Will We Ever Escape the Circle of Fear?
Apparently, we not only need to be aware of the effects of Covid-19 on our children; I’ve discovered that senior citizens are also trapped in a fear response, and I wonder if they will be able to free themselves from it.
I live in a 55+ community; during the past month residents who are 65+ years of age were able to get the Covid-19 vaccine, both doses. I received my shot earlier in another location. I was hopeful that this step would resolve the fears of many, but I know of three women who are still wearing masks, restricting their interactions with others, and staying home as much as possible.
One of these women is a friend. Yes, she does have co-morbidities. Recently another friend and I invited her to join us for a morning visit in a couple of weeks. She responded that if we met on the lanai, she would come, but if we met indoors, she would have to think about it. I have not talked to her myself, but I’m struggling with whether to ask her this question: “What would need to happen for you to feel you can return to a somewhat normal life?” My concern is that my question is (I believe) a fair and rational one; I anticipate, however, that she would not have a rational answer. I might be putting her on the spot, and I’m not even sure it would stimulate her thinking about how fear is dominating her decision-making process.
I was also at my manicurist (who is sane and practical) who also lives in this development, and she told me a story almost identical to my friend’s. She also told me about a woman who got the vaccine and won’t visit her grandchildren because she believes she carries the virus inside her and is afraid of infecting the children.
I’m not kidding.
From my own understanding, I realise that the vaccines don’t make me immune to the virus, but if I catch it, it will likely be a milder case. I also don’t know at this point how long the vaccine will be effective. Still, we are assessing when we will be going out, with whom, and how often. We only wear masks where they are required, and never outdoors. We’ve talked about taking small trips as soon as I’m fully recovered from my surgery, and I already have a trip to Baltimore on my calendar. So I’m looking at my neighbors and wondering what their thoughts are now about being vaccinated and how their lives will change. I may just do a little survey with them.
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There are not only psychological but physiological factors that could affect our reaction to the pandemic and the follow-up period. I decided to investigate the role of the amygdala in our brain in our response to fear, and learned some intriguing facts. There are two systems that can determine our response to Covid-19: the amygdala and the pre-frontal lobes. Dr. Joseph LeDoux, a leading authority on neuroscience and fear, made the following observations:
‘The amygdala is not a fear centre,’ LeDoux said. ‘It’s a system in the brain that detects and responds to danger. But fear is our awareness that we’re in danger.’
But the fear is not the end of the process. The way we respond to the fear is determined by the pre-frontal lobes. The frontal lobes receive the fear message and try to deal with it rationally:
When the threat is mild or moderate, the frontal lobes override the amygdala, and you respond in the most rational, appropriate way. However, when the threat is strong, the amygdala acts quickly. It may overpower the frontal lobes, automatically triggering the fight-or-flight response.
The fight-or-flight response was appropriate for early humans because of threats of physical harm. Today, there are far fewer physical threats, but there are a lot of psychological threats caused by the pressures and stresses of modern life.
When stress makes you feel strong anger, aggression, or fear, the fight-or-flight response is activated. It often results in a sudden, illogical, and irrational overreaction to the situation.
There is no consensus over whether the amygdala responds in the same way if a person experiences a similar stimulus over and over again. For example, when a person is continually dealing with reminders of the virus, especially seeing others wearing masks or repeatedly having to don a mask, I wonder if the amygdala sees the mask as a danger and causes a reaction of fear. Or when a person sees Dr. Fauci, or someone from the CDC, or other “experts” on Covid-19, is it possible that people are continually being charged with fear, and therefore reluctant to “use their pre-frontal lobes” to consider whether they could respond differently?
As long as the government insists on mask-wearing; as long as businesses expect customers to wear masks when we enter the premises; as long as we repeatedly receive the mantra of wearing masks, social distancing, and hand-washing, will the average person be able to free himself from this overwhelming circle of fear?