How to Avoid “Neurotic Stupidity” and Build Resilience at the Same Time

When you are overloaded and stressed, your range of attention narrows sharply. Under extreme stress, this narrowing can even result in tunnel vision. (This means we see the world as if we were looking through a tube, or “tunnel”, missing the surroundings).

As a result, you miss important cues, especially the subtle social cues needed to deal effectively with others. You are also likely to have trouble thinking clearly and solving problems.

Some years ago, I dubbed this “neurotic stupidity”. We don’t even notice this “I.Q. drop” because we are too overloaded to observe our own mental processes.

Our sensory and memory systems have huge capacity so it is hard to believe our brain has such an astonishingly limited “channel capacity” or “bandwidth”.

Very important is that our brains have to process huge amounts of information from our muscles. Notice that when actors imitate robots they inevitably do so by moving very clumsily. This is because even simple movements require processing of very complex information.  A lot of information from muscles, tendons, etc. has to be processed to get movements right.

Information from the muscles is largely handled below the conscious level, so we do not notice it.  Still, it floods our brains.

That is one reason why learning one or two techniques of deep relaxation is important. Relaxation of our muscles blocks stress responses but also reduces the information load on our brains, thus broadening our awareness and enhancing our creativity.

There is at least one way that our limited channel capacity can actually help us. If we direct our attention to positive things, there is no room left for the negative ones.


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One Response to How to Avoid “Neurotic Stupidity” and Build Resilience at the Same Time

  1. Cheryl says:

    What comes to mind is always the “adaptive” aspect of anything like this that must be considered. When our focus is narrowing, what is the adaptive value of it? Since it is considered a move away from normalacy or high functioning or a high quality of life, then it would be good to find out why it’s happening. Normally we are in a high stress situation or event that causes this type of adaptation (Neurotic Stupidity/narrowing of focus). So if we can discover it’s cause, then we can more easily move away from the stressor/s.

    When working with young children we found that we’d get them all relaxed and happy and playful, then send them home to a horrid family situation. The result was that they came back more traumatized than before. It seemed that getting them all relaxed and happy made them more vulnerable to the traumatic or chaotic environments they were in at home. We took away their armour so to speak.

    I think that it’s important not to take away a person’s armour until they can escape the chaos or traumatic situation they are in. There is a reason that military training includes a desensitization to pain, torture, and fatigue. Not that I am advocating staying in or training people or children to be able to tolerate abusive environments — certainly not! However, I think we can create vulnerability when the person actually needs the ‘numbness’ temporarily to survive a difficult situation.

    Correct the situation and then relax, unless the person needs to feel the pain in order to leave a bad situation — like an adult in an abusive relationship. Relaxation training does make one more sensitive to their environment; it lowers the threshold to pain.