I stepped out of the house after 2 months. Here is what happened.
Becoming fearless isn't the point. That's impossible. It's learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it. ― Veronica Roth, Divergent
The time flew. I was so engrossed in my studies that I almost forgot that there are some relaxations in Bengaluru city of India. It was a weekend, I stepped out. It felt normal. People were fearlessly working outside. Traffic was normal. Roads were getting constructed. I took a long breath behind my mask. Phew!
We started this pandemic journey by sharing and retweeting links on social media about the plasma donors or constant news information. We collectively participated and switched off lights and turned on flashlights during a nationwide task that our leader had given to us. We were panic buying and hoarded groceries.
So many new things we were doing the first time in life. To illustrate this, we can see in the beginning there is a little spike in stimulation in brain activity levels vs time graph.
The brain was hyperactive as it was taking in a lot of information in a limited time. Over-communication in brain nerves also activated the amygdala which is responsible for the emotional and fear circuits in the brain. There was a sudden shift in mood, sleeping pattern, eating behaviour, posture.
The world turned upside down. Everyone's plan got ruined. We blamed the year 2020. We subconsciously asked ourselves every day that if everything is going to get normal, ever?
When we are in one heightened emotional state, it is very difficult to imagine another emotional state. We were in a low emotional state and it was difficult to imagine the future happier phase. Like Dr Loewenstein in his paper said-
When one is sick, it is very difficult to imagine being healthy again". This cognitive bias is known as the Empathy Gap.
In these uncertain situations, the human brain sometimes works on autopilot mode. This mode when remain unchecked can act in an unfair manner. We call them biases and they are hundreds in number. One of the reasons for disconnection I was feeling is Present Bias. We are now fed up calculating future rewards and not able to judge their values because the whole game has changed.
The reward of lockdown and social distancing is not visible to us. We are nowadays choosing the visible tangible option versus choosing the unknown, invisible and intangible. Disinfecting door knobs does not give immediate feedback on how much efficient we were. Saying yes to relative or friend who is asking to visit their home is giving much higher rewards and helping in building social capital.
In this pandemic, we have realized that we humans have more value than non-living things. We can adapt and update our beliefs. Adaptation is our biggest strength and we do try to control our fear sometimes. And someday, hopefully, will finally learn how to be free from it.
Loewenstein, G. (2005). Hot-cold empathy gaps and medical decision making. Health Psychology, 24(4, Suppl), S49–S56. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-6133.24.4.S49
Laibson, D. (2009). The economics of instant gratification.