In times of sickness and suffering, people look to their doctors and nurses for comfort. Yet, under the extreme stresses of the coronavirus pandemic, healthcare workers may be unable to provide that empathy. It’s biology: a switch in the state of regulation which makes social engagement nearly impossible.
The autonomic nervous system is our body’s internal regulator, capable of inducing different biological states depending on the level of safety or threat in the environment. These states have profound effects on what range of thought, emotion and behavior is prioritized in the brain. But when fight or flight is dominant, the social engagement system turns off as “physiological state limits the range of behavior and psychological experience.”