Friday, September 28, 2007

Making Peace With Anxiety

I've been thinking lately about anxiety and why it seems to be taking up more and more of our "thinking space." I don't know that I will ever be able to answer that question fully, but it seems that as we have more transitions (e.g. changing jobs, schools, homes, roles, etc.) to navigate, we can expect anxiety to continue to crop up at these points. I've wanted for a long time to start putting together all the wonderful anti-anxiety strategies that others have taught me or that I've co-created with clients. To that end, I aim to start adding an entry a week about the subject. I hope that after some time of plugging away at it, this blog will contain a sort of anti-anxiety handbook. My general thinking about anxiety is that while it may be helpful to name the source of the anxiety (e.g. money, taxes, relationships, parenting, etc.), identifying the source doesn't make it go away or keep it from cropping up at other challenging life events. Sometimes not knowing the source simply adds fuel to anxiety's fire! Rather than focus on anxiety's origins, I'd like to explore the ways in which we make peace with anxiety's presence in our lives. What "thinking space" are we comfortable allowing anxiety to have? What rituals do we create to acknowledge anxiety's presence and keep it at bay? What can we learn from children about engaging our creative "monkey" minds about finding playful ways of coping? How can we catch ourselves thinking, and then take concrete action to address our thinking? Are there other supportive people out there that we can recruit into our anti-anxiety network?

Over the next few (or many?) weeks, I will share some vignettes about individuals' struggles with anxiety, and the creative tools they've added to their anti-anxiety bags to pull out when they feel anxiety meddling in their lives. Some of their tools are quite simple to use, others require organizing a team. Some involve brave changes in behavior, while others demand thinking about thinking. And some simply ask for detatchment from thinking entirely. From what I've learned about anxiety, there's no one right way to cope. The first step is to accept that it is a near impossibility to live a life free from anxiety, but it is possible to limit its effects on our lives, to make peace with it, as it were.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Postpartum Pact

Postpartum support guru Karen Kleiman has posted on her Postpartum Stress Center blog what she calls a Postpartum Pact. In signing the pact, couples agree to do certain things, such as watching for shifts in behavior, accepting whatever moodiness or anxiety presents itself, and agreeing to stay together no matter what happens. I could see this pact providing a useful template for couples undergoing any major life change: marriage, caring for an elder, starting a new business, etc. Who doesn't need to hear "You're doing the best you can" or "You don't always have to be perfect" from time to time?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Finding a Place for Anxiety

Lately, I've been thinking about anxiety and its relationship to parenting. Sometimes when anxiety rears its head, it's telling you "that carrot is big enough to choke on" or "it would be easy for my child to fall into the deep end of this swimming pool." All good reminders, anxiety--thanks! But recent recalls of toys has me wondering about if all the safety information parents receive leads to a little too much interference from anxiety. Yes, you've heard about "helicopter" parents, the millenial generation being the most needy and narcissistic, the growing obesity childhood obesity problem, etc. Are these random phenomena or could they be correlated by a trend of increasing interference from anxiety on parenting? What I mean is, is anxiety goading parents to step in to "protect" kids, when what a child needs is to experiment and explore--and sometimes fall down--to learn the fullness of her abilities and limitations? This is not to say that there aren't times when parental intervention is good (and indeed, for those children who lack good safety instincts, necessary); however, could there be opportunities that are being denied by anxiety for allowing children to use their own instincts to decide on the level of challenge with which their comfortable? My hunch is that anxiety teaches parents to only allow children to take the easily-calculated risks. This message is then passed on to children who learn to be risk-averse physically, emotionally, and intellectually.

So, what's a parent to do? A lack of anxiety could lead to allowing your 2 y.o. to play with knives? Too much and the kid can't leave the house without a helmet and knee pads. What I want to offer is (the incredibly challenging, I know) proposition that we parents ask ourselves when we sense anxiety's presence, what is this anxiety asking me to do? What are the possible outcomes for acting on anxiety's direction here? What are the potential consequences for ignoring it? Is this anxiety intervening in a helpful or meddlesome way? What are my values as a parent, and is this anxiety in the service of those values? My hope is that when we can find the proper place for anxiety in parenting, children can grow up to be creative, courageous, humble--and safe!--people.