Tuesday, December 06, 2005

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0012 - Anxiety

Anxiety is systemic.

It’s an interesting idea. And not just academically interesting – interesting in a theoretical, dispassionate sense of the word. It’s interesting in the sense of timely and appropriate to the circumstances.

At work, we have a consultant who has been involved with our company for about a year now. I have met with this consultant three or four times discussing leadership and team building. In one of those meetings, she recommended I read a book by Jeffrey Miller entitled The Anxious Organization: Why Smart Companies Do Dumb Things. I ordered the book and it finally arrived yesterday.

As I become fatigued with constantly reading about colorectal cancer, the arrival of this book provided a welcome diversion. Ironically, though, the thesis of the book seems entirely pertinent to the situation in which my family and I find ourselves – we’re anxious - anxious about my health, anxious about our finances, anxious about how each of us in the immediate family is coping, anxious about our dear friends whose father just died early in the morning…anxious.

Systemic implies something that affects the entire organism or organization. Even a single person's anxiety can be considered systemic in the context of the entire organization. In that sense, anxiety is contagious or infectious. But the author’s contention is that this pattern of contagion can be interrupted. In other words, one person, making what appears to be a minor change, can affect the entire organization, for good or ill, whether that organization is a corporation or a family. If one person in the family is overly anxious, the entire family's level of anxiety increases, and as it does, it becomes increasingly dysfunctional.

I can see that first-hand in my family’s response to the diagnosis of cancer. Tonight, for instance, as I prepare for the next biopsy and sigmoidoscopy tomorrow, I’m feeling anxious, irritable, and less likely to be a positive influence on our family.

But here’s the really cool thing about what Miller has to say about the feelings of anxiety. They are not the real me! Miller says, “We discover our true selves when we make calm, clear, and conscious choices.” That’s not to deny feelings, just to put them in their proper place.

Miller argues that thinking carefully is one of the best ways to overcome the automatic pilot of anxiety and the evolutionary dead-ends into which anxiety-driven reactions lead us. Anxiety is still important, but the automatic responses and reactions coming from our "lizard" brain, and even the "mammalian" emotional brain, do not represent the best of our evolutionary heritage. The real me responds to anxiety with recognition of the causes of anxiety, with acknowledgement of the fight, freeze, or flee response mechanism, and with gentle appreciation for the complexity and authenticity of emotional responses.

Although it is easy for us to discount the reptilian brain's meagre list of reactions, it is far harder for us to recognize the limitations of the mammalian brain's massively complex emotional responses. But that is precisely what we have to do; for once we recognize that so many of our emotional responses are habitual and based on childhood or adulescent behaviour patterns (the way we always respond), we find that we have other resources. We have choices.

It is the next step, where we marshall the resources of our neo-cortex, where we analyze, synthesize, and carefully discover what we really think, where we recall what our true principles are - it is then that we are in tune with our real nature. This is not to deny what people of faith refer to as God. It is not to toss aside prayer, contemplation, meditation, or even active listening to other people. It is simply to say that the best of me is all of me - but the command centre is the thinking brain.


gentleascent said...

I'm attempting to blog you, again. If this doesn't work I'll e-mail you.

I'm sorry I haven't kept up very well with following your blogs.

I just read the one from Day 12.

First let me say that I'm hesitant to comment on what you share as I do not wish to take anything away from the difficulty you are experiencing. Also, when I share items from myself I don't want to come across as a person wanting to monoplize your time.

So if you have time, it's Ron.
Ron the optimistic, depressed, reflective fellow journeyman has some thoughts to share:

1. I too have spent time coming to understand the flight, freeze and flee phases of dealing with life. It was an important part of my recovery when I realized that I had a choice when dealing with anxiety-ridden issues. It was also then that I made some definite choices to use the quality of courage to choose to fight. I'm not sure how I got fight into one of the phases, but I did. LOL
That experience helped me to get to where Iam today. "Where Iam today" what an under-valued statement of fact which is flavored with some fiction.

2. One person's approach, action or anxiousness can be detrimentally systemic to the organization. Something I can see operating on any given day in my schools. Thus I consider everything to be relevant and in need of someone's attention.

3. I find it quite reassuring that the calm, clear, and conscious choices we make is the true self operating as we should. Though I like to be organized and prepared for any eventuality, I tend to function best under pressure when the three C's are most needed.

I'm going to try and send this now and may try to read your other daily entries. My children are coming tonight as we are celebrating Christmas with them tomorrow.

Courage my friend and while you journey may you be surrounded with the friends and writings that help you though this time.

Don Spencer said...


It's always good to hear from you, to read your comments and experiences. You might be interested to know that I alluded to one of your emails recently on Day 17.

Please comment and share whenever you are in the mood. I truly enjoy hearing from you.