A Cortex Response to Ebola: Why Panic is Not the Answer


What’s a cortex response to Ebola?

When our guest blogger, Misha, participated in the Brain Highways online program, she learned how to be her son’s brain facilitator. But for the past 15 years, Misha has also been working in the field of public health. Motivated by what she learned about cortex responses (while in our pons and midbrain courses) and the current reaction of many to Ebola, Misha felt motivated to share her thoughts in this blog. Note that Misha says these opinions are completely her own, lest people try to connect them to an official statement of an organization or group. 


It’s all over the news right now and has monopolized conversations. Everyone is talking about Ebola.

What should be our response to all of this news? It’s tempting to be filled with worry, anxiety, and fear. Ebola is a deadly virus to be sure. When we don’t know much about a disease or exactly how we can get it, our mind can fill with panic. Then, instead of staying curious (in our cortex), it’s easy to lose perspective and move into our pons (flight or fight/survival mode).

We’ve also sure seen a lot of finger pointing and blame when it comes to Ebola. Assigning blame, however, doesn’t help make the situation any better, nor does it help us all move forward.

Did you know that many health organizations have had to recently shift a great number of their staff away from their research and important everyday public health work in order to field calls from people who are scared, angry, enraged, and completely panicked? So, instead of being available to frontline workers or finding solutions, they have to use their time to calm the frenzy.

This doesn’t seem like the best use of talent or resources. But this is what happens when we allow the sensationalism of the media and our fear of the unknown, cripple us from logic and appropriate responses.

So what should be our response? What can we do to help? There are a number of cortex-based actions we can employ in a time like this:

-Be a source snob

-Practice compassion

-Have a grateful heart

Be a Source Snob

Instead of believing everything you hear, let your brain filter information based on fact, reason, data, and trusted sources. On matters such as an infectious disease, you probably aren’t going to get great answers to your questions through headlines, pictures from social media, or sound bytes. There are, however, some really great articles that do a wonderful job of laying out the facts.

What is the anatomy of a good article? A good article or website about Ebola will define what it is, how it’s transmitted, how to prevent it, how it’s treated, what the major symptoms are, and so on.

For example, I read a great article the other day that explained the R nought or R0 number for various diseases. The article explained how contagious a disease is by the number of people that can catch the disease for every one person who is infected. Spoiler alert in case you are wondering: measles, HIV, influenza (the flu), tuberculosis, hepatitis and other viruses have a much larger R0 number than Ebola.

So, lay aside any conspiracy theories, and stay thirsty for knowledge and facts.  Become source savvy, and please consider limiting your media diet right now.

Practice Compassion

I once heard that compassion is really just passion in action. We know that compassion is an important part of our cortex journey. So where do we start?

Keep those in the front lines working with patients, family members, and health workers in your thoughts and prayers. Learn about ways you can support efforts and give generously. Most West African countries lack basic infrastructure to stop the spread of Ebola. Many non-profits that have a well established presence in these communities are requesting funds to purchase hygiene supplies, protective gear, and other needed materials. Truly learn about organizations before you give as, unfortunately, many scammers try to profit from panic.

Stigma is also a huge issue surrounding Ebola. Many people are being shunned, not even being served food or allowed into places of worship because of the stigma surrounding being on a contact list. People need compassion. Think of practical ways you and your family members can help.

Have a Grateful Heart

Finally, perhaps the best way to stay calm amidst the panic is to have a grateful heart. If you went to turn on your shower and warm water came out, think about how blessed you are. Do you have plenty to eat? What a luxury to not know hunger. If you live in a part of the world with great public health infrastructure, don’t take it for  granted. Thank an EMT, or firefighter, or healthcare provider. Sometimes, we just need to pause and take the time to count all of our blessings.

By changing our perspective, choosing to practice compassion, refraining from finger pointing, and filtering our information, we are poised to be ambassadors of hope. We can be a voice of reason in our conversations with family, coworkers and friends.  We can make a difference and (hopefully) shift the collective energy from panic to peace.

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