Mind Matters — Calm versus Fear

“Keep calm and carry on,” say the ubiquitous buttons and coffee mugs proclaiming this British World War II wise adage. But not only Churchill but also Franklin Delano Roosevelt exuded calmness and rationality in the crises of the times. It is the dictators and demagogues who instill fear in the populace.

There are always crises and difficulties we face—individually and collectively. There are always those who stir up fear. Right now the fear inducing drum rolls can be heard from pundits and politicians who, for whatever their agenda, rev up anxiety and stress about the Ebola crisis.

Neuroscience and psychology have proved that anxiety and panic clouds clear decision-making. Neuroscience shows that the part of the brain that is linked to fear is the amygdala. Of course, we need the amygdala to warn us of possible situations in which we need to “fight, freeze, or flee.” However, we would hope that our prefrontal cortex, our thinking brain, would assess the situation to discern the danger. Say you take a walk in the woods and see a squiggly thing on the ground. At first, your amygdala gets your body to react with a startle. However, your prefrontal cortex comes in to play—ah, no rattlesnake, but a rope. Or even yet, it’s a snake, but it’s a garter snake making its way into the grass, not to worry.

If, however, we stay stuck in the “Yes, but, the rope (or harmless snake) could have been poisonous …,” our anxiety gets over-generalized and we become hypervigilant. Ironically, hypervigilance and generalized anxiety are counterproductive. A little anxiety keeps us alert and on our toes—we see the rope or the harmless snake. A lot of anxiety paralyzes us and thwarts our ability to make sensible choices and sound decisions.

So specifically what to do regarding Ebola fears? Most importantly, to reduce chronic stress, we all need to do things that help us calm down. Exercise, walks in nature, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, connecting with friends. These are just a few suggestions for self-cure.

Also maintain balance between being informed and being overwhelmed with information; especially getting misinformation that only exacerbates the situation. Remember that while we need to support the treatment of Ebola, we also need to keep in mind that the risk of transmission of Ebola is low. Scientists inform us that Ebola is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of people who are sick with or have died from the disease.

And so it is, “Keep calm and carry on” remains good advice. Cheers!

Further Action: