there’s someone out there who is trying to confiscate our guns, so they can forcefully take over the country.

Everyone is afraid!

Like the police officer hearing gunshots, we’ve developed tunnel vision. All we can see is the thing we fear. Democrats are afraid and only see Trump, so they have to blast everything he says or does. Republicans are equally afraid and only see Democrats, so they have to fire back with everything they’ve got.

We’re doing this without realizing our emotions have flooded our frontal cortex with hormones, so our rational self is missing.

Because this fear has gripped our nation for more than 16 years, we have lost our way. We have mistakenly come to believe that the solution is to sharpen our focus and launch an even stronger attack on the threat. Some of you are at the point of thinking that the best course of action is to arm yourself with every Facebook meme that supports your position and charge like Rambo toward the enemy.

You are mistaken!

When you find yourself succumbing to fear, the best course of action is to take a deep breath. That’s right—stop and take a breath. I learned this in the research. In fact, police and military instructors teach breathing techniques. That’s the best way to clear your mind so you can make rational decisions and properly solve the problem posed by the threat.

It’s time for our nation to take a deep breath.

Next time you are ready to post that hateful meme on Twitter or Facebook, stop and take a breath and engage the rational part of your brain.

Next time someone makes a crack about a political position you support, stop and take a breath and give your emotions time to settle down before responding.

The next time you are afraid of something, slow down, take several breaths and give yourself time to listen to all the bits of information around you before deciding what to do.


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Filed under Democrats, Freedom, Politics, Republicans, Second Amendment, Uncategorized, Voting

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