Many of us are breathing a sigh of relief today, but there is another mood percolating. Many of us feel anger, a deep, fire in the belly anger that it has come to this. We may feel like caged lions, spitting mad, but told to quiet down, be civil and act nice.
That seems like excellent advice, given the harm caused by rage, hostility, aggression, but, in reality, the stress we feel from the campaign is not likely to fade and that ongoing political climate could become a continuing assault to our well-being.
Hearing about or seeing vicious personal attacks, criticism of parents who have lost a child to war, accusations of fraud and talk of sexual assault have affected our psyches, souls and bodies.
Stress is the number one worldwide epidemic and threat to health. It is outstripping our capacity to process that stress effectively, so increasingly the brain’s stress switch (hypothalamus) is flipping. That takes our thinking brain with its wise judgment and oversight off line and puts the reptilian brain, which is given to fight or flight extremes, in charge. Emotionally, our first response is anger, if we don’t completely dissociate and turn off feelings altogether.
And yet, maybe this election stress is perfect in its own way, as given the likely pile up of charges and counter charges and avalanches of stresses post-election, we will pause for long enough to upgrade our brain’s capacity to process stress, in the spirit of changing the world by changing ourselves.
My colleagues and I at University of California San Francisco have developed emotional brain training (EBT) as a set of skills to improve the brain’s effectiveness in processing stress. Our hunter-gatherer brain adapted to the Paleolithic life of physical stress and sameness, yet we live in a world of emotional stress and overwhelming speed of change. As more than 80 percent of health problems are rooted in chronic stress, we have explored four ways to update our brain’s capacity to process our anger and boost our resilience.