Besides the fact that anxiety runs deep in human nature from an evolutionary standpoint, due to the survival instincts of our animal natures, there are other factors that put it center-stage in our minds and in our lives. The relentless media-blitz that forever reminds us of threats and dangers ad infinitum (and greatly exaggerated) plays a huge role. One might condemn them for this, but the fact is, it’s simply good business to cater to our inherent fear-driven instincts.
Besides ample media support for our worries – and never forget there’s at least a kernel of truth in almost every one of their stories, which we will then turn into a mountain of grist – it is interesting to note that anxiety, of all the darker emotions and mental states, has nowhere near the stigma of other mental dysfunction. Most human cultures show a marked reluctance to acknowledge, much less talk about depression and rage, not to mention mania or psychosis. On the other hand, being “stressed out” is a topic of everyday conversation, making us a kind of community of stress enablers, though certainly one of well-intentioned people. As with all good intentions, good results can happen sometimes.
In Behavioral Health, it’s called social and peer support, and we’re always suggesting that people seek this out. Consider it to be, in fact, one of the most basic forms of stress relief, and a time-honored one, at that. When friends and family can be reassuring, or can tell you to “get a hold of yourself” (does anybody actually say that anymore?), or when they help you question some of your worst fears and imaginings, they are practicing therapy in its most original and purest form; turning this activity over to professionals is a very recent development in human history.
Sadly, many also lack such people in their lives, or perhaps the modern world has generated too many of us with too many of our own troubles, so better to leave the counseling role to trained professionals. Of course, this particular trained professional’s prejudices should be apparent, at this point: sharing your struggles with somebody else is usually the best idea. But the fact of the matter is, the majority of us tends to take the self-contained and self-directed approach, when it comes to relieving stress. Think alcohol and cigarettes and Xanax. Exercise and gardening. Taking a vacation. Retirement. The catalogue of individual solutions for stress is vast and many-dimensional. All of them work sometimes in some way for somebody. Some have serious drawbacks. Almost all have limitations, and one limitation in particular. More on this next week.
John Dabrowski, LICSW
Neponset Health Center &
Geiger Gibson Community Health Center