I just finished reading the cover story in this week’s NYTimes magazine, which I knew would get my amygdala aroused [and it did]. It’s about people whose amygdala gets aroused “too easily.” Oh, yeah? Says who? Jerome Kagan has been doing a longitudinal [Bad Fairy at the Christening] study at Harvard, starting with babies in 1989, whom he identified as either highly reactive [to novel stimuli], somewhere in the middle, or “low-reactive.” I’m going to let anyone interested look up the article; and instead I shall cut right to the chase. “Mary” was one of his “high-reactive” subjects, and he predicted that she would grow up to be a worrier. And, lo, she did. She’s worrying her way through Harvard as I write this. To which I respond, “Oh, come on! If that’s ”bad outcome,’ whaddaya call ‘good outcome,’ Jerry?”
Many pages into this up-till-then uncritical review of Kagan’s findings, the NYTimes author cites a researcher with a quibble: Dr. Robert Plomin of King’s College, London, wonders if, perhaps, subjecting these kids to the daunting fMRI, itself, might not account for much of their amygdalar arousal. Nar’mean?
Towards the end of the article, other dissenting voices are quoted, wondering why all of the “high-reactives” haven’t developed clinically significant anxiety [as predicted by Dr. Kagan]. Turns out some of the subjects are schmizing themselves into interpreting their racing pulses and dilated pupils as “being jazzed,” which they describe as “vaguely exhilarating or exciting.” Others [T.S. Eliot is mentioned] somehow manage to channel their amygdalar arousal into creating works of art [for the amusement & edification of the more laid-back among you, apparently]. Yet, the Bad Fairy gets the final word: “In the longitudinal studies of anxiety, all you can say with confidence is that the high-reactive infants will not grow up to be exuberant, outgoing, bubbly or bold.”
If that weren’t such an obvious load of old cobblers, I [the Exemplar of “High-Reactive” infants] would find it humiliating. Anyway, for those of you who would like a low-tech coping strategy to deal with anxiety, go to YouTube and look up “Nana Window.” On 23 April 2009 [St. George’s Day in England], the usual gang on the Chris Moyles [BBC Radio 1] show were joking around with Carrie, who had said, “My Nan always puts one in her window on St. George’s day.” [Her grandmother displays the Cross of St. George flag, which is England’s (red-cross-on-a-white-field) part of the United Kingdom’s “Union Jack.”] Chris & Comedy Dave chose to find a double-entendre in her innocent remark, and immediately improvised a Reggae song with the following lyric: “Nana Nana window. Nana window.” If you can’t find it on YouTube and still want to sing it, it’s all on one note, except for the “dow,” which is a 5th higher. Commence singing at the first sign of anxiety and repeat until you feel better.
In scientific point of fact, singing almost any song will reduce most anxiety symptoms, for the following reasons. Singing regulates breathing [thereby countering hyperventilation]. The sillier the lyric, the more likely you are to laugh [thereby relieving muscle tension]. The louder you sing, the more adrenaline you expend [thereby restoring homeostasis to your body]. Cognitively, you are likely to distract yourself from the alarming stimulus for long enough to get some perspective on it. [Is the irritant really awful or just…you know the mantra by now.]
The lyric “Nana Window” is the latest in the long and worthy tradition of non-lexical vocables [such as “Hey nonny nonny” from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and more recently, “Ob-la-di-ob-la-da” from the Beatles’ White Album], which multitask, by fulfilling [at least] two Speech Functions. They are Phatic [imparting no factual information, just keeping the listener listening] and/or Poetic [since they may, indeed, be a secret code for something else[such as “Carrie’s Nan is displaying something in her window.”]; and they often are also Emotive [expressing a particular feeling]. [“Hey nonny nonny,” according to Shakespeare scholars, expresses dismay.]
Here is Lili, displaying herself in the window, while keeping [hypervigilant?] watch for intrusions. The other day, I was upstairs brushing my teeth, when I heard [evidence of] her aroused amygdala: barking. I planned to go down and assert my Pack Leader status over her, by telling her to “Yaka mashie. Asoko.” [“Be quiet. Go down to your room in the basement until you can compose yourself.”] But before I could even rinse my mouth out, there was silence. I discovered that Lili had piped down and taken herself downstairs, all on her own. Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about! So, okay, our amygdala gets aroused easily; but we humans, too, can learn to tell it to “Yaka mashie. Asoko,” [perhaps by singing the “Nana Window” song], and thus stand ourselves down from our many alarums.