Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Our brain's chemistry of love neutralizes its chemistry of fear.

Arthur Brooks, in his biweekly Atlantic Column, offers some very sane comments on the underlying fear that virtually all of us experience, especially in this time of COVID-19. He notes several surveys that show an increase of 10-20% in fear, anxiety, and stress over the past 10-20 years. There will always be threats to face and things to fear, and his stance is that...
The way to combat fear within ourselves is with its opposite emotion—which is not calmness, or even courage. It’s love...The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, “Through Love, one has no fear.” More than 500 years later, Saint John the Apostle said the same thing: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Love neutralizes fear. It took about 2,000 years, but contemporary neurobiological evidence has revealed that Lao Tzu and Saint John were absolutely on the money...Fear is a primary emotion processed in the amygdala, a part of the brain that detects threats and signals to the body to produce the stress hormones that make us ready for fight or flight. This is largely involuntary, and, while necessary for survival, is unpleasant..The fear response is also maladapted to modern life. For example, a friend of mine with a large Twitter following once told me that he felt his chest tighten every day as he clicked on the social media app on his phone. His amygdala was alerting him that dangerous threats lay ahead, and he was getting a dose of adrenaline and cortisol in response—even though nothing was likely going to harm him.
However, we have a natural modulator of the hyperactive amygdala: the neuropeptide oxytocin, sometimes called the “love molecule.” Oxytocin is often produced in the brain in response to eye contact and touch, especially between loved ones. The feeling it creates is intensely pleasurable; indeed, life would be unbearable without it. There is evidence that an oxytocin deficit is one reason for the increase in depression during the coronavirus pandemic, with its lockdowns and social distancing.
Oxytocin has also been found to reduce anxiety and stress by inhibiting the response of the amygdala to outside stimuli. If you have loving contact with others, the outside world will seem less scary and threatening to you. What Saint John asserted is literally true: Perfect love drives out fear.
Brooks continues by noting many trends that over the past 20-30 years have decreased the amount of love in our lives, leading to an epidemic of loneliness.He then suggests concrete steps to bring more love into our lives by first sharing our fears with someone we trust, and by expressing you appreciation, affection or love for a friend or family member whom you would not normally address in this way.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:09 AM

    How true!! I am not a Christian yet I have to admit that St. Paul's statement: "if I do not have love, I am nothing", is fundamental to life.