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COVID-19 pandemic: How to prevent fear from highjacking your brain, defences

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The COVID-19 pandemic has also given rise to a pandemic of fear, which could even do more damage than the viral pandemic itself. This article draws attention to what neuroscience has now found to be the heavy toll that fear takes on several vital parts of the brain and through that on the entire defence of the body and on the proper functioning of the mind. How these grave dangers of fear arise is explained and solutions offered for use during the pandemic and beyond.

Alongside the global fear during this pandemic there is a wide range of other accompanying mental and emotional health issues. With lockdown, isolation, social distancing, collapse in the economy and various aspects of the social structure, there has been a rising incidence of anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, lethargy, a sense of hopelessness, loneliness, irritability, and even panic attacks.

These mental health issues vary from person to person depending on their particular circumstances and also on the predisposing state of their brains. In addition, however, the negative thoughts and emotions accompanying these mental health conditions also have their profound effects on the brain itself, further aggravating the situation and sometimes leading to a vicious cycle.

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The difference between blood flow to various parts of the brain during positive states of mind, like gratitude, and negative states, such as fear, is like that between day and night. With positive emotions the blood flow to the brain makes it light up like a Christmas tree whereas a negative state, like fear, brings about a frightful shutdown in many vital parts.

In general, fear generates a stress response in the body with an increase in the level of circulating cortisol. This results in impairment of the immune system with increased susceptibility to ailments, including COVID-19 infection and the disease it causes. The shutting down of blood supply to some vital parts of the brain by fear further aggravates the situation, contributing thereby to the vicious cycle.

Apart from the impairment of the immune system, however, the parts of the brain that are adversely affected by fear do have their significant impact on the well-being of the individual, with telling effects with or without COVID-19 infection.

Let us now look at these areas of the brain affected by fear and see what impacts their dysfunction has on the individual. Let us start with the cerebellum towards the back of the brain, in bright red in the picture on the left. This part of the brain although very conspicuously well supplied with blood in the state of positive thoughts, like gratitude, can be seen to be functionally “wiped out” in the state of fear, as shown in the picture to the right.

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What are the implications of this functional shutdown of the cerebellum, during fear for the individual? The cerebellum is that part of the brain that has long been known to control and integrate our physical movements, thereby making them smooth, rhythmic, accurate and of the correct speed. When this part is not functioning well, therefore, you become uncoordinated, accident prone, and experience difficulties with physical activity. You become, in the words of Dr Amen, “like the baseball player who keeps striking out no matter how hard he tries not to.” This is not all, however.

Neuroscience has also found that just as the cerebellum coordinates our physical movements it also coordinates our words and our thoughts and refines them as well. Further, brain scientists are also finding that the cerebellum has a role to play in creativity and in intuition. A dysfunction of the cerebellum therefore, means that the higher mental functions of thinking, judgment, planning, problem-solving, and intuition are also impaired with all the attending predispositions that can be hazardous at any time not to mention at such a time as during a pandemic. In addition, from the spiritual perspective the fact that the cerebellum is now being recognized to be a part of the brain for the intuitive faculty, also means that the effect of fear on the cerebellum can actually bring about a disconnection with vital spiritual, intuitive guidance and protection. A very dangerous state to be in at any time, not to mention at such grave times as we are now in.

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Another part of the brain that suffers in its function because of fear is the left temporal lobe. This part is slightly indented when you look at the scan in the state of fear. This is the part of your brain that keeps your mood on an even keel. When this part of the brain is affected by fear or any other negative thoughts or emotions, you actually become emotionally unstable and may experience anxiety or fear for no apparent reason. Your thoughts become jumbled and your memory impaired. Worse still you may even become susceptible to rage, violent thoughts as well as actions. You may feel angry, hostile, frustrated, distressed, anxious and depressed. These very emotions may make you respond with negative thoughts and behaviour in a vicious cycle.

Yet other parts of the brain that are seen to be relatively shut down by fear are the left basal ganglia, (labelled in the upper right side of the images) and the anterior cingulate gyrus (centre top). These areas are needed for you to remain flexible, collaborative and motivated to set goals. These are attributes that are needed at any time of our lives but certainly very vital at such a time as during this pandemic.

Great is the danger of fear and other negative thoughts and emotions. It behoves everyone, therefore, not to succumb to fear and its damaging effects nor to other negative emotions during this pandemic. Otherwise you would be a victim of your own mind.

Take all measures advised by the medical experts regarding hygiene, social distancing, diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, stress management, and the right kind of relating to other people and try and stay above it all without fear and without succumbing to negatives thoughts. They harm mind, brain and body, breach your defences and lower your immunity and thereby making you susceptible. Laughter is still the best medicine and the fearless man is always at an advantage!
Dr Abayomi Aiyesimoju is DTM Consultant Neurologist, Homeopath, Brain Coach, MyBrain Practitioner and Brain Optimization Consultant novoquest@yahoo.com

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