Archive for March, 2012

If I say the word “Anxiety”, what picture pops into your head. Is it a person in a waiting room? Is that person waiting for the word on a loved one in an operation? Or is it a grandparent waiting for the news of their newest arrival? Do you picture the pacing outside a divorce court room? Or the guy about to pop the question to his long time love? The reality is Anxiety is all of them.

I had one of the most profound epiphanies that really moved my understanding of how everything we humans experience is tied together. What I discovered was that the single most important attribute humanity has is anxiety. It would be like that tickling feeling that you get just before a bee sting or you put all of your weight onto a pricker thorn while walking barefoot. It is that warning to the emotions that first uncomfortable itch is to the physical body. Via this method, our brains are able to classify and store every piece of information that it receives from its senses. I’ll dig a little deeper into “anxiety math” another day.

The process begins the moment we take our first breath. We are not born with most of our anxieties. We don’t know to judge a race, gender, food (kind of), body type, political party, guns, or buttons (you know who you are.). We have no basis for knowing what love, hate, kindness, greed, and helplessness is. We really don’t even understand completely our own physical pain response. We learn these tings from our environment. If you want to know what your very first thought in the outside world felt like, do this. Swim to the bottom of a 10 foot pool, let out all your air, and wait. When you start to feel a little like you need a breath, wait 3 seconds longer, then swim to the top. That desire to take that first breath held in check by the physical inability to do so, describes that moment just before you emerged and learned how to use your lungs.

To make this simplified and something most all of us can understand, I will use the common variety child toddler example. In this example, a child desires to have a toy his little brother is playing with. He desires to just take it, but anxiety stops him. Anxiety comes from past experiences where the events went as follows. He takes the toy. Chemicals in the brain are released that are positive and committed as “satisfied” to the subconscious. He is happy. However then the little brother cries, mom comes in, punishes the little boy. This releases chemicals in the brain (or closes off release of chemicals can be debated) that commits to the subconscious a negative or “not satisfied” response. his warm feelings of happiness ends. So when the desire to take a toy from his little brother comes up again, here is the steam of thought. He can reject the desire out of hand. This repeated too many times causes depression, especially if it is seen as a survival need. The subconscious reasons, “I must eat, but I can’t eat because I have no food. Every option that I can think of to get food comes with dire consequences. But if I don’t get food, i will die.” So the anxiety cycle spins until depression ensues. Rejecting the behavioral choice out of hand with no other option will not lead to a “not satisfying” chemical release from his brain. But his brain needs happiness. The second option is that he can take the toy and apply techniques that he hopes will stop his little brother from crying. He will try multiple techniques to do this before realizing that mom will always find out. So, finally resolving no other options he can think of (including negotiating, beating, and any other option that he has learned in the past applied towards his little brother.) The last option is that he can adapt his brain not to respond with negatively chemical releases to the mother’s punishment. Thus no anxiety, he takes the toy and doesn’t care about the punishment delivered by his mother. He acted in a way he had in the past demonstrated as wrong, but, no longer cares, he couldn’t be happier. (I think most of us can agree that this results in stronger and more intense punishment from his mom. Or dad then finally gets involved.) This can be the result of an environment where negative stimulus is so constant that the brain becomes numb to its own chemical toxicity, and therefore anxiety. Or if inconsistent results from the punishment loose the connection between action and consequence. This is known as “extinction”. The brain may even try to correct that problem by jolting its anxiety factor by doing risky behaviors just to “feel”. They are not precise and pinpointed. This taking away of anxiety is what Antidepressants do as well. But that too will have to wait for anther post.

I would like ad that this is an example of bad parenting. Alternative options should have been taught to the little boy before punishment was required.

This process is useful in learning a new skill. Weather it be a cave man learning to hunt or an attorney learning to present a case. Anxiety is a required attribute to the personality. This anxiety in itself is not a bad thing. It sharpens skills, focuses the mind, prepared for a life change, and holds people to their commitments. Anxiety is a problem when it is too focusing, the trigger is an irrational (at least for the subject) fear. Or it is so crippling that it doesn’t allow movement or paralyzes emotionally, academically, and/ or physically. When the resulting behaviors from the anxiety are unhealthy, dysfunctional, or in opposition to desired goals, anxiety is a problem. But again, you can’t just reduce anxiety as a blanket proposal. Identifying the trigger and addressing that issue is really the only way. A blanket approach is apt to reduce anxiety that drives one to get out of bed in the morning and go to work, stay in a committed relationship, or save their money instead of gamble it all away. It keeps you from putting your hand near a hot burner, pushing too hard on your razor, or driving your car with reckless dis-concern.

Marketing is about hosing an anxiety, exasperating and exploiting it, to make you think you need a product to reduce that threat. If you die your family will be destitute, buy life insurance. If you vote for this candidate, he will come take your guns away and then people will break into your house and kill you, vote for our guy. If you don’t buy this nice car with these safety features and pretty shiny appearance, you will get hurt in an accident and you won’t get social acceptance. This is often unhealthy in its very nature.

To sum up the point, we need to stop this demonetization of emotions, especially anxiety, but also depression, guilt, and sorrow. They have purpose. to be honest, I would rather loose a limb or one of my senses then to reduce my anxiety. I have come to understand that these other traits are subsidiaries of anxiety. They all have function and use.