Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Strategic Use of Emotion to Counter Anxiety in Life

I'm working on book #2 which is tentatively titled, Fear and Fight: Understanding Our Natural and Learned Responses to a Threat. The mechanism responsible for our natural responses to a threat is also responsible for anxiety and panic disorders. 'As dire chance and fateful cock-up would have it' (Love Actually), I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder when researching and writing this book about the mechanism that is responsible for those disorders. I want to share a small part of it with you.

There is a paper that is the subject of a chapter in that book. The paper is about the strategic use of emotion to counter fear in war. The authors list five strategic uses of emotion to counter fear in war: appeal to reason (technically not a strategic use of emotion), the creation of anger, hate, spite, and hope. I've used the strategic use of emotion to counter anxiety in my life. That emotion is love.

Before we became a family, my now stepdaughter would ask me to watch her play football (Australian Rules). I'd say yes but wouldn't attend. Avoidance behaviour due GAD. When we became a family, she tearfully told me that she'd look for me when I said I'd attend her games but didn't. I vowed then, out of love, not to miss another of her games and I'd attend all of her training sessions.

Game day. Anxiety levels through the roof. Nausea, retching, vomiting, diarrhea, trembling, an overwhelming urge to avoid/flee. But I didn't. My partner, her mother, drives to the match because I cannot. I am tense and gripping on for sheer life while driving, seeing every car that comes close as a threat and acting accordingly. My partner gets nervous driving with me because she feels I'm overly critical about her driving. It's only recently that she's come to see my reaction for what they are and does not take my 'fear' personally.

I sat away from the other parents because of my GAD. I was nauseous and I have dry retched and vomited at the games, although by sitting apart no one else had to witness that.

Training sessions. I'd sit in the car and watch her train because I couldn't go down and join in with the other fathers. It was hard enough to get there let alone to socialise.

Over time, my damaged amygdala came to see these things as not threats and I was able to engage with the other parents and the teams admin. This is called 'exposure therapy' in psychological terms or 'stress exposure training' in stress terms. It was tough. Very tough. But I used the strategic use of love to counter fear/anxiety to support my stepdaughter and to enjoy watching her train and play.  Love provided me with the willpower to overcome the anxiety that was preventing me from watching her play and in the process hurting both of us.
It's not all perfect how. I still get extremely nervous in the car and I still feel my muscles tensing and have to consciously relax them, but I get the enjoyment of watching the young girl I love play football and she gets to have someone she loves watch her play football and enjoy it.