Mind Matters: Calm versus fear

“Keep calm and carry on,” say the ubiquitous buttons and coffee mugs proclaiming this British WWII wise adage. 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 hyper-vigilant. Ironically, hyper-vigilance 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:
·         See the American Psychological Association’s article, “Managing Your Fear about Ebola,” Ester Cole, PhD and Gerard Jacob, PhD (www.apa.org/helpcenter/ebola-fear.aspx)
·         For 24/7 crisis counseling and support, go to the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline, disasterdistress.samhsa.gov, or call the helpline number, 1-800-985-5990.
·         Consider making a contribution to end the Ebola outbreak in Africa:
o   www.womenscampaigninternational.org
o   www.madre.org
o   www.pih.org

About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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