Re-educating the angry brain amidst COVID-19

angry

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was written for The European Sting by our one of our passionate readers, Mr. Sheharyar Akhtar, a 4th year medical student from Sialkot Medical College, Sialkot, Punjab. Pakistan.The opinions expressed within reflect only the writer’s views and not necessarily The European Sting’s position on the issue.


For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind (Ralph Waldo)

If you experience a racing heartbeat or tightness in your chest when you read a news story about the pandemic, it’s because of your sympathetic nervous system. When the brain senses a threat, it triggers the fight or flight response (Sorry for the anecdote, but you watched Titanic knowing how that was going to play out)

Why? When emotions burn hot, we can’t see or think clearly.

Just like anxiety and fear, anger also makes the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of our brain, go offline. This is where the terms “explosive anger” and “blind rage” come from. It doesn’t matter what fuel caused the fire. What matters is that the forest is burning. This applies to any anger we’re seeing out there right now

Let’s spark with the seeds of anger. Think back to the last time you were angry. Anger doesn’t just come out of the blue – it starts somewhere. Fire needs fuel and a spark to get going.

This applies to any situation, but right now, the coronavirus is that fuel. We are the spark. How do we use this fuel to create glowing embers of warm connection with people we love in difficult times, rather than pouring petrol on the fire and burning everything around us?

Here’s the science.

Really briefly, there are two types of fuel for anger. Let’s call these petrol and diesel. The petrol type is anger born from expectations – basically not getting something we want. The diesel type of anger is born from getting hurt, being put in a vulnerable situation, basically anything related to fear. Interestingly, similar to petrol and diesel fuel, which both start from crude oil, both types of anger have something in common: wanting.

With expectations, we can get angry when we don’t get  something we want. With fear, we can get angry when we get something we didn’t want. The only difference is the polarity. Expectations are related to wanting more of something, and fear is related to wanting less of something.

Let’s take an example of fake news about the coronavirus. There is a lot of anger and outrage out there about this, because the stakes of this virus are so real. Someone could fuel their own anger with either petrol or diesel. If their expectations of wanting people to disseminate only accurate information aren’t met, they’re adding petrol. If they’re afraid that fake news will keep people from taking the situation seriously, they’re adding diesel. Both add fuel to the fire, and neither help the situation.

How do we bottle up all of this fuel and use its energy to drive forward together? Here is a simple, One-step process you can use when your anger flares up: the power to activate the vagus nerve lies within you. Activate it wisely, and regain the calm you so desire.

In the midst of a global pandemic.

While associating an anger with corona is a common trope. It isn’t the smooth ride we are expecting at all, but a chafing, agonizing, gritty slump to the bottom. More of a ‘built your own burger’ of symptoms layered on conditions layered on diseases. The job would be difficult emotionally when things went wrong – not every stork has a happy landing – but unfortunately the depth of the lows is the price you pay for the height of the highs.

There could be a flip-side to the above written as well.

That’s right: How well will it reflect on the monarchy if you succeed? Sailing the ship alone: a ship that’s enormous, and on fire, and no one has really taught you how to sail. It’s sink or swim, and you’ve to learn how to swim: don’t trail behind like a ‘Hypnotized Duckling’.

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