The World’s Collective Pain -Explore the journey of our changing world, from peace to conflict and the associated rise in global mental health disorders. Discover how our interconnected society intensifies these issues via ‘social contagion’ and anxiety’s impact on decision-making. Together, we can heal.
In my lifetime I’ve seen the Western world go from peaceful, prosperous, and stable, to hateful, greedy, and entitled. Not only have I seen my world slowly turn on itself, but I’ve also seen the world go from negotiations and peace to war and a battle between the wealthy and the rest of us.
We are living in troubled times, there’s no denying it. However, this is not the first time humanity has been in such a predicament. No, we’ve been here many times before. In fact, It’s a pendulum of peace, power, and control. Sadly, this peace, power and control characteristic is ingrained in us. And because of it, we humans pay an awful cost.
While the obvious prices include death, loss of territory and so on, lesser attention is paid to the sharp uptake in mental health disorders.
While this has probably been the case in every era of conflict, it makes sense that we are, as a global people, feeling the sting of the world’s collective pain. We can thank the advent of the internet and social media for this. Now, we can feel the stress of a disaster halfway around the world.
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Whether we realize it or not, an unlimited source of negative energy is assaulting our mental wellbeing. Experts attribute this, at least in part, to a phenomenon known as social contagion. It explains our susceptibility to the transmission of attitudes, behaviors, and emotional states among members of a crowd or other forms of social groupings. In other words, we can be conditioned to believe and or feel one way or another for any given trend.
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The trouble with social contagion in the modern era? It’s the ability to slide over to one side or another depending on your life experience, belief system, susceptibility to false information and so on. All of which, good or bad, are amplified by the internet. This ease of accessibility to one another can lead to opposition, fighting and finally division. All of which isn’t good because it’s a recipe for global anxiety and fear.
While the idea of social contagion may very well be a factor in the mental health crisis, it is but one part of an extremely complicated puzzle. We have other factors to consider. Things like misinformation, confirmation bias and defensiveness just to name a few.
When we are exposed to so much trauma creating news, and diverse groups advocating for their own piece of social justice, it creates a pervasive fear that runs like wildfire on a warm spring day. Inevitably, there will be people who will fiercely abuse you with their opposite opinion. And chances are, you will take liberties to do the same.
So, I think what we are seeing is a global anxiety crisis. Fear and angst can disable our ability to think clearly and therefore, we are primed to react, not find solutions. Hence the perpetual hatred on social media platforms like TikTok, Twitter and the like.
How Anxiety impairs our ability to reason and make good decisions
Anxiety can have a significant impact on the function of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region of the brain that’s primarily responsible for complex cognitive behaviors, personality expression, decision-making, and moderating social behavior. The specific impacts can vary depending on the severity and duration of the anxiety, as well as the individual’s overall brain chemistry and mental health. Below are several ways that anxiety can impair the prefrontal cortex:
- Impaired Cognitive Functioning: High levels of anxiety can interfere with the PFC’s role in executive functions, such as planning, decision-making, problem-solving, and attention. This might manifest as difficulties concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Emotional Dysregulation: The PFC plays a crucial role in emotion regulation, and heightened anxiety can hinder this function, leading to more frequent or intense emotional responses, difficulty calming down after becoming upset, or trouble managing stress effectively.
- Negative Bias: Anxiety can cause a heightened focus on negative stimuli, potentially driven by the PFC’s impairment. This might result in an individual perceiving neutral or even positive situations as threatening or stressful.
- Inhibition of Reward Systems: The PFC interacts with reward systems in the brain. High levels of anxiety can potentially dampen the response to rewards or positive feedback, leading to anhedonia (loss of pleasure in usually pleasurable activities) or increased negativity.
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- Impaired Social Functioning: The PFC is essential for moderating social behavior, and when impaired by anxiety, it can lead to difficulty interpreting social cues, feelings of awkwardness or discomfort in social situations, or avoidance of social interactions altogether.
- Disruption of Working Memory: Anxiety can affect the PFC’s role in working memory – the type of memory that allows us to hold and manipulate information over short periods. This can lead to difficulty remembering information even over short periods.
- Poor Impulse Control: The PFC is crucial for impulse control. When affected by anxiety, individuals might experience difficulty controlling their impulses, leading to potentially problematic behaviors.
- Altered Sleep Patterns: The PFC is involved in regulating sleep patterns, and high levels of anxiety can disrupt this function, leading to problems like insomnia or disturbed sleep.
- Impact on Physical Health: Chronic anxiety can cause prolonged activation of the body’s stress response, which over time can have deleterious effects on physical health, including the brain and PFC.
- Reduction in Brain Plasticity: Chronic stress and anxiety can reduce brain plasticity, particularly in the PFC. This can impact the brain’s ability to adapt and change in response to new experiences or learning.
It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences anxiety will not necessarily see all these impacts. The severity and combination of symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Also, while these effects can be quite challenging, there are numerous treatments available for anxiety that can help mitigate these impacts, including psychotherapy, medication, mindfulness practices, and lifestyle changes.
When we take all this into account, social contagion and anxiety, we may see more division born from reaction rather than reason. What’s worse, is we can see a national or even global erosion of mental wellness. In a nutshell, if we can’t meet in the middle, we are hurting everyone.
What can be done?
Well, I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. All I can offer is this: We are one people under a massive sun. Therefore, we all need to listen, acknowledge that everyone is struggling, and finally, support one another. Together we can fight back against the totality of human suffering. Pain is pain, a life is a life, and a unified people is a mental health healer.
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Here are some more articles from the website “The Road to Mental Wellness”:
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- Scientifically backed techniques to help minimize depression, anxiety, and PTSD’s effects
- How to set boundaries with yourself when you have a mental health condition·
- How to optimize living your life with these debilitating mental illnesses.
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