Anxiety and Stress
Stress in our culture has a gradual and cumulative effect leaving most of us on the brink. Our culture and society create realities that make most of us vulnerable to injury, breakdown, disease and suffering.
The negative impact of stress in our culture has created or contributed to several health epidemics included but not limited to: Heart disease, head aches, insomnia, poor digestion, addictions, back aches, depression and so on.
The realities of how stress wares you down are very often obvious. You very likely experience a direct cause and effect relationships between high stress and negative health effects.. The question then becomes: When is enough, too much? When should you be looking to re-work, address and, or ask for help in how you are coping with stress in your lives.
The most direct answer to the above question is when stress responses start to limit or diminish your ability to do the things you really want or need to do. If insomnia is keeping you awake, or fear and nervousness come and go for no apparent reasons, or you feel down/depressed, or you are experiencing panic attacks it may be time to re-work how you are living with stress in your life.
The pharmaceutical companies have teamed up with psychiatry to create many new psycho-pharmacological “answers” (pills) to modern day stress related health issues. These medicinal treatments have their place as they attack the symptoms of anxiety offering significant relief. Like many medical “solutions” in modern western society these symptom based “cures” have short-comings, because these target symptoms and fail to get at the root causes of the problems.
Getting to the root causes
In the work that I do with my clients I strive to help address the root causes of the anxieties and stress reactions. I work to create a vigorous dialogue with my clients that help them expand their frames of reference about what might be troubling them and how that relates to their stress reactions.
As the work deepens my clients begin to be able to understand how certain feelings and experiences in their everyday lives may feel familiar or related to events and feelings in the past. I help them to connect to their past through the lens that all families become an incubator, a laboratory, an absorption process that teaches, demands, creates expectations that family members live with certain feelings in certain ways.
Each of us lives feelings and feeling states differently. Most of us have different desires, or even capabilities to experience various emotional states. Some people love to get the thrills experienced watching a horror film. Others love to have the adrenalin rush of bungee jumping off of bridges. Some of us cringe at the thought of thrill seeking and may avoid most any physical risks. Some have a high affinity for drama in their lives, and create a whirlwind of action and intrigue in their lives.
These are more straightforward examples that reveal how each of us comes to approach various feelings states in different ways. At a closer look, scientific studies have proven that human beings have several (9) feeling states are hard wired into our genetic make up.
Charles Darwin, more famous for his theories of evolution, died while conducting a survey of human emotions worldwide. He had photographs of human beings with specific facial expressions. He then sent his photographs all over the world; to wealthy sophisticated western societies, poor primitive tribes and everywhere in between. Participants were to report what feelings each of the various facial expressions in the photographs represented. The answers were unanimous and universal; a smile meant happiness, a frown sadness, furled brow was anger, a covered face was shame and so on.
His works were advanced and confirmed what we already know about people by simply observer the emotional response of infants and babies. Before the development of language babies express emotional responses in a similar way that adults do. A smile means happy and frown means sad and so on. From this it has been concluded that 9 emotions are hardwired or genetically programmed into the human DNA.
How we learn to live, cope, respond, react, experience and deal with these feelings are what might be considered “software”. That is, how feelings were valued, supported, nurtured, spoken of, processed, dealt with or not in our first families might be likened to “software” down loaded into our systems.
Learning or absorbing how feelings states are tolerated or not is a highly complex and nuanced process that sets limitations or ceilings on certain possibilities in life.
As an example, John is a hard worker but his wife and children complain because they see that the way works, he’s rarely home. He is a very successful manager of sales team, but his boss, an ex-Marine and “hard ass” appreciates John because he knows how to “take one for the team”. John often feels mistreated or even abused as his boss calls him names, chews him out, demands long hours and rarely if ever pays him compliments.
In John’s first family it was perfectly acceptable for his father to yell, scream, rage in relation to John and his brothers. That said John and his brothers had no permission to relate in anger back towards the father, or each other.
John learned all too well to “suck it up” and take one for the team. He often stood at point and took his dad’s heat for his brothers. This process has become a major source of pain and consternation for John, because his work life ends up feeling bad, and his wife and children end up missing him at home due to long hours at work.
In this made up example (as this person John is not a real client) I work to help John come to realize how the demands his father put on him and his brothers primed him for relationships with men in authority positions. As John becomes more aware of how his first family affected him he begins to see how he creates conditions that leave him feeling mistreated at work, and absent from home.
This example illustrates the connections between toleration of feelings in our first families and how this creates limitations later in life. Also, some of the complexities of how feelings function, or operate in a family is offered. Feelings are both an internal or private personal experience. Each of us has own hardwired personal preference about various feeling states.
Additionally we see the multi-directional nature of feelings where learning to tolerate feelings is a series of interpersonal or relational events. How feelings are tolerated can be such that they are tolerated or even over tolerated in one direction – the father’s anger toward John – and under tolerated in the other direction – John’s anger toward anyone, especially dad was not permitted.
As I help my clients better understand how toleration of feelings went in their first families they come to be more aware of their limitations. Sometimes degrees of freedom are achieved by moving through to create new boundaries, less or more permeable. Other times it becomes about seeing how certain attractions in their lives are fatal, thus avoiding them.
This process allows them to hold on to and keep these lessons forever and gives them a blueprint about how to ask for help and navigate stuck points in the future. Stress and anxiety become much more manageable because much of what was causing it either is gone from the scene or new ways emerge in the clients life to live with those concerns.