Before I get farther into this post, I will start by saying I am not a psychologist nor a medically trained individual. What I offer here are my observations supported by other knowledgeable individuals or groups. I often use myself as the example because I try to write from a position of experience. This post is dealing with emotions and how you can use Individual Sustainability to help shield you from strong emotions like fear and anger.
Independent of your opinion about how the human brain formed, there are some things we accept about how it functions. We seem to agree, at least in the fields associated with interacting with users and customers, that there are some primitive reaction networks in the brain that are engaged when things are different or out of place. If this does not cause an actual acute stress response1 or as I will refer to it throughout this post and acute stress reaction, it does at least cause people to take note and start to wonder what is different. This is the beginning of the acute stress reaction. As the situation develops it can either end when the person realizes the reason for the change and that it is not a threat, or escalate as the reason for the change or difference becomes more acute and potentially threatening. My point and the point I have seen demonstrated over and over when dealing with people is, as the level of threat (perceived or actual) increases the ability (or perhaps desire) to logically process information is reduced2. I use a Math Anxiety reference here because it is something I can point to in my own life. I can’t explain why I get the cold sweats and my heart starts to race when someone says Algebra or worse Calculus. What I have come to realize over time is that my reaction is an acute stress reaction and is based on a perceived threat. So whether you subscribe to the Triune-Brain3 model or not, it is still accepted that some activity in the brain occurs when a threat is perceived and that activity reduces higher brain function causing the individual to rely on their Fight-or-Flight or instinctive reaction.
I have delved so deeply into such a gray matter within neuroscience (forgive the pun), because I know it is being used to help improve education and drive compliance. What do I mean? As a trainer I have been taught how to understand these mental interactions, or Brain Science, and use them to create a better training experience for the student4. Having experienced the outcome, I can say that I do at least have anecdotal evidence of their efficacy. But, after taking the course on Training From the Back of The Room and seeing the brain science applied, it also made me pay more attention to how brain science is being used every day to cause specific reactions.
There is a new fear that has emerged over the past few years. I can’t say that it didn’t exist before but it has been exposed because of its impact on social interaction and within social media environments; The Fear of Missing Out. This fear is:
Believe it or not, this fear or the perception that you are missing out can and is being used to manipulate you into making emotional decisions6. Marketers and others are using this and other techniques to cause you to react to a situation instead of thinking through the results and making sure you know what outcome you want or need to accomplish. It is not limited to that one fear and it is not limited to marketers. The other term for this is propaganda when used in the socio-political arena and it is very effective. Simply look at the posters and flyers used throughout the world during World War II. But if you think the use of propaganda ended in World War II, I can assure you it is used by every side of a disagreement every day. Look at how often the ad hominem use of associating someone with Nazism today occurs. You can find propaganda anywhere and it is specifically designed to get you to turn off the logical part of your brain and react to the situation emotionally. And, most often, it is happening without you realizing it, because of brain science and your own acute stress response.
At its most extreme level acute stress reaction leads to an actual fight reaction. This is when fear is elevated to the level of anger. Remember this is a natural reaction to a threat that is designed to help you survive1. That is why it is so hard to defend against. This is exactly how you are usually supposed to react to a threat stimulus. What I want you to understand is that it may not be a real threat and you need the ability to pull yourself back from the Fight-or-Flight reaction and logically think through the threat. Is it an actual threat? Is there another explanation? This is done by engaging the logical networks of the brain, but it requires you to overcome the initial reaction. It requires you to create space to think and respond instead of react7. This requires mindfulness and a connection with where you actually are.
When I was training for my Stress and Rescue certification in SCUBA, I learned that the human mind can reach a breaking point where logical and even trained responses are overcome and panic is the result. The evolution to this point is caused by a continuous growth of natural and often very small stress events. Each stress event does not, by itself, cause an acute stress reaction, but as the person continues to add “stressors” they become less and less able to respond to the situation they are in. When the acute stress occurs such as an emergency under water, an otherwise well trained individual will react8 instead of responding with trained and logical actions. This is where the Rescue portion of my training always kicked in, because the automatic stress reaction in this instance was most likely to be fatal. This is a very dynamic example of what I am talking about, and that is intentional.
Although the reactions you may apply after having multiple “stressors” stack up on you over a period of time are not likely to be fatal, they can be dangerous to your career or damage relationships. That is why it is important to remember that you can manage the “stressors” and keep control of your life by working to maintain your Individual Sustainability. A constant focus on sustainability is an active defense against reacting instead of responding. That is what I mean when I say Sustainability as a Shield. If you focus on making sure you have a balanced demand on your time, if you add techniques that help you create sustainability like I have discussed in other posts, you can create an active defense or shield against acute stress reactions and the potential downfalls associated with such reactions. By supporting or developing your Individual Sustainability you can create the mental focus and ability to hear the fear motivators and propaganda and instead of descending into a reaction you can decode the purpose behind the actions and determine what outcome you want to create. Then you can follow those actions instead of the actions they wanted from you.
1 Cherry, Kendra. “How the Fight-or-Flight Response Works.” verywellmind. Aug 18, 2019. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-fight-or-flight-response-2795194
2 Sparks, Sarah D. “Researchers Probe Causes of Math Anxiety.” Education Week. May 18, 2011. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/researchers-probe-causes-of-math-anxiety/2011/05
3 SoP, “The Triune Brain.” Science of Psychotherapy. Sep 23, 2018. https://www.thescienceofpsychotherapy.com/glossary/triune-brain/
4 Bowman, Sharon “Using Brain Science to Make Training Stick.” (Bowperson Publishing, 2019), 23-30
5 Scott MS, Elizabeth. “How to Deal With FOMO in Your Life.” verywellmind. April 25, 2021. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-with-fomo-4174664
6 Rosenthal, Robert. “5 Psychological Tactics Marketers Use to Influence Consumer Behavior.” Fast Company. July 7, 2014. https://www.fastcompany.com/3032675/5-psychological-tactics-marketers-use-to-influence-consumer-behavior
7 Becker-Phelps Ph.D., Leslie. “Don’t Just React: Choose Your Response.” Psychology Today. July 23, 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/making-change/201307/dont-just-react-choose-your-response
8 Eisler, Melissa. “Respond Vs. React: How to Keep Your Cool in Time of Stress.” Melissa Eisler. July 13, 2018. https://melissaeisler.com/respond-vs-react-how-to-keep-your-cool-in-times-of-stress/