Flashes of Insanity

Among the many things we keep piling up in our daily fast-forward lives, we include stress and tension too. Let go of it before it turns disastrous

PanicThose who have read the book A Time To Kill by John Grisham would be familiar with the term “temporary insanity” or “temporary madness”. In the book, the protagonist kills two men to avenge the rape of his little girl. He is arrested and brought to trial, but is eventually acquitted on the grounds that at the moment of killing, he was temporarily insane, was not in control of himself and not capable of taking responsibility for his actions. That was just a book. However, many of us have attacks of temporary insanity, in our day-to-day lives.

What really happens?

Many of us become temporarily insane at moments of great stress. It happens everyday. We read of people fighting over something silly, sometimes with fatal results. We read of drunken husbands killing their wives, because the wives nag, irritate and demand, or just because husbands suspect their wives to be unfaithful. We read of lovers throwing acid on their partners for not reciprocating their feelings. If someone overtakes us while driving, many of us become livid, and want to get even. Often, we get so angry that we react with harsh words and actions, which seem insane to those around, and which we may regret later.

In such moments, we behave like spoilt children who raise a hue and cry to get a toy. They scream, roll on the ground and refuse to listen to reason. They stop the tantrums only when the object of desire is obtained. They become oblivious to their surroundings, where they are and who’s watching, and what would be the likely consequence of their actions.

Similarly, we, in our moments of intense anger or emotional stress, act without thinking about what we are doing, and where it might lead. We become insane for the moment, and our actions too become insane and illogical. Others may be able to see it but we remain blind. Later, when the mind is calm, we might realise and regret our actions, or we might try to justify and rationalise our actions, depending on our personality and ego.

Why does this happen?

Our daily lives today are fast and repressive. What we want to do – or don’t want to do – and what we actually end up doing are often entirely different. This gap, between wanting to do and doing, is the main reason for stress. When we continuously keep doing what is against our nature or wishes, many of our likes and desires get suppressed or repressed.

Months and years of suppression/repression keep building inside us. If, by nature, one is the shy, quiet and diminutive type, then these repressions get internalised, often resulting in stress-induced diseases such as headaches, acidity and high blood pressure. If one is aggressive, these suppressed desires coil up inside us ready to spring up when triggered.

Many of the fights and arguments that we have with others can be traced to hidden or simmering tensions. Screaming, thrashing our children, arguing violently with friends or with our spouse, having a showdown with the boss or parents, coming to blows over something silly – overtaking, parking space or breaking a queue – all these and many such episodes of temporary madness are mechanisms for letting off the [emotional] steam that has built up in our bodies.

The human body cannot survive the stress and pressure of these build-ups for long, and it must find an outlet. This could manifest internally, as a disease, or externally, as an insane act.

What can be done about it?

  • The first step, and often the key to avoiding the perils of building pressures, is awareness. It is imperative that each of us is aware and conscious of the various factors disturbing us.
  • While the plea of temporary insanity might have saved Grisham’s hero, it is unlikely to come to our aid if we let our actions go wild. We should not suppress or repress our emotions whatever the situation,
  • It is also important to be able to say “NO”, as many of our problems begin because we agree when we actually want to disagree.
  • Spending some time everyday in quiet introspection and meditation, trying to realise what makes us happy and what angers us, understanding ourselves, and getting in tune with our minds and egos, will go a long way in avoiding attacks of insanity.
  • It is imperative that we discover legitimate ways and avenues to let the off pressure, such as hobbies, sports, games, martial arts or yoga, so that we can prevent a build-up of tensions.
  • It is important to learn the art of acceptance, that is, learn to be tolerant.
  • Taking a deep breath, and counting up to 10 in moments of great stress, might just give us that short interval needed between thought and action, so that we can avoid committing an insane act that we may later regret.

Laughter: An effective stress buster

It is important to recognise whether you are under stress or out of it. Adopting a humorous view towards life’s situations can take the edge off everyday stressors. Not being too serious or in a constant alert mode helps maintain the equanimity of mind and promote clear thinking.

  • Laughter lowers blood pressure and reduces hypertension
  • It provides good cardiac conditioning especially for those who are unable to perform physical exercise
  • Reduces stress hormones [studies shows, laughter induces reduction of at least four of neuroendocrine hormones – epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone, associated with stress response]
  • Laughter cleanses the lungs and body tissues of accumulated stale air as it empties more air than it takes in. It is beneficial for patients suffering from emphysema and other respiratory ailments
  • It increases muscle flexion, relaxation and fluent blood circulation in body
  • Boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and disease-destroying antibodies called B-cells
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins – body’s natural painkillers.

Team CW

P V Vaidyanathan
Dr P V Vaidyanathan, MD, DCH, is a Mumbai-based paediatrician in private practice, hobbyist writer, and author of a book on childhood stress management.