A New Way To Live With Anxiety

Thursday, 24 Nov 2022

We need a new way of looking at anxiety, how to honour it and how to manage it. For too long, I have seen this condition become worse and over time have wondered whether some interventions are the right ones. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary’ book Future Tense – why anxiety is good for you even though it feels bad made complete sense to me. I heard her speak recently on a podcast and investigated further given the prevalence of this condition on the lives of children. I would urge parents to consider this other perspective and particularly pay attention to how parents are so often inadvertently making accommodations that are exacerbating the child’s anxiety not ameliorating it.

‘It’s a simple fact: nobody likes to feel anxious. Anxiety is among the most pervasive and reviled of human emotions. And since it’s unhealthy, we all agree, we should avoid it like any other illness. An entire economy has sprung up to aid us in our efforts: from self-help books and holistic remedies to pharmaceuticals and cutting-edge talk therapy. And yet we remain a profoundly anxious society— rates are soaring, in fact. Leading us to another simple fact: all this isn’t working. 

What if that’s because we have it backward? What if feeling badly is the key to feeling good? 

In Future Tense, Dennis-Tiwary argues that this pervasive anxiety-as-disease story is false—and it’s harming us. Far from a sickness or malfunction, anxiety is an advantageous emotion that evolved to protect us and strengthen our creative and productive powers. Although it’s related to stress and fear, it’s uniquely valuable allowing us to imagine the uncertain future and impelling us to make that future better. That’s why anxiety is inextricably linked to hope. Emotions she argues, have an adaptive function. They are telling us something. The whole notion that we should be shielding students from uncomfortable emotions is not right. The emotion of anxiety should be seen as a signal to prepare us. We acknowledge the feeling it evokes but then we should use that to inform us how to manage the situation.  Dennis-Tiwary argues that we can—and must—learn to be anxious in the right way. 

Anxiety and anxiety disorders are not the same thing. But, when anxiety is viewed through this prism of advantage, even anxiety disorders can be alleviated. Achieving a new mindset will not eliminate anxiety—because the emotion of anxiety is not broken; the way we cope with it is.’ By challenging our long-held assumptions, her book provides a concrete framework for how to reclaim anxiety for what it has always been: a source of inner strength and ingenuity.

An excellent article on both the book and the suggested treatments can be found in a Guardian article here.

One other aspect to her research really sparked my interest because I am becoming so exasperated with this phenomenon. And that is how we now receive endless trigger warnings before we watch or listen to shows or programs. 

Trigger warning (“The following show contains images that some people may find upsetting. Viewing precaution is advised” etc etc) Or worse still was the synopsis of one of my favourite podcasts which read “This episode deals with mental health and discusses suicide. Please listen with care”. There was nothing upsetting about the podcast that required this patronising message.

Trigger warnings were originally in place to assist those people who suffered PTSD. However, the research from Dennis-Tiwary would seem to suggest that trigger warnings exacerbate the anxiety of people rather than ameliorate it. It would seem they heighten the anxiety and deny people of their ability to manage the emotion safely. 

I have a feeling these awful massages (If you or someone you know ……… please call Lifeline) are going to increase and persist. One can barely watch anything during the day unless we are implored to call Lifeline. Have we really become so lacking in resilience and personal fortitude? 

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