This pandemic anxiety and the economic worries that come it it make the world feel as if it is locked in worried state and unable to get out. Perhaps there is something to be learned from this era, because the world at large is experiencing some of what it’s like to live with anxiety when it’s a condition inherent to the mind rather than a broad circumstance wrought by disease and money fears.
In other words, welcome to the world of anxiety, world. We’re all a form of Bruce Wayne right now, living what seems like a double life as we’re wracked with the desire to go outside as we wrestle with inner demons also aching for release.
The invisible flame
Anxiety is like invisible flame of the mind that flickers constantly and burns off rationality without heat or smoke. If you’ve ever stood near a fire yet far enough away from the warmth to just witness its effects, it’s quite fascinating to watch the curl of smoke, the crumbling blackness of cardboard and the wrinkling disappearance of paper as it all vanishes into carbon, leaving only ashes behind.
And those ashes are what chronic depression feels like. A world made gray with ambivalence and equivocation.
If that seems overly dramatic then perhaps you’ve not experienced what it’s like to battle a form of chronic anxiety and depression rather than a situational form. It’s not an easy venture. For those with the most severe conditions, such as bipolar disorders, the world flips back and forth from a joyful state to a severe battle with life itself. The people I know with that condition see the world through completely different eyes than the rest of us. It’s not much fun. Without medications to manage those conditions, its often difficult to function.
Fortunately there are ways to learn to cope with much of what the brain can dish out. For some people it’s a revelatory period of self-discovery that helps. It might be a realization that events or conditions of the past accentuate one’s native anxiety or depression. Cognitive therapy can help. For others, it takes years of practice and learning how to recognize triggers and find healthy ways to counteract the invisible flame of anxiety and the ash-laden psychic state of depression.
There are also other conditions that contribute to anxiety, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD). An anxious mind that has problems focusing can be quite the brain to manage, and create even more anxiety and even OCD, obsessive compulsive behaviors that manifest themselves in a desire to control the immediate world around you. But even those with conditions such as these can learn strategies to help deal with distraction and the dysfunctions associated with them.
Exercise can help
Exercise can help. Just like the drug Adderal overstimulates the mind to get it to settle down, activities such as running, cycling or simply walking help wick off the invisible flame, or least get it down to a low level. Even as a child I recognized how important it was for me to get out to recess and work off the anxiety built up by sitting in class and being told to concentrate. I’d release those pent-up feelings by playing kickball or baseball, or run around playing tag in the rain or the sunshine. It didn’t matter to me. I just knew I had to move.
Nothing has changed about that over the course of my life. I moved from playground games to competitive sports. And while I was good at most of them, what emerged was a life as a runner. With some success, I kept at it through high school and then college and beyond. I even ceased working after losing a job in my early twenties and lived off the justified severance income while training and living in the City of Chicago. I won races, earned sponsorship from a running store and wrote and painted all day in my Lincoln Park apartment.
But that didn’t mean that anxiety entirely went away. There were still feelings of inadequacy, a strong need for approval and a desire to prove myself that fed the angry campaign to defeat other people in races. My self-esteem was deeply wrapped into those efforts. At times I wasn’t even happy after I’d won a race. So many athletes are like that. Their success stands in conflict with their expectations. That only creates more anxiety, pressures on the starting line and crushing angst when one doesn’t win.
Yet through all those experiences we learn to cope with our emotions. We hopefully mature and grow aspects of our mind to focus on new and better things. We marry perhaps, get solid jobs and make a life for ourselves.
That other issue
If anxiety is an invisible flame, it feeds on the oxygen of other urges as well. Sexual energy can be a real distraction. This is often the case with younger people, and a healthy sexual release of any sort can help an anxious, overactive mind, as long as guilt doesn’t enter the picture and make things even worse.
That guilt cycle has its religious roots, and fear of sin is a major factor in mind control, especially in the repression of those feelings. Yet no matter what the priest or pastor or psychotherapist with issues about sex has to say on the subject, much of the world has discovered that sexual release is a good thing, and there’s no going back now.
But those of us who run and ride and swim have a relatively guiltless tool to help us cope with anxiety in an anxious world. As long as we don’t get so obsessed that the other important things in life get ignored, a daily dose of exercise is a place to open up the mind, find perspective and perhaps most importantly, get the fuck out of the house.
It’s been said that exercise is the cheapest form of therapy. But with $150 running shoes and $4000 bikes, that’s not exactly true, now is it? So let’s change that around a bit and say that exercise is an investment in good mental health. That’s a bit more realistic and honest. So don’t worry yourself about it.