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King: Our world is facing traumatic stress

POSTED: April 30, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Almost everyone knows what post-traumatic stress disorder is. Just to be clear: PTSD is a type of anxiety disorder that can occur when an individual under goes a sudden trauma.

We usually apply the term to a single person, an individual who has experienced a crisis involving death or serious injury. Could a form of PTSD impact a large group of people, perhaps a whole population? Consider an island that is decimated by a sudden flood or volcanic irruption. Every person living there experiences the threat of sudden death or grievous injury.

A culture is made up of individuals. They all have different anxiety thresholds triggered by different stimuli. They have different backgrounds, different educations, but they’re all human and wired in essentially the same way.

Maybe you see where I’m going. Is there anyone reading this column who hasn’t seen videos of those planes flying into the Twin Towers, pictures of the bombing in Boston or failed to read about recent mass shootings? We’ve seen the photos; we’ve heard the stories. To a certain extent we have all shared the trauma. It’s become part of our emotional makeup.

Today we all share other experiences that aren’t exactly trauma but may produce similar anxiety symptoms. All too often advertising agencies deliberately promote fear in order to sell a product. Images of accidents on TV: You need insurance; you need a lawyer. Images of prowlers: You need a security system; you need a weapon under your pillow. Stories about corruption: Don’t trust the government. Conspiracies are everywhere.

When the media presents these messages over and over again, they invade the psyche, and they, too, become part of our emotional makeup.

Then there’s a third source of anxiety that’s even less obvious, so much so that much of the public is in denied. Civilization as we know it today is unsustainable.

We cannot continue turning our natural resources into trash. We cannot continue to foul the land, air and oceans. By not recognizing this and changing the way we live, we doom future generations. Our children and grandchildren will inherent an uninhabitable planet.

I began this column by talking about PTSD because a sudden traumatic incident creates a chemical reaction in the body. Adrenalin is released, and a fight or flight response is generated. When the trauma is intense, it can produce PTSD. When trauma is less than intense, let’s say spread over time, the condition is simply called traumatic stress. Nevertheless it can produce anxiety, depression and personality disorder.

I’ve said before that our society is sick, and apparently many readers agree. Now I am trying to explain why and suggest ways to handle it. The first step is to recognize the problem. Constant exposure to violence, real or simulated, is not good for us. Anger is a negative emotion, and it feeds on itself. There is no way to avoid trauma completely, but we can limit it.

We can turn off the TV. We can avoid angry people, and this means avoiding gonzo-politics and the people who generate it. Winning a political argument is not as important as getting along with one another. Political ideology has become increasingly entrenched and unforgiving. This has put the nation into a negative feedback cycle. Anger generates more anger. Political entrenchment on one side engenders political entrenchment on the other. It’s making us sick.

Sick people will never recognize and work to change the dynamics that threaten our future because to do so means questioning everything we’ve been taught about capitalism, American exceptionalism and the free market. Capitalism has run amok. America is not the moral leader of the world, and the free market is not now and never has been free.

These are harsh words. If they just make you mad, we will continue the negative feedback, but if they make you think, perhaps we can brake the cycle.

Joan King is a Sautee resident whose columns appear biweekly.


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