We’re creatures of habit and we learn as we go. Brain plasticity allows for adaptation to any current state of the world, affairs and strains. There is no qualitative judgement here. The brain will just as easily adapt to bounty and safety as it will to panic, stress and fear. It doesn’t discriminate and we’re all susceptible to operand conditioning. All coins tend to have multiple sides and so does conditioning. It is useful as method of learning how the world works, because you cannot learn everything anew each morning. You need to have a set of habits, rules and behaviours in place to have enough energy left over to actually do some work and create new things. On the other side of the scales stands conditioning as tendency to get sucked in a loop where reward or punishment, repeated long enough, sears a pathway into our brains.
The pathway cannot just be erased but needs to be substituted by another behaviour, just as it would be with addiction. We actually need to seek a bigger and better offer to be able to give up some old habit (old here means the one you wish to change and substitute by a new behaviour, not necessarily chronologically old). It seems that as we’re all watching the world which has gone all askew on us, ripped out of our safe everyday rituals and unable to perform mundane tasks of bare minimum of normalcy such as going to work, visiting the store or having the whole family for lunch, a new conditioning is set in place – that of worry, panic and anxiety.
Every habit consists of three elements: trigger, behaviour and reward and the habit gets reinforced through positive or negative conditioning. What’s happening now in this unusual circumstance of constant high alert is creation of a sort of a subpersonality which worries by default and it will take some time to get rid of or substitute it once the world returns back to normal. The loop of reinforcement goes like this: TRIGGER- fear –> BEHAVIOUR – worry –> REWARD – the illusion that you’re doing something by worrying. The more times this loop repeats itself it gets stronger and harder to break. So instead of worrying when you are powerless to do anything than to wait it out, stay safe and act responsible, make a substitution right now. Trade the emotional reward of an illusion of action for something brain finds more pleasant, productive fear relieving: compassion, understanding and connection. Keep in regular (non-physical) contact with those you care about, help where you can and those who can’t help themselves, keep yourself safe so you’ll be able to do more for others. The only way to break the paralysis of fear is to do something. Not being stuck in a worry loop will make you more intelligent since fear activates the amygdala response in charge of panic and aggression. Fear literally makes you stupid, forcing you into bad choices even if you know better, because amygdala turns of the regulatory frontal cortex responsible for deep thought, problem solving and rational, fact based action.
Keep rationality alive, get informed and break the fear loop by understanding and compassion so you can use the information you gained wisely. People who dedicated their lives to studying epidemiology have already given you the guidelines. Be smart enough to listen. This is a true example where personal responsibility or the lack of it protects or harms everybody. Fear is here for a reason and is to be acknowledged and respected as a survival mechanism, but left alone behind the wheel for long periods of time it doesn’t lead you to a good productive place. Accept the bigger and better deal and keep rationality alive. All things end and so will this one.