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Why the pandemic is fueling violence and negative behavior

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A recent surge in gun violence may be linked to the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic, and what it’s doing to our brains, may be fueling all kinds of risky behavior and bad decision making.

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Doctor Kira Mauseth, co-lead of the Washington State Behavioral Strike Team, explains several things are at work here.

COVID-19 was first discovered in the US in early 2020 and it’s still with us. Mauseth says people are exhausted, mentally and physically, and that can affect the limbic system, which helps regulate emotions in the brain.

This dysregulation can cause people to act more impulsively.

“We’re exhausted and because people’s limbic system — which is the emotional center of the brain that’s responsible for that regulation — we are dysregulated and as a result of that, it’s easier for people to act more impulsively,” Mauseth said.

At the same time, there’s been a marked decrease in depression and anxiety linked to the pandemic. Pandemic restrictions are being lifted, and simply said, people are ready to have a little fun. And our brains are wired for pleasure.

“There’s a pleasure center or a reward center, neurochemically in the brain that is responsible for releasing and processing dopamine, and dopamine is that neurotransmitter that people crave because it makes us feel really good,” Mauseth explained.

But she says an exhausted brain that wants to feel good is not necessarily a good combination.

“Because we’re not as regulated, we aren’t as able to say, ‘hm, you know, I don’t think that makes a lot of sense,’ or ‘maybe not right now’ or ‘maybe that’s too risky and I don’t want to potentially hurt myself or someone else,'” Mauseth said.

Additionally, we’re entering the summer months.

Mauseth says there’s a link between increased summer temperatures and aggression. People tend to be out and more likely to encounter others, “so risks just generally tend to go up in the summer months.”

What can we do about it?

Mauseth says, first, try to get some quality sleep. If putting aside your TV and phone and crawling into bed sooner isn’t helping, talk to a health care provider.

Second, take a breath.

“Try and take a little bit more time before you respond or before you make a decision about something,” Mauseth said.

In other words, give your whole brain time to weigh in on the decision.

Third, turn your attention to other activities that give you that so-called natural high, like going on an adventure or exercising.

“There (are) lots of activities that people can do that also activate dopamine and serotonin — which is another helpful transmitter — that make you feel really good without being unsafe,” Mauseth said.

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