In the cold winter morning during lockdown I was walking up Fitzroy street, St Kilda. Some pubs were boarded up with torn advertising material fading in the icy wind. Other shops had shut down completely and the remaining cafes were operating out of small glass windows, slightly resembling a drive through rest stop with limited options for patrons. The odd person was spotted with a dog, mask covering their face, briskly walking away from my path. My thought was *and cue dramatic sombre music* “before the virus this street was buzzing with life and blazing energy…now this empty street resembles a post-apocalyptic lifeless district”.
My thoughts were similar to the first scene out of a zombie thriller, designed to set the tone for the landscape of earth without many human survivors.
Umm…. wait. How did my life suddenly imitate a Hollywood blockbuster designed to be watched in a cinema?
The global pandemic can make us feel like we are living in an unimaginable version of our world, but there won’t be any zombies. There won’t even be Brad Pitt to come and rescue us. We just have to revise our tracksuit for the day and stay inside with the heater on. The ultimate anticlimax.
Although, it isn’t all that strange. I mean, yes it’s bizarre, uncomfortable, frustrating and monotonous. But have you ever experienced an event in life where the moments don’t feel quite the same? Such as being in a car accident, being in hospital, watching someone in despair, or watching an arrest. Time moves differently, and your brain actually changes to manage the information. Specifically, when you do experience directly or indirectly, a stressful experience, the neurons in your brain fire more rapidly in certain areas. This is meant to help you act in a clearer and faster fashion, giving you that sense of ‘hyper-vigilance’ or super alertness. And the release of adrenaline leads to ‘less logical’ thinking to allow faster spontaneous and intuitive behaviours to take over. In addition, the amygdala activates (almond shaped area in the brain where we process danger) – but it’s also the emotional centre, so we interpret experiences with feelings over logic. And that’s it… we are wading through intense feelings like never before.
I pondered on how our communities are coping with the fluctuating stress response and idol Netflix time spent with animals. And it reminded me of a movie, just a less desirable one. With the peaks of excitement and anxiousness and then the quieter moments of reflection and sadness. Do we need a superhero? Are we craving a more meaningful chapter in all this COVID19 mess? Or are we really moving away from drama and wishing for the simpler, more ‘normal’ freedoms that make our world seem more manageable. Arriving at an airport ready for an exciting holiday. Being at a restaurant with close friends. Getting lost in a food market with the buzzing sounds of people and music…..?
So while we experience scary, upsetting or triggering events, that feel like we could borrow a script form a 90’s action flick, remember that our brains do change during the process. And we find ourselves thinking differently, literally feeling more than thinking. When we realise we aren’t in the cinema, we might assume we aren’t coping with life – but you are. You are just processing stressful events, and the brain changes as a result. And once the stress in over, you brain starts to ‘balance’ and you are able to make better sense of what you experienced. This is just another example of why is it so important for us to talk about stress, about scary experiences and about those moments that make us feel like we are in Hollywood. Keep talking to each other and know that this too really will pass.
Although I must admit, I wouldn’t complain if Brad appeared in final scene to cheer us all up.
By Claudia Hounslow, Director & Psychologist