Anxiety

I have been reading a recent study of senior students who are vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms. But they are by no means alone. In current times we are all faced by a cluster of new, and often difficult, problems. And we may discover that our anxieties, far from helping us, actually reduce our competence. I certainly find this to be so.

The study provides evidence that the students were very much helped by formal meditation which has been shown to be an “effective and cheap way for universities to help students deal with stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms.”

I recalled the occasion, some years ago, when a lady lodger in my house became truly upset. I can’t now remember the cause but I do remember the healing.

I asked her to lie down on a sofa in my study. I instructed her to tense her muscles as tightly as possible, and then to relax them — while consciously noticing the procession of relaxation.  Eyes, mouth, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, lungs (top, middle, bottom), waterworks area, thighs, calves, feet. By the end she was quite calm. We watched a TV program together — and off she happily went.

I knew how to do this because I aim to set aside ten minutes every evening, before going to bed. As you would imagine, this regular relaxation exercise became more and more effective. Nowadays, when a concern arises, I do a swift relaxation from head to toe, and then I can cope.

But my current skills were not immediate: I had to practice this formal relaxation for a week or ten days to reach the full extension. Not long ago I was feeling quite tense on an occasion with my dentist. But just clenching then relaxing my hands was sufficient to cope with my fear.

This approach to our mental feelings and responses finds its place in the discipline of cognitive behavioral therapy CBT. Over recent years the development of this area of therapy has bcome increasingly important. I am certainly no expert, but I am fortunate in having a daughter and a grandaughter who are professionals.

But my first action was much earlier on. We had a baby in the next room who had the habit of crying when she woke up. It was very tiring. I told her that when she cried her Teddy Bear would disappear. If she didn’t cry Teddy would always be there to look after her. It took just two nights — and the crying stopped. And we slept. That was CBT in action.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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22 Responses to Anxiety

  1. John Thomas says:

    Great post, Quentin! (I just wish I’d known about the teddy bear thing when my children were crying at night, 39 years ago).
    Anxiety: Some people believe that the Government has intentionally created intense fear in order (giving them the benefit of the doubt – some think it’s intentionally to create a cowed population) that we won’t be out mass-partying. I shan’t be partying myself – nor will I give in to any fear, Government/Covid or otherwise).

    Some Christians believe that Meditation is very non-Christian, or can be (not what you do, obviously, but as it might be/become in universities).

  2. galerimo says:

    Stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms are also part of regular living. They can be easily managed, as you suggest, by some basic relaxation methods.

    Exercising is also good and I have never had a swim that didn’t make feel a lot better afterwards.

    Being on a ramble in a nature setting or simply pottering around the garden can do it. And no forgetting, either a good meal or a good wine, or better still, both.

    Where these phases of ordinary living are symptoms of a deeper state of poor health then, by themselves they are not likely to be enough.

    In fact, it could be dangerous to treat serious depression by simply addressing symptoms. Such temporary dissipation only serves to mask over the deeper malaise.

    And not all illnesses are physical or psychological. There are stages in our spiritual lives too that can make it hard for a person to function well in their lives.

    While a physical/mental technique that induces an altered state of mind or mood in the form of “meditation”, might bring about a sense of relief, it would be far short of addressing a person’s need in the realm of spiritual healing.

    One example is the well-known Jesus prayer from the Orthodox tradition.

    When a deep need arises for a sense of personal meaning or purpose in life or when we suffer times of grief or a sense of abandonment then a practice of religious meditation can enhance or even replace the “do it yourself” type psychological/emotional techniques.

    What happens in the unfolding non verbal dialogue in the context of religious meditation and contemplation is a grounding in our relationship with the transcendental dimension of our being.

    And for Christians it will always take shape in the context of a growing personal relationship with God.

    The life we live is a soul journey. It has definite seasons and transitional moments that can manifest very clearly as times of crises, deep anxiety and severe depression.

    At times such as these a person could well feel cheated if all that was on offer to them went no further than a good relaxation session.

  3. milliganp says:

    As someone who has suffered from fairly severe depression, I’ve never been a great fan of CBT. It may be good for dealing with low level anxiety and problems around self image but it is not a cure for any deep seated problems.
    This is not a criticism but, Quentin – have you ever had to worry about the next meal, or whether you will have a job tomorrow or if the bank will foreclose on your mortgage. Some human problems are well beyond CBT or relaxation techniques.
    Psychoanalysis also has possible issues – the subject can become very self-centered, A priest friend once described Jungian analysis as “dig up you parents, give them a good kicking, and bury them again”.
    Human beings are incredibly complex (psalm 139:14). I sometimes try to accept – perhaps being screwed-up is normal, just part of the condition. I don’t think it’s a sort of fatalism, just accepting what it is to be human.

  4. David Smith says:

    milliganp writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-62923 ) :

    // Some human problems are well beyond CBT or relaxation techniques. //

    I’ve had my share of talk therapy. I’ve met some nice therapists and been grateful for their advice, encouragement, and consolation, but I suspect good friendships would have been far more helpful. I’ve done some relaxation therapy on my own, and it’s doubtless helped a little, but not a lot.

    Anxiety must always be a curse of social living. People do not mesh well. Propinquity causes stress. Yet, most of us can’t avoid it and all but a few of us need it. Man was not made to live alone.

    The modern world is a noisy and a crowded place. The pressure to conform is unrelenting. Sanctuary is a must, and each of us will find it in his own way.

    // and the crying stopped. And we slept //

    Amen.

  5. John Nolan says:

    Clinical depression is one thing, and I know people who have suffered from it. Most of us have not, and the (very) recent fashion of publicly attributing ‘mental illness’ to oneself is a form of narcissism which Meghan and Harry have exploited to the full, ludricously so in the case of those two pampered individuals.

    The rest of us have plenty of grounds to be pissed off, but no amount of therapy will change that.

  6. ignatius says:

    Ok, lets be clear about something. A person who has never suffered from ‘serious’ or ‘clinical’ depression will have absolutely no idea about what the condition entails.
    Clinical depression is hell, a kind of torment beyond words. Clinical depression is a wrecker of lives and quite often it is fatal. Sadness, sorrow, being pissed off, struggling anxiously through this vale of tears-all of these are variations of normality; clinical depression is something else entirely. Once the distinction is made and understood it becomes easier to see why for many the choice is medication. Certainly CBT is helpful as are many other approaches-counselling, diet, exercise etc all help, but serious depression, once it gets a grip isn’t much deterred by such measures. CBT in particular is often quite a good help for moderate anxiety etc but will not relieve the biochemistry of despair.
    I was till quite recently good friends with a life sentence prisoner. Though a Catholic he had become a buddhist in prison and meditated regularly, an hour a day usually. He still prayed and told me once that his main request each morning was that he would not, that day, hurt anyone..either a fellow inmate or an officer. One day the Mental health Nurse convinced him to go on to antidepressants to help manage his inner life. About three weeks later he bounded up to me on the wing declaring himself to be a new man and that he simply had not realised what life could be like without the constant struggle against suicidal ideation, I was happy for him, partly because I knew how he felt. My own view, after struggling with the same issue myself over many years, is that serious/clinical depression is best understood as an illness which gives rise to a metabolic pathway defect.

  7. David Smith says:

    John Nolan writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-62942 ) :

    // Clinical depression is one thing, and I know people who have suffered from it. //

    The mental health field is booming, and practitioners are everywhere. One thing that often happens in the modern world when something becomes a public obsession is that labeling flourishes and labels become part of the currency of common consciousness. Under the master label “mental health”, sub-categories abound. I wish they wouldn’t. I am who I am. Life is simple, and unitary.

  8. ignatius says:

    David writes:
    //Under the master label “mental health”, sub-categories abound. I wish they wouldn’t. I am who I am. Life is simple, and unitary.//

    Until very recently I would have completely agreed with this statement. Recently however and via an old Art College friend I became aware of the term ‘neuro typical’ and ‘neuro atypical’. For a long time now I have been aware that there are things I find dead simple which fox other people and vice versa. I could describe a whole other set of traits which would point to me being on some sort of spectrum or another, most of which I count as gifts but there are others which make me struggle.
    I too have pretty much refused to be classified under the many subtypes but I am actually quite happy with the idea of being neuro atypical. Happy with it simply because I know I am atypical and that apart from a tendency towards anxiety and occasionally serious bouts of depression, I’m very happy with who I am. I don’t think I am ‘screwed up’ just because I have to struggle and I have slowly managed to discard what might be termed as ‘neurotypical envy syndrome’ Also I find that struggling has given me compassion for the wayward, the straggler and the struggler… which is perhaps why I am pretty well suited to prison chaplaincy!!

  9. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-62950 ) :

    //
    David writes:
    //Under the master label “mental health”, sub-categories abound. I wish they wouldn’t. I am who I am. Life is simple, and unitary.//

    Until very recently I would have completely agreed with this statement. Recently however and via an old Art College friend I became aware of the term ‘neuro typical’ and ‘neuro atypical’. For a long time now I have been aware that there are things I find dead simple which fox other people and vice versa. I could describe a whole other set of traits which would point to me being on some sort of spectrum or another, most of which I count as gifts but there are others which make me struggle.
    //

    I sympathize – and I empathize, ignatius. I, too, am wired very differently. An example: On the hoary old scale of general intelligence, I’m reckoned easily able to obtain the modern world’s only union card, the university degree, but I’ve found that impossible. My supposedly smart brain is in fact as dumb as a dodo. And the brilliant folk who pose as experts on the human mental machinery just don’t know why. Freud and Jung made it all up – all the categories and sub-categories, all the labeling and lecturing, all the sorting and pontificating, and their descendants keep up that good, creative work, buttressed in their academic and political power and pride by papers written about laboratory experiments. Perhaps understandably, I’m unimpressed. And I come back for reassurance and consolation to what I wrote above: I am who I am. Life is unitary: we’re all the same and yet we’re all very different. We all toil together in this vale of tears – gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Life is good and life is hard. But mostly good. And maybe there’s much better to come. Fingers crossed.

  10. ignatius says:

    // I, too, am wired very differently. An example: On the hoary old scale of general intelligence, I’m reckoned easily able to obtain the modern world’s only union card, the university degree, but I’ve found that impossible. My supposedly smart brain is in fact as dumb as a dodo. And the brilliant folk who pose as experts on the human mental machinery just don’t know why.//

    Yes I know you are wired differently …I first spotted a flash of unique brilliance in your writing some time ago, which is why I enjoy your posts. University degree’s are odd things and not particularly of use when it comes to being markers for uniqueness; in fact one could say they mark conformity of learning rather than much else. Over a period of fourty years or so I have gathered three or four- if you count two professional equivalents. My first degree, in economics/politics cost me a nervous breakdown and only resulted in a mediocre mark. My second -a four year professional training as an Osteopath, was like being hauled over coals with hooks in my wrists but I turn out to be a good practitioner. My third, a part time degree in Fine Art, was great.. but they nearly threw me out and the award was again of a mediocre level.. Still, at least I learned to paint abstracts. Then most recently there has been the four year part time theological training for ordination which again has resembled a kind of slow cremation, but I have not since regretted it one bit.

    The upshot of all this seeming masochism has made me realise that I have a brain like a planet which, unfortunately, can only be reached by squeezing through a very narrow tunnel! This means that its very difficult to access and not all that much comes out. Fortunately I now get to preach quite often which does seem to provide a fairly open conduit- though I have to work at it.

    One of the troubles with having a brain like a planet off axis, is that it takes a great deal of energy to converse about much at all and one is prone to be easily exhausted. This leads often to being easily discouraged. Also there are subjects which simply cannot be tackled on account of their having a completely different orbit than ones own..my nemesis is mathematics, the philosophy of which I can easily grasp but yet am easily defeated by the simplest of equations. I can however recognise intelligence when I meet it.

    As to fingers crossed for the future I think its worth noting that, reading the lives of the saints tells me that most of them were atypical to the point of being borderline barmy…so there is definitely hope for us yet!
    PS
    Thanks for this little exchange of experiences, I have enjoyed it.

    • milliganp says:

      Just some thoughts on formal education. I remember doing O levels and thinking you just had to regurgitate what you had been taught and looked forward to A levels where a bit of originality might be appreciated – but no so on to university – here too, original thought was not an objective, you now had to compare and contrast the thinking of ‘experts’. I asked if things would change in postgraduate studies but almost all Ph.D work seemed to be “getting to know more and more about less and less until you know absolute everything about almost nothing”.
      Obviously, I have identified myself as one who finds it difficult to fit. However, when I moved into the roll of recruiter / employer I found little correlation between formal education and the ability to perform useful work. I was the least structured and formal manager in my organisation but my team produced good work at a rate far faster than larger, formal teams.
      We live in a world which glorifies individuality but still expects people to fit. Perhaps this, in part, is the source of existential angst – I understand that when Sartre said “hell is other people” he was not being anti-social but decrying that we all judge others by their conformity.

  11. David Smith says:

    milliganp writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-62981 ) :

    // when Sartre said “hell is other people” he was not being anti-social but decrying that we all judge others by their conformity //

    We do, don’t we? Well, at least I think that’s the tenor of most social intercourse. If someone seems to deviate from the expected, there’s necessarily, we assume, something amiss, surely worth mentioning. Much taller than the mean or shorter, slower, uglier, dressed differently, voice lower than typical for women or higher for men, speech faster or slower, non-standard accent, more or less athletic, highly emotional or unemotional, nervous or lethargic, and so on.

    The pressure to conform has been particularly strong during the past year, when people have been quickly and decisively sorted according to their opinions about “woke” and the “cancel culture” or about various governments’ responses to the new virus. Before March, you would have been thought decidedly odd if you’d worn a face mask everywhere you went in public, but after March you’d almost certainly have been condemned if you didn’t.

    We are both constructed and confined by our interactions with others. It may be no more than the literal truth to say that acculturation is mutilation.

  12. galerimo says:

    If the question is anxiety then the answer is hope

    – not just the anxiety than can yield to a technique, an engagement with something pleasurable, or a relaxation session

    – but rather that disturbing sense of fear that can unbalance a person emotionally and psychologically, immobilizing them because of something that is yet to happen and it goes to the heart of what it means to be alive today.

    One theologian (Jurgen Moltmann) may have over simplified things saying how the middle ages gave us systems and symbols of divine love inculcating an understanding of supernatural grace descending on the world through Church.

    And the later Reformers, with their systems of faith, led us to understand how we can be made righteous through the Word of God and its preaching to us.

    But since the beginning of modern times it his hope that comes to the forefront. Ours is a messianic and apocalyptic time both revolutionary and conservative and it is both fascinated and terrified by the future.

    Yet here are strands of truth to be found in his sweeping analysis.

    Anxiety can go very deep for us. And that is because we now live in a crisis of history. No heaven or otherworld appeals to those with whom we share this age. It is only what is coming, what we hope for or fear that gives sense to history and our living it.

    There are no more permanent orders like in the days of Empire on which our Church was modeled for a thousand years and which regulated ever aspect of social life. It has all been replaced by this adventure of the future.

    We can no longer find models by looking to the past. Those “re” systems. Re-naissane, Church Re-formation, Revolution, Renewal and Revival. Seeing a solution by seeking to go back fails us in this thoroughly “new” world. We have to face up to the fact, ours is a “new” time.

    And that makes us anxious. Deep down, is the fact that the past is at most a prologue to the yet unknown future.

    So the search for a solution to the deep seated anxiety, that can call into question the very purpose for which we exist, must take us to Hope.

  13. David Smith says:

    galerimo writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-62984 ) :

    // We can no longer find models by looking to the past. Those “re” systems. Re-naissane, Church Re-formation, Revolution, Renewal and Revival. Seeing a solution by seeking to go back fails us in this thoroughly “new” world. We have to face up to the fact, ours is a “new” time. //

    There must be good books on the Tower of Babel phenomenon. Worth a look through the literature. Thanks for the prod.

  14. ignatius says:

    //We can no longer find models by looking to the past. Those “re” systems. Re-naissane, Church Re-formation, Revolution, Renewal and Revival. Seeing a solution by seeking to go back fails us in this thoroughly “new” world. We have to face up to the fact, ours is a “new” time.//

    No I don’t quite agree with this. Certainly the icons of form and culture are subject to slow change as indeed is our conception of God. Yet if we looking to the perfect love which casts out fear (1 john ch4 v18) then this love, and the hope which responds to it, is of the human heart and spirit which are relatively unchanging. The spiritual search, understood as ‘the flight into the desert’ is as old as the hills and yet still fresh.

  15. Iona says:

    I wonder whether anyone reading or contributing to these comments regards him- or herself as neurotypical?

  16. David Smith says:

    Iona writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-62998 ) :

    // I wonder whether anyone reading or contributing to these comments regards him- or herself as neurotypical? //

    If it’s what ignatius describes at https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-62950 , I don’t.

  17. ignatius says:

    //I wonder whether anyone reading or contributing to these comments regards him- or herself as neurotypical?//

    Ha ha ..thats really funny Iona!! Its a very interesting question though and the obvious one coming after the last string of comments.(The other question would be something like this:
    ” What is it about this blog that attracts misfits?!!!!”
    Ninety five percent of the time I don’t much ‘regard’ myself as anything other than who I am at any one moment. On the other hand I have known for pretty much most of my adult life that there was ‘something’ different about me. This awareness has come through interaction with others in both professional and social sphere’s. It has been noticed by my friends, my wife, by employers and by psychological testing etc etc. I’ve also come to recognise that, of the handful of good friends I have made over my lifetime, most are a bit odd and usually high achievers !
    I’ve inhabited two environments that really suited me Iona, outside of my main stream working life that is. one being Art College, because it really was a ship of fools! The other was working in Prison. As part time chaplain I mixed lots with inmates who really were very different and in speaking with the psychologists who assessed them. The prison environment suited me really on account of its outer framework of rigidity then its inner reality of flying by the seat of ones pants on a moment by moment basis!
    The interesting thing is that I can get along quite happily in most environments and can empathise with most people, as a reasonable successful Osteopath I have to have that ability. But I’ve had to consciously labour at it. I guess I recognise in what I would term ‘neuro typical’ people a kind of unconscious acceptance of their environment that I don’t seem to have. On the other hand I also recognise in that instinctive habituation something akin to a certain complacency of being; something in me envies it but something else in me does not. I’ve only understood my ‘ neuro atypical’ tendencies over this past fifteen years or so and have found it a welcome change to the otherwise more destructive heading of ‘Whats wrong with me?’ In the end I guess ‘atypical’ is only a label ..like ‘grumpy’ or ‘a bit odd’ perhaps. 🙂

  18. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/03/05/anxiety/#comment-63002 ) :

    // What is it about this blog that attracts misfits?!!!! //

    Well, Quentin has made it an open forum partly for discussing existential questions and for questioning others’ existential answers. Those who are satisfied with a sufficiently large package of answers might find Quentin’s challenges pointless: they don’t want to question, because they’ve already got the answers, at least for themselves. Persistent curiosity and questioning are signs of discontent, and I suppose by modern secular standards, persistent discontent is pathological.

    // I’ve inhabited two environments that really suited me Iona, outside of my main stream working life that is. one being Art College, because it really was a ship of fools! The other was working in Prison. //

    I suspect I’d fit in nicely with artists and musicians. Alas, I have no artistic or musical talent. Prisoners are likely to be rather too aggressive for me. As a constitutionally timid soul, I’d likely be perilously out of my depth there.

    // I guess I recognise in what I would term ‘neuro typical’ people a kind of unconscious acceptance of their environment that I don’t seem to have. On the other hand I also recognise in that instinctive habituation something akin to a certain complacency of being; something in me envies it but something else in me does not. //

    Nicely said. I, too.

  19. Iona says:

    Well, that’s certainly interesting, David and Ignatius. I come into the same category, perhaps; always felt a bit marginal, socially; I can cope, but it isn’t easy, and a relief to get away and be on my own. Lockdown has its good points. Other characteristics, too; an unusual response to certain sounds, textures, etc. – it took me a long time to realise that other people didn’t respond in the same way, and then only because I was mocked (or looked at in wondering incomprehension) if I said anything about it.
    In the 1970s I was working with autistic children (including teenagers). This was at a time when many people hadn’t even heard of autism. These children were plainly “different”, – some had no speech, many had very stilted and repetitive speech; the incidence of autism was then considered to be about 1 in 2,500. Things are very different now; I have seen the incidence quoted as 1 in 100, or even 1 in 50, and the “autism” umbrella, at least when “asperger’s syndrome” is included, covers a huge range of people, many of whom might have been considered merely a bit eccentric a few decades ago. People even seem to consider it a badge of honour to be diagnosed as (or to diagnose themselves as) “Asperger’s”, perhaps because of the association – in some cases – with high intelligence, albeint of a limited kind.

  20. ignatius says:

    Iona writes:
    // People even seem to consider it a badge of honour to be diagnosed as (or to diagnose themselves as) “Asperger’s”, perhaps because of the association – in some cases – with high intelligence, albeint of a limited kind.//

    Yes, indeed. I can understand that but I don’t much approve of the ‘status’ aspect. It was certainly a relief to me when I finally came upon the ‘atypical’ label because it seemed to ring true and was not of a perjorative nature. Like you I have come into contact with severely autistic children and adults along with their evident difference, difficulty, and distress.
    You may remember the film ‘Rainman’ with Dustin Hoffman which may have marked the populist beginnings of a change in the way autism was perceived generally. I think the movement towards a wider acceptance, at the margins at least, of these ‘spectrum’ conditions is an advance. But I fear that we will soon be faced with an ‘Asberger lives Matter’ syndrome in which anyone who cannot concentrate very well will receive a government grant, be offered a high ranking Civil service appointment or else a guest appearance on “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”

  21. ignatius says:

    PS personally speaking I’d take the Government grant any old day 🙂 🙂

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