Why do we have such a hard time making sense out of what’s going on around us these days? Not just what’s coming down from the DC Beltway contingency, but how our own communities struggle so with staying coherent and connected. Why has everything become so complicated and confusing?
It’s not a new mental health affliction. It’s only cogjam on the loose.
That’s right, cogjam–the cognitive logjams that form when stress goes on for extended periods.
Cogjam is a word I invented to label a certain side effect of prolonged fight or flight. When we experience dire threat, our primitive brains take over, triggering instinctual and hardwired reactions that save our skins. More advanced thinking is temporarily blocked or filtered, so it will not interfere. After all, you might not escape a quickly advancing flash flood if you stop to assess which of all the trees in the forest is the best of the lot. You scramble up the first one that looks good.
Ignoring conscious thought includes ignoring learned social niceties. Getting everybody safely atop the tree of choice may require some really unsocialized behaviors–yelling, ordering, forcing, cursing, touching taboo areas of others’ bodies–as we shove everybody up to safety. Tact and sensitivities might take more time than you have to spare.
After the rowboat or helicopter rescues everyone, stress levels go down. Rational thought comes back on line, and planning begins for any long-term recovery needs. Everybody forgives and reconnects, recognizing that the earlier abrupt behaviors were survival related. Things go back to normal.
But what happens when adrenaline rushes are constant, as is true regarding the socio-political stress piling up over the last year? Sophisticated thought has had less chance to get back on board, limiting access to our best factual reasoning. Reconnecting is much more difficult, too, when episodes of posturing and polarization keep raising anxieties and driving us apart.
How Do we Get out of This Mess?
There are many solutions. So many, that I’m penning a book about the cogjam effect, and the path to healing disrupted community and fractured science. There is hope. We can recover from mental health disaster just as we do after any disaster–one person at a time, each of us in our own way.
Meanwhile, you can start your own healing by spreading the word that there’s more on the horizon than the doom and gloom surrounding the DC Beltway contingency. There’s way too much gnashing of teeth and tearing of sackcloth going on out there. We can move beyond this. Sharing the word will also help you engage compassion, one of the cornerstones to healing both yourself and others.
And don’t forget there are many resources available on the topic of coping with disaster, such as: