Wednesday, August 26, 2015

     Are you anxious? Are your kids anxious? What’s anxious? Now that the focus is “back-to-school,” anxiety seems to be excitement’s partner. Several of my colleagues “liked” my post about the annoying “backtoschoolnightmare” that we all seem to share, even those of us who have been retired for a while. Most experts will tell us that anxiety can be positive as well as negative, and that if we’re a bit anxious, we may perform better. That may or may not be true. I have performed on and off stage my entire life, and I honestly believe that had I been less anxious, my performance would have been better. The question I raise today, however, is when did anxiety start in our lives? 

     I don’t recall being anxious in pre-school, unless you count my biting Billy numerous times until his mother bit me back. I don’t recall being anxious playing Red Rover, Red Rover in the street in front of our house, at least not until the dog (“Red”) down the street came tearing into our “field.” I don’t recall being anxious watching Howdy Doody or I Love Lucy unless I was worried about what Desi would say when he found out about Lucy’s latest faux pas. So does anxiety start in school, or are seeds planted before that? 

     If you have ever had an anxiety attack, you know that it can be a traumatic experience making you think you’re having a stroke. Once you realize that it is not life-threatening (at least initially), the anxiety melts away. I liken it to stage fright—the feeling that the butterflies in your chest are going to turn into bats, blow out of your chest and eat your hair. Ah, if it were only that funny. Anxiety is not funny; it is frightening, and if little kids are feeling this way anywhere they happen to be, we need to find a way to help them understand what it is, what causes it and how to cure it.

     When I was first divorced, I would wake up at 4:00 a.m. alone in my house in the woods. My heart would race so fast that I would have to jump out of bed and pace the floor to realize that I was indeed awake, and that I could calm myself down. For me, I learned that immediate physical exercise was the fastest cure. I hopped onto my tiny trampoline and ran my ass off. At first, I felt relieved that I had figured out a temporary cure, but ultimately, the anxiety would return at times and places I could not access my bounce. The good news was that I knew that I could eventually calm down, but I had to learn other ways to deal with these out-of-control feelings that could cripple if I let them. Deep breathing, focusing on the breath and becoming aware of such things as shoulders hunched up under my hairline and fists balled tight helped me detox. Heaven forbid that little kids have the feelings I just described and don’t know what to do about them. 

    Lately, I have been reading articles about student test anxiety, college suicides increasing, people withdrawing due to depression side effects to medication. Regardless of the cause, the result is a feeling of being out of control and even “crazy.” Ask an athlete to define anxiety. I’m sure you will recognize some of the language I have used. Ask a stage performer to define anxiety. For many celebrities, anxiety is a way of life. Maybe that’s why so many overdose or become alcoholics. 

     I am not concerned about myself or rich people who can access quick fixes; I am concerned about young people who face demons and suffer from the anxiety they cause. Shouldn’t there be a course in Resilience Techniques taught in school? If we all had a full tool box in our early years, maybe anxiety would not have shame attached to it, and people could talk about it openly.