Dealing with Anxiety

It may seem patently obvious to say that not everyone feels anxiousness as a result of life events, and that its effects are neurochemical. So why you? And why is your brain fighting itself?

It helps to understand why the buzz of anxiety is there, why you may find yourself unable to sleep or be alone or (like me) developing a psychosomatic stomach illness. You have to think about the purpose of anxiety as a reaction your mind and body has and not just as an affliction. Every function a system performs serves a purpose. Sometimes there’s just a glitch.

Anxiety, for me, often feels just like that. Like a survival mechanism going haywire. It feels like being in a constant state of alertness 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Your fight-or-flight system is going, and going, and going. Your body, and much less your mind, can’t keep up.

And why should it? If you were trying to outrun a lion, or run down a mammoth, for that length of time, it would shut down. Only we aren’t running from lions now, and we don’t hunt for food. We’re running from obligations, responsibilities, childhood traumas. And slinging spears at poverty, existential crises, and timetables. We can’t escape these things, and we can’t bring them back to our village to feed the tribe.

But these things can’t kill us either. Failing to track them back to their lairs won’t mean we’ll starve. But your mind still thinks these are lions, and it’s telling your body they are lions. So you don’t sleep or you don’t eat, or you do too much of both because you are so exhausted after running from lions all day. But they aren’t lions. You’re not even the lion. There is no lion.

For me, knowing that helped. And thinking about the purpose of that fight-or-flight system, as a predator-prey response, thinking about it on an almost psycho-anthropological basis, really helped.

If the result of your anxieties is a constant state of fight-or-flight, then the process of your anxieties ought to follow the same analogy. Think of anxiety mathematically, as a system of variables that are interchangeable.

x=predator

y=prey

a=fight

b=flight

If x > y, then b is true

If x < y, then a is true

As an expression of anxiety, y is you. You are the prey. And even if you are the predator so-to-speak, in that you are pursuing something, it is still causing you anxiety. It is still causing you anxiety because you are afraid of a negative outcome, and the negative outcome becomes the predator.

x can then become anything. But y will always be you. You might say y is a constant then, and x is the only true variable here. x is your upcoming finals. It’s your loneliness. It’s ordering coffee. It’s your weight. It’s leaving your house. It’s tomorrow, or next week, or the next ten years.

But you are always you. You will always amount to y. And because of that you can decide if a and b ever have to be true. You are the sole arbiter over whether or not x > y or x < y really matters at all.

If you’ve reached this point, it is easy to understand your anxieties (or rather their effects) as things that aren’t real. If you fail that test, you will not get eaten. If your committed relationship doesn’t work out, you won’t starve. They are things that ultimately won’t touch you in any meaningful way, thus rendering them powerless. You can overcome them, because they are fictions. A wall that isn’t there can’t keep anyone out.