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Part 3 of 6
After the surviving group members found themselves in a crisis having to fend for themselves, they realized that there is no way of getting assistance nor getting into a shelter. Some members tried to seek a shelter of some form by sleeping under temporary shelters such as self-made wind protection such as tarps or woods, or even an old car if possible. Shelter became the primary goal in the minds of those affected by the wind and cold, or in some cases heat. The panic and distress of feeling exposed affected group members to various degrees. Everyone felt the effects of the crisis, but not everyone felt it to the same degree.
Emotion felt knowing in helplessness
The emotion of panic developed in many group members each in their own way that expressed itself in unclear and hurried thinking. It was evident that the brain was in a fight or flight response mode, and this being the case affected memory, emotions, behavior, and motivation. From my observation and exploration of the situation, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was being played out in real time. Questions like, what will we eat and drink? Where will we stay? How will we keep warm? These issues and more were the discussion points within the group.
The individuals that have now found themselves living out a crisis due to devastating events in their lives were unaware that they were living out Maslow’s needs theories of what motivates creatures. However, many did not understand their own emotions, and in some cases this caused them to live in hardship and struggle to succeed in survive and gain security. The group’s struggles were not only due to lack of food, water or shelter but from the inner working of their brain and psychology that led some to fail and others to seek death as a means of escape.
What the group members did not know seemed to make the problems more prominent than they already were, and what they did not know is why they are behaving as they were. Whether it was called worrying, anxiety, fear or panic, they all had this in common, they all affected emotions, motivation and behavior for the positive or the negative. In addition, they also have commonality in brain function and hormonal functions that are bad for short-term and long-term health.
Group members used words such as worry, anxiety, fear, and panic all used interchangeably during the crisis as well as feeling similar effects by individual members. Some group members felt these feeling to somewhat of a greater and some to a lesser degree.
Crisis effects on emotions
No matter the emotion, emotions play a big part in the existence and survival of the human beings. Just like physical pain, emotions are an information source when it comes to expressing our personal experiences to aid in well-being as well as our very own survival (Strongman, 2003).
Emotions in a state of crisis help to act as a survival mechanism, but when emotions go unmanaged, they can be a detriment to a person who is trying to survive. Even if emotions have a negative influence on reasoning abilities as well as learning, emotions have been the root of many successes as well as many failures when it came to taking actions in moments of need (Gonzales, 2003). As time passed, our group realized that emotions needed managing to make them a positive tool for our survival.
At times, the group and I found ourselves smiling and laughing, and the emotion of happiness followed similar reactions from other group members. Laughter was a great booster of energy and mood, and so the left prefrontal cortex of the brain was stimulated: the left prefrontal cortex is where the feeling of pleasure and motivation stem from (Gonzales, 2003).
By stimulating this area of the brain, it helps in calming fear and frustration by sending chemical signals to the amygdala and reducing the fear effect. Therefore, we can say that laughter helps reduce the negative emotions that impair our ability to behave correctly given the situation and have a positive motivation (Gonzales, 2003).
Panic and fear reaction. Panic and fear are what the group felt when they were confronted with a situation that would bring them physical or emotional harm at the moment or sometime soon; fear can be either a real threat or imagined threat. In the midst of a fear and panic reactions depending on the situation, some people may take flight from the danger or fight the threat, and in some cases, panic may be so overwhelming as to cause the person to freeze up from fear or as I have observed it was the inaction to take action.
In a survival situation when a person took on the fighting role, they were motivated to survive. In a survival situation, the person does not have the option to take flight to escape the predicament they were in since they were in a position where they must fend for themselves, and the flight mode was not possible but at times only turned into a freeze mode resulting in inaction.
If a group member did choose a flight mode, it was either in being in denial or in later seeking a chemical means of escaping reality. This third stage of the fight, flight or freeze reaction is the freeze stage where the person did not have the will nor the strength to take action that would ensure their survival and security. Some group members were paralyzed by fear or shock to do anything.
When it came to the first of Maslow’s level of needs such as survival, some were motivated to fight, some to take flight, while some just froze and did nothing. As I analyzed the situation with first-person experience and observation, it was paramount to understand how the fight, flight and freeze behavior worked so it can be managed to assist the individual or group as a whole to keep motivation positive and to behave correctly to ensure survival and security.
Fear is more directly linked to a specific danger and brings on the fight or flight response after being alerted to danger. Panic is part of fear, but in a more intense form and more immediate. As with fear, panic also brings on the fight flight or freeze state. The Oxford dictionary defines panic as a sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing behaviors that lacked thought or situational evaluation (Oxford dictionary, 2017).
The analysis and observation yielded that pre, mid and post-devastation, individual group members developed a fear and panic reaction to the situation they found themselves in. This panic reaction causes them fear and apprehension, while some people reported that they felt that they are about to die or going to go crazy, some even said they feel like they are having a heart attack or pass out.
Panic. In a panic state, the person may feel anxiety by the fact that their sympathetic nervous system is working in a heightened state and is releasing extra energy to prepare the persons to take action (Strongman, 2003). This effect can come in the form of fight, flight or freeze.
Fear. The emotion fear highjacks the part of the brain that seeks to reason and thinks things through. The amygdala in which there are two located one on each side of the brain in conjunction with another part of the body and brain start a complicated process that drives behavior to aid in ensuring survival (Whalen, Phelps, 2009).
As the fear emotion kicked in, it starts the process of activation of neural networks that release chemicals in the brain and throughout the body. The most common hormone chemical that people typically know is adrenaline (Gonzales, 2003).
The results of the adrenaline in the body are the contraction of smooth muscle fibers and the excitement of nerve cells to prepare the body for action (Gonzales, 2003).
One neurotransmitter and hormone that initiates the instantaneous reaction to a fear-generating incident is norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is felt in the rapid speeding up of the heart as well as getting goosebumps when one is unexpectedly startled (Kalat, 2009). Cortisol released from the adrenal cortex increases the fear feeling. Once the amygdala is stimulated through the perception of danger, breathing speeds up, heart rate increases, the metabolic system takes in more sugars, and the oxygen supply increases to increase the output of speed needed to run, or strength required to fight (Kalat, 2009).
Happiness. Most common of the positive mood changing and pain reducing hormones are endorphins. The endorphins flood the brain during a psychologically traumatic event or in extreme pain and can be comparable to morphine (Plotnik & Kouyoumjian, 2011). Another happiness-producing hormone is serotonin, which has a positive effect on mood (Brannon et al., 2014). Dopamine is yet another feel-good chemical the brain produces, a neurotransmitter that aids in the brains reward producing system after an event (Brannon et al., 2014).
Anxiety. Anxiety is when someone anticipates trouble; in a state of anxiety, people try to find hope in what seems to be a hopeless situation. In anxiety, a person is asking himself or herself a lot of what ifs, and imagine or perceives a lousy outcome. Anxiety produces worrying about the future because they do not seem to have answers or solutions to problems.
Anxiety causes an edgy feeling in the person, quick-tempered at times and is always looking out for the next threat. Due to the nature of anxiety, it also produces the same fight or flight response that fear does. In addition, stress hormones such as cortisol to aid in speed, reflexes and so on, fuel anxiety feeling. Unlike stress that typically causes anger, sadness, and excitement, anxiety involves fear, dread, and apprehension (kalat, 2009).
Anxiety and worry vary among people for genetic reasons, and the amygdala is one of the central areas where the connection of a crisis environment and a person’s genetic makeup will determine the amount of anxiety that is felt (kalat, 2009). In general, there are levels of anxiety displayed by those seeking to survive, and these displays of anxiety are either immediately within a crisis or later on. Some people exhibit anxiety by talking a lot, laughing, crying or being very silent.
Worry. Anxiety and worry stimulation take place in a few parts of the brain; the amygdala and the hippocampus are the major players in the occurrence of anxiety (Whalen, 2009).
The amygdala is like a relay that relays information seen or heard by the person and interprets these external incoming signals as potential threats, thus activating the anxiety effect. The emotions of fear and sadness become stored in the hippocampus (Strongman, 2003), and stores this feeling in memory for later retrieval and this effect causes the anticipation of nonexistent anxiety or worries, thus effecting current and future decision-making processes by the person.
When I explained this to people, who were in the shadow of anxiety and cannot figure out why they cannot get rid of it. They realize that it is not some “spiritual weakness” or that there is something mentally wrong with them, so now by understanding why they jump to anxiety in its negative context, they were better able to manage its cortisol-producing effects and calm down.
However, anxiety is not always bad, a person can be on top of a cliff’s ledge, and as they are crossing, become concerned about falling, and thereby being more cautious and careful how they cross the ridge.
Depression. The biology of depression is complicated, but a simple understanding of it may help to manage it in a crisis thereby breaking free of the paralyzing effect it has on a person.
The root of depression is associated with an imbalance of neurotransmitters, serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine (Nemade & Staats, 2009). The neurotransmitter serotonin plays a significant role in the bodies overall working, and these functions are aggressive behavior, sleeping ability as well as mood. Research suggests that lower production of serotonin by neurons in some people under depression can cause the feeling of suicidal behavior (Nemade & Staats, 2009).
In addition to serotonin, a person lacking the neurotransmitter norepinephrine in specific parts of the brain was also a contributor to depression; however, research also shows that not everyone who is depressed has a lower level of norepinephrine. Some people have overactive neurons that make norepinephrine (Nemade & Staats, 2009).
Lastly, the neurotransmitter dopamine also has a contributing role when it came to depression in people. Dopamine has a vital role in managing the motivation to seek out pleasure feeling activities (Nemade & Staats, 2009).
Although the previously mentioned topics have more details from a scientific and biological perspective, this basic understanding of the brain and hormonal issues were enough to go on in context of the psychology of survival and security as well as the recognition of motivations or lack of motivations and behaviors that followed.
Given the fundamental and foundational details on the brains function as well as the hormones associated with it in context of anxiety. I proceeded with exploring the effects on the group’s behavior in an actual crisis and learn to recognize what is happening to them so they can take measures to minimize its impact as an individual tries to fulfill the needs of survival and security.
Part 4. Cognitive functions in a crisis. To be continued...