A woman I have worked with in my office recently talked about how her anxiety builds up and overwhelms her. I said to her that it sounds like she has “anxiety plaque” you know the bacterial stuff which builds up on our teeth if we don’t brush and floss. She thought that described her anxiety exactly and said “you need to write about that.” So here it is, my first blog post in a long time.
Anxiety is very complex and runs the gamut from being late to a lunch date because of traffic, to waiting for the results of a serious medical test. The problem is than many of us react in the very same way regardless of the reason. There is no modifying or mediating the response, just zero to sixty!
I think that this kind of anxiety is made worse by the constant use of technology which because of how we use it doesn’t give the opportunity to contemplate for a moment how we might want to act; we just react, when a more measured response may be the best option. Skip a beat, lower the shoulders, breathe, all which takes way less than a minute, then act.
There are serious anxiety disorders such as phobias and others which often respond well to medication and psychotherapeutic interventions but the anxiety symptoms my patient struggles with are the usual but nonetheless unpleasant ones which effect us all. They can stem from what my colleague Ken Goodman, LCSW who specializes in anxiety disorders refers to as the ones coming from an intolerance of uncertainty and intolerance of distress, even minor distress. A slightly longer wait at the market becomes a major issue rather than the annoyance it really is.
Unmanaged anxiety is all around us in the guise of control. Our society puts such incredible value on being in control at all times that it is often almost impossible to just sit and be. Now just sitting and being is pretty hard work cause if we put it in those terms then we either accuse ourselves of being unproductive or heaven forbid others might see us that way.
How about a nice middle ground? Take some time to “brush and floss” your mental health. There is actually a term for it called “mental hygiene”. I haven’t seen or heard the term in a long time but I’d like to see its return because it is so clear. Anxiety can be a symptom and as with other symptoms it can be a sign of distress and good mental hygiene will help that distress.
Having a bit of anxiety and even a touch of stress can be motivating but when you begin to feel and see the plaque it is time for you to take care of yourself.