Claudewell S. Thomas, MD, MPH, DLFAPA, is an established psychiatrist currently retired and living in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. He received his medical degree in 1956 at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine and specializes in social psychiatry, public health psychiatry, and forensic psychiatry. Dr. Thomas was board... more
We live in a world of turmoil and tumult word of which is transmitted at nearly warp speed. The devices that acquire the stream of information are numerous and diverse. With almost no countries lacking access to one or more of the devices that access this stream of information, we have become addicted to the accumulation of this stream of data and near data and must have our fix despite the fact that it produces fear and anxiety.
It is much like a narcotic substance. The loss of access produces a peculiar withdrawal malaise. One way to defend yourself against the psychological stream without shutting it out is to armor against it. This is not the external armor of the knight or the exoskeleton of the armadillo or crocodile, but is internal and boosts the ability to stand upright, keeps the slings and arrows from entering vital areas, and also keeps feelings bottled up. Knowledge that one has a protective shell of
some sort can produce a pugilistic pugnacity that invites both aggressive behavior and retaliation.
Armed with enhancers of personal power, we may begin to act like enforcers or warders to others rather than empathic fellow world citizens. We have allowed anger to temporarily buffer our anxiety which is present universally since loss of feeling and the difficulty in feeling empathy is noted by all those whose makeup is not sociopathic. Anxiety and depression have not been banished from the realm but have simply gone underground. Cardiovascular problems are associated with depression and anxiety in a complex chicken and egg relationship. However, anxiety and depression shorten life expectancy in people with heart disease, in people with chronic pulmonary disease, in long term cancer patients, in people with liver diseases, and in more chronic and acute illnesses.
Some years ago while traveling in Mexico, my wife and I took a walk leaving our hired van to enjoy the terrain. It was Cinco de Mayo or close thereto, and there was much nationalistic feeling intermixed with some anti-American sentiment, so when a couple of trucks with workers approached, we regretted leaving the van.
But to our surprise, the trucks approached and the workers waved and cheered. I realized that my sport shirt was red, green, and white: the colors of Mexico. Nationalistic feelings are powerful and close to the surface. The sense of who we are as a nation in relation to our sense of pride and in relation to other nations is manifest.
I have heard statements of depressed and angry sentiment as well as attestation to confused and anxious feelings stemming from the inability to comprehend the Trump administration and its modus operandi, not only internally but importantly with other nations.
The role of the leader in displaying patience and empathy is important. We do follow and emulate their “style setting proclivities” (Weber), which are followed when they are directed toward increasing the sway of the fellow travelers, anxiety and depression. We have to alter course and become our own leaders.