Recent mentions of panic make me want to explore a thing. Now, starting off – the way I see it, panic is a behaviour. A behaviour which is caused by a feeling – feeling being Anxiety. I notice many seem to think of panic as over-reacting to the point of losing control over one’s mind, becoming aggressive towards other people, having an elevated heart rate, shouting at the tops of their lungs. But that’s not the only way to panic, not all panic is the same. And what makes one way of panicking different from the other? For one – the intensity of the anxiety that calls for it, of course – but why not also the source of anxiety?
Sources of Anxiety
From the top of my head I can think of a few distinct sources – I’ve not encountered them in some writing or theory – but then again, I have not read all that much; maybe there’s better study on it, but here goes (and later I will elaborate on each):
Natural – something our gut knows due to universal laws.
Quirky – something we pick up from other people and internalise, but might not necessarily be correct or even useful.
Unreasonable – borderline, but not delusional. Imagining unrealistic risks, due to not understanding how something “really works” – maybe due to overexposure of all sorts of muddy information available online.
Delusional – the sort people with severe neurological damage are experiencing, imagination and maybe exposure to severe trauma or things too fantastic to be real in the mix.
Anxiety is a tickle of unclipped tails
Regardless of the source, Anxiety is information – something needs to be corrected. Anxiety informs you of there being a tail that needs clipping. It informs you of there being opportunities to reduce your risk of ruin, risk of harm, death. Maybe, the greater the (perceived) risk, the more intense the panic that follows – a correction issued, control exercised, precautions taken. So, panic isn’t running around waving your hands like a maniac – it’s a behaviour through which you attempt to reduce your risk of ruin.
The sort of delusions manic-depressive people are said to experience – they become very certain in something coming at them, so they start buying something up like crazy – lottery tickets, plastic dinosaur figurines – whatever. And maybe they will wear clothes made out of card-board, texts written on it, patrolling the street, announcing their grand prediction of the upcoming end of the world. Well, some call it and only it panic, others consider it lunacy.
Exams and those kinds of things, or visiting a doctor, or finding there’s something strange going on with our health – many of us tend to imagine the worse – failing the exam, getting ridiculed by the doctor or finding from google we have brain cancer (and then getting ridiculed by the doctor) – but that’s a separate case, a borderline one, in which we imagine strange outcomes that either are not realistic or for some reason aren’t as fatal as in the moment we make it to be (e.g. failing an exam – not really fatal, but inconvenient – you’d have to do it again, and maybe your mother will whine about it, yes?). So there you have a category of strange anxieties, in which you are more terrified of getting ridiculed, more terrified of WORDS, or being wrong, or disapproved of – than it’s really worth.
I wonder if in this case we really are dealing with a mild form of delusions; or I’m wrong and words, ridicule and disapproval aren’t such an unreasonable thing to worry about, after all – social creatures, as we are; in a different society that could mean we get excluded, exiled, wither and die alone in the woods.
Transitioning from being a dependent to an adult – couple the feeling of anxiety with the coming of uncertainty – so far reliant on other people telling me what works and what don’t – and with that suddenly falling apart, having been pampered for so long, now I suddenly have no idea what to make of anxiety. Go google anxiety and you’ll find anxiety is bad, pathological, and you should take medication and get treatment for it (or sometimes a delusional boss will insist you do). But often these things which make us anxious are some internalised rules of someone we might no longer even have in our lives – someone who might have ridiculed you for having said or done something that wasn’t really all that ridiculous; but somehow you go ahead and believe this opinion anyway. So much that it’s become a part of you and without really exploring it you consider it your own, as if it was indistinguishable from natural laws.
Some of us get anxious when facing new things, but who is to say it’s the uncertainty itself that makes us anxious, and not the fact we have unattended tickly left tails hanging all over the place. Someone telling you to “not be afraid of trying new things” is wrong – maybe you never were afraid of trying new things, new things are not what make you anxious – going for a job interview, going to a dark private room with someone bigger and stronger than you, moving towns, meeting new people… They are all pretty normal things, but they all come with risks and no guarantees unless you know to set conditions with which you put more in all opt out.
Up is Down
And so, I’m most certainly not the only human alive who has gotten accused of being delusional or unreasonable enough times to convince me of there being no such things are reliable gut feelings, healthy paranoia, informational anxiety and a calm form of early panic. The doubt in my gut starts attacking anxiety as if it was a dangerous foreign body trying to destroy me, get me ruined. The doubt prescribes from the available assortment of escapisms either alcohol, drugs (prescribed by a doctor or otherwise), or any other fun thing that might help me forget the prevalence of reality and the screaming anxiety.
When I have suspected some guy in the past in lying to me, keeping some relevant information from me – and when I’d ask about it, they’d deny it and call me crazy for assuming such things. Soon enough I find out my gut was right all along – not crazy, incredible instincts. But this whole experience, every time it happens – someone mis-attributing your paranoia, anxiety or panic to something delusional – it is confusing. Lost, wondering where is up, where is down.
We really panic all the time
When something doesn’t feel right, something makes you anxious – even if it is a small thing, you get the urge to correct or control it. Any small correction or an act of control, in this sense, is triggered by an anxiety, and therefore is a mild form of panic. You take precautions because you are mildly anxious about something.
So, unless you have a history of hallucinations and delusions, your anxiety doesn’t need medicating or a cure. It needs you to figure out where your unattended unclipped tails are – what you could start or stop doing to reduce risks, what options are you overlooking. Or maybe even tries to “tell” you that you’re investing in the wrong ones – not worth your time, energy and buck.
Sometimes we feel it when trying to make something work with the wrong people, with the wrong projects. It’s there, in the back of your mind, screaming that hey, while you’re wasting all your time here – what you REALLY want to do is slipping away, windows of opportunities passing by. But instead of paying attention to it, we like to drown it – self-medicate, alcohol, drugs (prescribed or otherwise), mindfulness meditation, jogging, smoothies and yoga.
That’s not to say that every issue that brings up the feeling of anxiety is so simply solvable. Sometimes you’ll have years and years of life on the foundation of something that isn’t you or yours – you’ve invested so much of yourself into someone else’s ambitious project that you’re mostly unwilling to cut your losses without making any returns from it. And I’m not talking about trading stocks here – I’m talking about working for the wrong company, staying in the wrong relationship, hanging out with the wrong kind of people.
On one hand it’s just life – there’s not much we can do to avoid that. It happens. On the other – no matter how much you want to accept it – it is detrimental to our physical health. But since we’re stuck in that gamble, waiting for our returns, unwilling to let go and start something new from scratch, try something different, of course, never without a little risk… No, a fantasy of finding out whatever we have now, although it makes us anxious and gives us back pain, is better than that.
What a terrifying thing to find out, isn’t it – to find out there is no other way but to live with this debilitating anxiety, all you can do is accept, grin, bear.
But what if we really can solve that problem by starting with very small clippings – a little risk eliminated here, a little there, look, another option here – until we get to the bigger stuff. And at this point the anxiety and panic is no longer something that debilitates – but anxiety works like another level in our compass, and panic is a peaceful act trough which we make sure we survive – and hey, if you can afford it – you make sure you survive just nicely with luxuries.
Anxiety and panic are critical tools to navigating in life.
I know you wanna say it, say it here:
Today I'm exploring, as much as my little head can take: anxiety, panic, paranoia. https://t.co/VnmeIHKew1
— Silvi Simberg (@ishirubi) March 10, 2020