The Phony ‘Economic Recovery, ‘Stress and ‘Losing It’
Derealization leads to chronic stress, which then disrupts our ability to make rational decisions and follow plans.
We have all experienced the disorientation and “brain freeze” that stress triggers. It seems these symptoms of stress have become normalized in countries where the authorities keep promoting phony “economic recoveries.” The disconnect between what the authorities are claiming and what people are actually experiencing is widening, and that leads to stress. No wonder more and more people are “losing it” in public as their neural circuitry melts down under the strain of synthesizing what they experience (austerity) and what they’re told (official spin about the “recovery”).
In Survival I call this process derealization as lived experience is derealized by official spin and propaganda.
Recent research is illuminating how stress disrupts the default hierarchy of the brain. In the absence of stress, the neocortex-rational-mind functions suppress the more primitive subconscious signals of aggression, hunger, sex drive, etc. in order to concentrate our effort to complete some planned activity.
Everyday Stress Can Shut Down the Brain’s Chief Command Center. Neural circuits responsible for conscious self-control are highly vulnerable to even mild stress. When they shut down, primal impulses go unchecked and mental paralysis sets in. (Scientific American; subscription required, hopefully your local library has a copy)
This helps explain the natural “fight or flight” response we feel when suddenly confronted with danger or potential danger, but more importantly it illuminates how we lose the ability to analyze circumstances rationally when we are “stressed out.” Once our rational analytic abilities are shut down, we are prone to making a series of ill-informed and rash decisions.
This has the potential to set up a destructive positive feedback loop: the more stressed out we become, the lower the quality of our decision-making, which then generates poor results that then stress us out even more, further degrading our already-impaired rational processes. This feedback loop quickly leads to “losing it completely.”
Doesn’t this describe our increasingly dysfunctional and disconnected-from-reality legislative process?
In pondering human development over the past 20,000 years of the transition from hunter-gatherer groups to modern life, it seems self-evident that stress was likely to be resolved in relatively short order in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle: everyone was known to everyone else, conflicts had to be resolved simply because the group survival depended on it, and most threats could be fended off with vigilance, weapons or left behind by a few hours of fast walking.
Contrast the environment that selected for this stress/conscious self-control feedback with modern life: in the modern urban life and work environment, stress is more or less constant and our ability to resolve stressful situations is limited.
This helps explain the increasing prevalence of people “losing it” in public when they encounter a rather typical frustration such as the inability to cash a check at a credit union. Just last week I saw a middle-aged man “lose it” at our local credit union, swearing and raging against employees who were simply following CU guidelines on check cashing. As the finances of many enterprises and households comes under further stress, then self-control degrades and people are more likely to “lose it.”
Though this particular article focuses on short-term stress, there is growing body of evidence that chronic stress has a number of subtle and destructive consequences. In addition to the common-sense connection between chronic stress and hypertension, there is evidence that obesity is also related to stress-caused conditions such as inadequate sleep and chronic inflammation. This makes sense as the stress hormones erode the immune system’s responsiveness.
Behaviorally, stress breaks down self-control, so it is no surprise that stress leads to bingeing, addictive behavior, impluse buying, etc.—all “knock-on” effects with negative consequences.
Chronic stress permanently degrades our ability to rationally analyze and plan, and so we act irrationally or erratically, as we are no longer able to stick to a conscious plan of coherent action. With the rational mind and self-control centers permanently suppressed, we are prone to “zombie” passivity, “sleepwalking” though life. This may help explain Americans’ remarkable passivity as their civil liberties are taken away and their financial insecurity increases.
Many of the features of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are visible in “everyday Americans,” and an understanding of how stress erodes rational thought and self-control helps explain why.