When Anger and Fear are Not Enough

Anger.  Fear.

Turn on the TV, open your social media accounts. There it is, like a siren call.

Daily headlines advise readers: “Don’t stop being angry!” or “If you aren’t afraid, you should be!” If the last year has not been unsettling enough, we are now confronted with political actions that up until now have only been the sub-plots in dystopian novels.

We are compelled to fear.  We are drawn to anger.

If we stop and really consider the headlines, we can interpret them as; “Don’t stop being angry!” to say, “Do not be complacent.”  “If you aren’t afraid, you should be!” can mean, “Wake up and see what is going on!”

The call to wake up and not be complacent are vital today no matter where you land on the political landscape: they boost our ability to be resilient.  When we use words such as “angry” and “afraid” to get our point across, it may get the reader’s attention.  However, using those words can be a disservice and an obstacle to getting things done.  Here is why.

When we feel threatened (angry and afraid), a part of our brain called the amygdala issues a warning.  We react with our built-in survival mechanisms of fight, flee, or freeze (or tweet at 3 a.m.) While hanging out in the amygdala (and its partner in crisis, the hypothalamus) is perfect when our lives are threatened, it is not the place to stay. We want to be able to move our thinking to an area behind our forehead called the PreFrontal Cortex (PFC).  The PFC is where you make good, informed decisions.  It is where effective action plans are birthed.  Here is the rub.  Our thinking does not magically move from the reactive mind (our amygdala/hypothalamus) to our thinking mind (our PreFrontal Cortex). It doesn’t just happen.

In order to take the most thoughtful, productive, effective action in times where you feel scared or angry, you must move out of the reactive brain and into the thinking brain. You must be intentional.

How do you do this?  Here is the quick and easy way: take a very deep breath and release it slowly. Now take another deep breath and release it. This will enable your thought process to move out of reactivity and into responsiveness.

It does not mean that you cease being angry or scared.  It does mean that you will have a better perspective on what is causing this emotion and what you can do about it.

Don’t stay in fear and anger.  Take a deep breath, now go do what needs to be done.

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