Disconnection Syndrome: Why We Are Stressed, Depressed, and Afraid and How We Can Reconnect and Heal


In her recent TED talk viewed by more than two million people in just a week, Global health expert Alanna Shaikh talks about the current status of the 2019 coronavirus outbreak and what this can teach us about the epidemics yet to come. She talks about the underlying causes of the pandemic and describes the various ways humans are disconnected from the natural world. “It’s a result of the way human beings are interacting with our planet,” she says. “Part of it is climate change and the way a warming climate makes the world more hospitable to viruses.”

Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan living in Ireland posted this poem on March 14, 2020 on how we can recognize our deep connections, even during these challenging times. He calls it Lockdown.

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,

The Coronavirus pandemic is just the most recent and frightening indicator of our disconnections. I wrote about my views in a recent post. “How to Stay Safe and Not Panic: 6 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Health and Well-Being.” The potential threat and our response change daily, but general principles still apply. 

So, too, do the principles of Functional Medicine. In their new book, Brain Wash, David Perlmutter, MD and Austin Perlmutter, MD say that we have become a culture of disconnection.

“We walk around with our heads down, fixated on our devices, avoiding ideas that differ from our own, while confronting constant messages telling us what to do (eat more, buy more, post more, be ‘liked’ more).” 

They go on to say,

“Participating in our modern consumerist existence is physically changing our brains. How, exactly? It is cutting off access to the highly evolved part of the brain that lets us see the big picture and make well-thought-out decisions. Simultaneously, it is strengthening the pathways that make us impulsive, anxious, fearful, and constantly craving a quick fix.”

There are two brain areas, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, that must be in balance if we are to function well in our lives. 

The large prefrontal cortex, sitting just inside the front of our skulls, is the most recently evolved part of the brain. The doctors say, “It is credited with higher-order brain functions such as:

  • Our ability to plan for the future.
  • Express empathy.
  • See things from the point of view of another.
  • Make thoughtful decisions.
  • Engage in positive social behavior—

Basically, all the things that make us human.

“The amygdala is the control center of the threat-response and threat-interpretation system. It modulates our memories of threatening events, real or perceived. The amygdala helps record real or perceived threats as well as other emotion-filled experiences so that we can recognize similar events in the future.”

The amygdala is part of the older brain, or Limbic brain. It’s part of our mammalian heritage and reacts instantly to keep us alive at times of danger. But problems occur when the amygdala operates without the guidance of our prefrontal cortex, as too often happens in our modern world. “But here’s the important lesson,” the doctors note. “The circuit in the amygdala can be hacked or altered even in an otherwise healthy brain. And when its tinkered with, big problems ensue.”

Our brains are literally being rewired in ways that are not in our best interests. “This rewiring leads us to spend our time and money on things that do not bring us long-term happiness,” say the doctors. “It leaves us constantly unsatisfied. And that’s exactly where corporate interests want us to be because it leads to higher profits.” 

The disconnection syndrome, they say, leads us to mindless activity, loneliness, chronic inflammation, instant gratification, narcissism, poor relationships, chronic stress, impulsivity, and anxiety. It can also contribute to panic when we’re addressing a problem frightening as a world-wide pandemic. 

What We Can Do to Reconnect and Heal

We certainly need to protect ourselves from getting infected from others who may have the virus. But we also can protect ourselves by boosting our immune systems.

After detailing the science behind these recommendations, the doctors offer the following “Brain Wash for Health” program. 

Day 1: Digital Detox

“First and foremost,” the doctors say, “you need to create barriers between your brain and the incessant influence of digital distraction. This requires striking a new balance. The idea is not to completely cut technology out of your life. Instead, you will overhaul your use of digital devices.”

Day 2: Practice Empathy Through Gratitude

“Reflecting on the positive aspects of your life and the people you care about is an exercise in mindfulness and empathy, and studies show that more gratitude means more empathy.”

Day 3: Nature Therapy

“We understand that most people don’t live within walking distance of an expansive forest, but do what is possible.” I find just walking through the neighborhood, seeing the sky, the trees, the clouds, listening to birds, smelling the flowers—all can be healing.

Day 4: Figuring Out Food

“Dietary change has to start in the places where you have the most control: kitchen and pantry.” Most of us know what’s good for us. I’m taking this time to eat healthier, including more home-cooked meals.

Day 5: Successful Shut-Eye

“Who would have thought that those hours of semi-unconsciousness at might could be so valuable? The research on the health benefits of sleep is absolutely stunning.” We can learn better sleep hygiene and it’s well worth the effort.

Day 6: Embracing Exercise

“Getting consistent exercise may seem daunting. The idea is not to force yourself into something disagreeable but to see exercise as a form of medicine that preserves your brain and body while improving your mood and decision making.” I’m exercising at home and doing it three times a day. Feels great.

Day 7: Medicate with Meditation

“Meditation is one of the best ways to debug your mind. We’re not recommending a specific type of mediation.” Find what works for you. Starting out slowly and doing it regularly can be of great benefit. I’m meditating more, reflecting, journaling. 

Day 8: Increase your Social Bonds with People

“Your interactions with other people are key in helping you escape disconnection syndrome. You’ll benefit from this activity by spending at least ten minutes of unbroken time connecting with another person each day.” You can stay safe and also connected. 

For more information about their book and their program, check it out here. If you like this article and would like to read more, please visit my blog. 

The post Disconnection Syndrome: Why We Are Stressed, Depressed, and Afraid and How We Can Reconnect and Heal appeared first on MenAlive.

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