Have you flipped your lid?
We are now into the eighth month of the COVID-19 global storm. The world is presently full of unknowns, where we are literally being sneezed on by the “infodemic” - an abundance of information, including misleading or fabricated news. This is similar to the COVID-19 virus in terms of being highly contagious and growing exponentially (as defined by the World Health Organization).
We are driven to physically and psychologically survive. At the beginning of civilisation, our ancestors needed to detect threats very quickly, including a sabertooth tiger heading towards them. As means of surviving, they learnt to respond by either taking flight, fighting, freezing or pretending to be dead (flop).
Over time, our brains have progressively evolved. But, our older brain continues acting as a warning alarm in response to an actual or perceived threat. Once this alarm (referred to as the amygdala) is set off, the lid of the newer thinking part of our brain “flips’’. In this video, Dr Daniel Siegel describes the three-part hand model of the brain, demonstrating how we 'flip our lid'.
This manifests in primitive responses (fight, flight, freeze or flop) taking over and our becoming emotionally dysregulated. This goes some way in explaining some of the fights which have taken place this year for food items and toilet roll!
In addition to the thinking part of our brain (the pre-frontal cortex) being evolutionary younger, research shows it does not fully develop until our mid-20s. This is in comparison to our amygdala, which is fully developed by our eighth month of life. This highlights that, by design, our brain leans towards anxiety.
I believe it is important at this time for us to take stock of the wisdom of Victor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning, 1946) - that there is a space between stimulus and response, and in that space is our power to choose our response. For Frankl, this space involved completing the book he had started writing and believed needed to be shared with the world. This sense of purpose enabled Frankl to survive the atrocities of the Holocaust. I invite us to consider how this evidences survival is possible against all odds.
Finding purpose or meaning is not about bypassing our messy emotions or tucking them into neat packages. During the current unpredictable time in which the only certainty is change, we need to be willing to hold it all - our panic and despair, and acceptance of what we cannot control as well as hopefulness, including that this time too shall pass.
During times of our panic and despair, we need to pause and take our space.
This could be through mindfulness, prayer in a way that works for us, or taking steps towards pursuing what gives us a sense of purpose. During moments of our lid having flipped, now more than ever, it is essential for us to reach out to family members, friends, our community or a counsellor, to ask for support in switching off our warning alarm system and regulate.