Not me, baby. I hate the "hammer about to drop" feeling, the troubled sleep, hyperactive startle reflex, hair-trigger exaggerated emotional responses, the restless sense of something wrong, the grinding strung-upness of it all.
I won't even go into the long-term physiological problems of having that much ACTH, cortisol, and unnecessary adrenaline circulating in my system.
So how the heck did my brain decide the Anxiety Corral was a great place to park? A useful "default mode?" Why do I end up in there at the drop of a hat, the hint of a change, the suggestion of something unexpected?
The brain gets addicted to a lot of unhealthy things. Just ask anyone who's tried to quit smoking, or give up playing the slots with their paycheck in spite of a pile of bills. Something about the substance, or the state, or the experience, produces a "reward," and the brain seeks it out, again and again.
But... anxiety? Srsly, brain?
What's the reward there?
The penny that finally dropped in answer to that question, like most coins, has two sides: One is boredom, and the other is low self-esteem. Together those things combine to push feelings of unimportance and nothing-matters to a deep sense of I-don't-matter.
Anxiety is the opposite of that.
It slaps "ALERT!" "WARNING!" "CRISIS!" labels on just about everything. It all becomes so important, and by extension, I become important. After all, I'm going to have to deal with all the impending doom, right? It's a very toxic kind of ego-inflating.
Why would circumstances/people/events require me to deal with them, if I didn't matter?
(Why, yes. Yes, this IS incredibly sick thinking. It's why I refer to this part of my brain as the jerkbrain.)
Ratchet up the crazy, add a touch of paranoia and the human brain's relentless pattern-seeking instinct to this kind of thinking and you get your common or garden-variety conspiracy fixation. Add a little sociopathic self-absorption and you get...
...well, nothing good, anyway.
Ratchet the crazy down a notch or two, and you get the Drama Addict at the office who makes a crisis out of everything, or the Helicopter Parent who relentlessly identifies the critical importance of every circumstance in their child's life, or even the relatively harmless Cruise Director friend who has to make sure every social event runs on greased bearings.
It's another aspect of the struggle for control, in other words. And it's tied up with a dysfunctional sense of importance that gives the ego an unhealthy intoxication.
And there's the "addictive" factor in my anxiety.
Recognizing it, I can write my own prescription, compounded equally of Step One and the embrace of humility.
Step One tells me to give up on the struggle to control the uncontrollable. Humility is the priceless gift of awareness that my importance doesn't rest in my own (or even others') opinion of my self, or my efforts to inflate it.
I wish there were one of those magic-bullet, quick-fix, apply-once-to-cure solutions that live in my fantasies. The negative balance between ginned-up with anxiety and immobilized by depression can be very energy-draining. But like building your muscles, the process of dealing with it becomes becomes part of the reward.
Here's what works for me:
- Stay alert for the signs of anxiety, physiological and mental. It can be subtle, and build slowly, so catching it in the early stages (before the energy drain is too far gone) is very helpful.
- Either verbally, or in writing, identify the external factors that seem related to the anxiety. Verbally or in writing is important because it requires the brain to articulate things, not just leave them in the realm of vague forebodings.
- Undertake "reality checks." At this stage it helps to have a partner, but I can do it in writing, too. How likely are 'worst case' outcomes, how realistic are the fears related to those external factors? (Sometimes I let my brain inflate them to levels where the very absurdity pops them and gives me and my partner a good, therapeutic laugh.)
- Use cognitive scripting tools to identify some of the internal factors that are making me vulnerable to the anxiety or increasing its potency, like painful memories or childhood 'programming.'
- Apply tools from the Steps toolbox to redirect me and my brain into positive channels: Healthy activity, meditation and mindfulness, finding ways to help others.
It's a tough addiction, anxiety. I slip too often. But less often now, than this time last year.
And there are gifts in that rear view mirror.