In recent weeks, the world has experienced an example of a communal crisis – a time when the sense of threat is so pervasive, that people feed off each other in terms of a tendency towards anxiety and panic.
Certain behaviours go with this kind of context, and it’s maybe worth outlining what they are.
SHUTTING OUT THE WIDER PICTURE
When under pressure, peope tend to zone in on the key perceived threat, and ignore other things. In some, it can create a tendency to focus on their own selfish needs, to the exclusion of others. (This is particularly true if someone already has significant self-cherishing, because they themselves, under threat, will become the centre of their own worry system.) It also makes people latch on to paranoid worries they ‘catch’ from others – hence the recent illogical tendency to buy up toilet roll in response to an epidemic that has little to do with toilet roll.
In short, we lose a wider, wise perspective, and temporarily gain a narrow, slightly foolish perspective. This has some positives (a threat deserves some focus); but also negatives (selfishness, unthinking crowd-following, fearful freezing-up).
Under enormous social anxiety, groups may increase the intensity with which they listen to news, and talk about current events. It is natural, because everyone wants to hear the latest about the threat, and everyone wants to process their thoughts and feelings. However, this can exhaust the body, and it is wise to match such hyper-communication with peaceful games and quiet contemplation, in order to make sure the mind and body have a rest from all the intensity.
EXAGGERATION OF ‘HOME’ BEHAVIOUR
Under pressure, people often revert to ‘home behaviours’, behaviours that, however good or bad they may be, are like second nature. This is partly because there seems too little time to adapt and self-monitor. We become little bags of urges, desperately seeking an outlet. Those who are naturally reclusive may become more so, and those who are gregarious may become more so. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But what perhaps has to be watched, is the tendency to pick on each other and lose our tempers.
How am I reacting to the pressure of a universal social threat?
Am I shutting out the wider perspective? Am I forgetting the wider issues of life, and narrowly focusing on one thing only? Am I able to take an interest in things that are not the issue of the day? It may be that I can stay healthy by learning something new, or observing things in the sider worldI have never noticed before.
Am I exhausting myself by over-listening to news reports, or chattering incessantly about the latest events? Am I also able to rest, relax and play, as is always necessary, even in crisis.
Am I reverting to behaviours which may be difficult for others? Can I still watch my moods, and ensure that I keep my patience, and my ability to adapt?
In short, under pressure, can I still be wise, peaceful, and patient?