It was only 6:00 AM and the roads were already covered with snow. I was slated to present at a conference in New York the next morning and my flight was at 3:00. The weather channel said the storm would be over by noon, but Delta had canceled several afternoon flights already. I thought of […]
Selma* picked up her Zoloft and wondered for at least the hundredth time, if she could stop taking it. Periodically, she cut it in half or if she was feeling particularly rebellious, skip a few doses. She felt exactly the same. At least for a few days. Then the anxiety would start creeping back. Sometimes she forgot she had messed around with her medication and was later surprised and overtaken by panic.
The doctor diagnosed her with generalized anxiety disorder. Because her brother had the same condition, Selma told herself the anxiety was genetic or a biological wiring problem beyond her control. After all, it was not her fault she was born a sensitive child then forced to grow up in a violent household.
Research suggests that stress delivered frequently and under the right conditions, trains the nervous system so the automatic response to uncertainty is anxiety.1,2 The more often the body has an exaggerated stress response, the easier it becomes to illicit that reaction until even mild provocations like a raised voice or slammed door can be traumatic.
Medication can blunt these overly sensitive pathways or calm the brain to control symptoms but does not fix the underlying problem. Mostly because we do not completely understand the neurobiology of anxiety. Anxiety is not one thing but a spectrum of disorders and biochemical pathways. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), a cognitive therapy used to help people change unhelpful behavior patterns plus medication is the usual prescription for those in Selma’s situation. Exercise, diet and mindfulness meditation to rewire the brain are also recommended. Even with all these tools, so many still suffer.
What is rarely explored is the surprising link between anxiety and lack of connection. We worry because we do not feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. What if this is all there is? Where do I belong? Even with family and friends around we may be afraid we don’t belong or are not truly loved. We obsess about what we need or must do to be worthy. If we are anxious enough we form groups to create a false sense of connection by marginalizing or keeping others out. Exclusion, blame and hate being the festering forms of anxiety.
Selma had friends and accomplishments. She meditated, exercised and ate her vegetables. Her self-esteem was solid, her personality large and yet…..something fundamental was missing. Most people would say the opposite of anxiety is calmness or peace of mind but the overlooked antonym is connection. What Selma lacked was a sense of being connected to something. She went through the motions of trying to make that connection through a group, church and family, and for all appearances succeeded. And yet she still felt disjointed. And that is because the connection that sooths the anxious soul is the link between all of us. Not our connection to outer affiliations.
It looks like there is an us vs. them: The girls vs. boys, the reds vs. the blues, the haves vs. the have nots. But separation is an illusion. We are all connected energetically whether we like the people around us or not. We don’t have to warm-up to someone’s personality or approve of their behavior but we do need to remember we are connected. When we forget, we feel isolated, then scared and then no amount of therapy, medication or group joining will fix the resulting anxiety. The cure to what ails our spirit is found in how we are linked, not the ways we are separate.
*Not her real name.