Saturday, June 12, 2010

Anxiety and its self-medication

Been thinking a lot about anxiety -- particularly the ways we try to cope with it.

Let's define anxiety as that uncomfortable feeling you have when you don't know what's going to happen next, and fear it might be something bad.

How do we avoid this? 1001 ways.

Alcohol, drugs, controlling others, smoking, anorexia, bulemia, workoholism, procrastination, the list goes on.

The first thing I thought was, "Man, if you find somebody who's exhibiting the above behaviors, watch out -- anxiety is probably under the surface!" We blame people for their alcohol or drug abuse ... but really it's just their way of coping with their anxiety. Because of you're not feeling anxious, there really is no escape necessary. An obsession with massage I think is also a clue that somebody is struggling with anxiety -- because anxiety causes muscle tension, which needs massage. Controlling others is the classic response to anxiety -- I feel out of control, so I impose control on others to make myself feel safe and powerful.

This line of thinking does a couple things for me -- first, it puts these "vices" like control and drugs in perspective as means of coping with weakness, rather than affirmative "sins" in the religious sense. Second, it provides warning signals that somebody may be struggling with anxiety -- and that you can probably expect the rest of the symptoms to show up sooner or later. Third, it explains why I've never had any need for any of those vices, as I really don't experience any anxiety. Fourth, it makes me wonder where anxiety comes from -- early in life? biology? choice? Finally, it makes me wonder how best to deal with the anxiety of others, particularly in the area of controlling behavior, where it begins to have negative impacts on my life.

The obvious answer -- and the one they want you to buy into -- is to alleviate their anxiety. That will certainly alleviate their anxiety, and thus your immediate pain. But the habits that caused the anxiety remain, and the anxiety is sure to return. It's a non-sustainable solution.

What is the answer? Maybe there is no answer to the question "How can I fix them?" as it seems one can only fix onesself. Maybe the answer is simply to cope short-term with anxiety in those around us, and provide education on the tools that alleviate it ...

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