Coping with today’s political stress is no leisurely stroll through the jungle. Chances are, over the last few years of community tension, you’ve noticed changes in others. You may also have picked up on changes in how you yourself feel, or how you interact with others.
This is because our gut brains are on constant high alert. We are too uncertain about what might be coming next. Our feelings and choices of behavior reveal this regularly.
Why Cogjam Really Is a Disaster
But does that really ramp cogjam up to disaster status? Here’s how Chapter Two of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science, justifies identifying cogjam as a disaster:
“What makes cogjam a mental health ‘disaster?’ For that matter, why is anything defined as a disaster? We hear those ruled by black or white thinking use the term to describe anything they find at all unfavorable.
For the purpose of this discussion, the definition of disaster is the one established by emergency management and other groups who step in when communities are in distress.
Disaster is an adverse incident that significantly disrupts community functioning. It results in material, human, infrastructural, environmental, and/or other losses that go beyond the community’s ability to cope by way of usual means. Addressing vital needs and getting day-to-day functioning back to normal usually requires assistance outside of usual community resources and practices.
Disastrous incidents can be naturally caused—such as hurricanes, floods, pandemics, wildfires, earthquakes, and tornadoes; or manmade—such as bombings, explosions, releases of hazardous materials, and arson activity. Note that manmade does not necessarily mean intentional. War, mass shootings and the like, yes. But much of manmade disaster is purely accidental, unfortunate by-products of our fallible humanbeinghood.
That’s what cogjam is about: a man-made disaster, but for the most part unintentional. Yes, there could be abusive sociopaths out there who purposely try to perpetuate it. It would certainly be a good way to keep others sufficiently traumatized so as to be able to manipulate them.
But the majority of cogjam more likely stems from communitywide struggles to cope with multiple conflicting perspectives, generated by so many advanced cerebral cortices.
Cogjam therefore fits within the definition of disaster thusly:
- It has released a landslide of mental health impact on our communities.
- The resulting stress or trauma has excessively challenged most individuals’ ability to either cope well with or overcome it.
- It disrupts and at times overwhelms community functioning.
- Exceptional effort is needed to overcome its breadth of impact, beyond usual means of coping and mental health resources available.
The gut brain can’t ignore the uncertainty, frustration, and fears generated by such a huge amalgamation of conflict. But the gut brain is the wrong tool for surviving cogjam. So we suffer similarly to those living through other disasters—not because of lost homes, lifestyles, loved ones, physical health, or neighborhoods, but as a result of the nationwide drop in sense of wellbeing, both jointly and individually.”
. . . Yet We CAN Overcome Its Effect on Us
Escaping the impact of today’s version of political stress takes active, focused effort–not to try to change the world in one fell swoop, but by:
- Assuring our gut brains that we are indeed able to cope.
- Making a difference in our own corner of the world, one human interaction at a time.
- Employing compassion and understanding with those around us who struggle, rather than withdrawal, groupthink, defensiveness, or retaliation.
- Aligning ourselves with common humanity, and in so doing reap the rewards of social connectedness and post-traumatic growth.
Like all other disaster survivors, we are resilient.
FEMA (2017). National Disaster Recovery Framework. Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/national-disaster-recovery-framework.
Blaming cogjam entirely on all the adrenalin percolating away would be the easy way out. But adrenalin is not the only ingredient of fight or flight chemistry that is playing a contributing role.
Cogjam is a joint activity, a community-wide line dance that at times leads us directly toward the edge of that infamous cliff. This falls more within the realm of another neurochemical that highlights its presence during high stress: oxytocin.
Oxytocin and Herd Instinct
Here’s what Chapter Five of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Community Divisiveness and Fractured Science” says about this unfortunate case of social bonding gone awry:
“Oxytocin is an ingredient of our neurochemistry that promotes social bonding. Its presence is associated with love relationships, childbirth, and other social attachments. Interestingly, oxytocin is also released during states of high arousal.
When I first learned of this it brought to mind an acronym that turned up on the disaster trail during high-stress assignments: DII, short for “disaster induced infidelity.” I also recall packed neonatal wards in Portland, Oregon area hospitals about nine months after Mt. St. Helens blew. Then, of course, there’s the baby-boomer population that turned up after World War II. Being collectively thrown together for heavy-duty stress appears to strengthen at least one type of social bonding among those who endure it.
But in addition to encouraging attachments to specific individuals, oxytocin promotes bonding within groups. In disaster world, we called the instant joint efforts of workers and community members “disaster bonding.” Similar ties develop in other groups that regularly deal with emergency, combat, and other high-stress positions. The friendships that form in such scenarios may last a lifetime. Continue reading
Compassion is key to getting beyond cogjam–for others, ourselves, and even politicians. Yes, it’s true that much of today’s socio-political stress is fueled by politicians’ commentary and actions. But look at where they sit, as compared to the rest of us.
Chapter Four of my upcoming book, “The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science,” explains it this way:
“Opposing political opinions rarely involve the immediate life-or-death circumstances for which the fight or flight response was intended. We’d never know it, though, considering how politicians so often let gut reasoning take the lead. But look at it from their perspective. As far as their careers go, opposing political opinions may well represent life or death. Given the complexity and expense of election campaigns these days, our representatives no longer simply look out for the interests of their constituencies. They are in the unenviable position of also needing to satisfy those who finance their campaigns, which usually isn’t individual voters. Plus, they need to walk the line of party affiliations.
The needs and aims of these three factions may not coincide. The resulting conflicts of interest hack away at politicians’ increasingly precarious stumps. It’s a no-win situation, and probably terrifying for any elected official who values staying in office. The temptation to give in to gut reasoning must be profound, indeed. And as long as the status quo for election campaign practices continues, it’s a safe bet that cogjam will always be riding shotgun. Continue reading
We all have our hypotheses about why events around us happen the way they do. However we also need to take care to validate our hypotheses before we accept them as being reality. This often doesn’t happen when we’re overstressed. If we jump in with both feet and indiscriminately accept hypotheses as we create or hear them, confusion and missteps often follow–as we often see with cogjammed thinking and behaviors.
Here’s what Chapter Four of my upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science,” has to say about letting rationalizing win out over more effective reasoning:
“As with fear-based behavior, interpretations and conclusions drawn when we’re all worked up may or may not be our best. When battling through the heat of the moment, the temptation to accept a logical hypothesis as reality rather than something to be checked out can be powerful indeed. But putting the cart before the horse in this manner is actually a form of rationalization.
What sorts of solutions will my upcoming book, “The Cogjam Effect,” have to offer? In other words, what can we as individuals do to contain polarizing and divisiveness when it appears in our midst? One such opportunity is management of social media posts.
For your reading enjoyment, here’s a story from Chapter 13 – “Healing the Herd”:
“I participate in several writers’ groups. Some of them stay in touch using social media. Like everyone else, we’ve dealt with the occasional interloper sneaking in from elsewhere, sniffing around for ways to stir up trouble.
One day some unknown individual posted a nasty rant in broken English. Its content aimed to stir one of the day’s major cogjam pots. With similar posts, I usually see a bunch of angry retorts or other defensive comments afterwards. But that was not the case for this one. Here’s the main gist of how my writer colleagues responded: Continue reading
We’ve made it this far. We’re still breathing. The world still turns on its axis.
Not to say the polarizing and political hostilities haven’t been painful. Nor that it hasn’t been a struggle—personally, interpersonally, within our communities, and as a nation. We have struggled, indeed.
All the same, think back to the level of angst and argumentativeness circling in our midst a year ago. Yes, it’s still around. But for most of us it has become at least somewhat more tempered. Our reactions to stressful events are focusing more on solutions and less on aimless, distressed lashing out. A shift has scented the air.
Why? Because resilience is winning out, as it always does following disaster. We’ve begun to unravel the tangle, and are adjusting for the better.
But why are some already well down the road of personal recovery, while others are not? Reasons vary. But there is hope for all.
My upcoming book, The Cogjam Effect – and the Path to Healing Divisive Community and Fractured Science, is a recovery roadmap. Regardless of whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or otherwise politically affiliated, this book provides answers:
- What got us here in the first place?
- How do current affairs fit in with the greater picture of our society, as well as the status of the human race in general?
- And how can we reset ourselves to better cope with today’s odd version of social and political realities?
In weeks to come, I will share portions of my book that can assist with your own transformation, as well as keep you up to date on the publishing progress of The Cogjam Effect.