Accepting your situation

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Acceptance is healthier for your body, your mind, and your social relationships.  Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash

Much anxiety is caused by the wish to be somewhere other than where you are.  If you imagine your current identity, position and context as a kind of box that surrounds you, you are in that box, and nothing you do right now can change that.  True, you can set in motion a set of actions to change things.  But exactly now, there is nothing you can do.

THE EVOLUTIONARY FUNCTION OF ANXIETY

In evolutionary terms, there are at least two big functions of distress:

  1. To tell your own bodily systems that there is a situation that needs changing or avoiding.  The distress can release chemical and other messengers which enhance the urgency of your reaction.
  2. To communicate to those around you that you need a response from them.  That response may be that they help, or even that they back off.  But the response of others is certainly one of the consistent, predictable effects of distress behaviours.
However, it is worth considering in a bit more detail what distress signals you are employing, and how useful they are in practice.

THE EFFECT OF ANXIETY ON YOUR OWN SYSTEMS

Anxiety in a bird is useful to survival.  Reaction times are enhanced, alertness is improved, and therefore survival likelihood increases.

Many humans, however, are not in the same situation as birds.  Their life is not constantly threatened by the potential presence of predators.  In this case, living in a constant state of anxiety provides all the physiological down sides, but without increasing the likelihood of survival.

The down sides include hyperactive adrenal response, pressure on the heart, narrowing of perceptual field, and reduced ability to solve any problems apart from the immediate imagined danger.  In simple English, anxiety makes us hyperactive and narrow-minded.

THE EFFECT OF ANXIETY ON YOUR SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS

Anxious behaviour has positive and negative social effects.

On the positive side:

  • Showing vulnerability can lock caring others into a helping response, providing you with support
  • Showing anger can provide you with additional private space, by keeping others away
On the negative side:

  • Showing vulnerability can make overwhelmed others avoid you because they fear they would not cope
  • Showing anger can make others avoid you because they sense threat
In general, the bias of anxious behaviour is to isolate the person showing it, inhibiting and preventing social relationships.

ACCEPTING YOUR SITUATION

Even if you do not like your situation, it is worth considering how you are responding to it.  Accepting your situation in the short term has big advantages: it ensures that your body stays calm, and your mind stays perceptive.  It also makes it more likely that your social network will function well.

However chlostrophobic or frustrated you feel in your situation, therefore, there are health and social advantages in acceptance.

A NOTE ON THE ABILITY TO CHANGE

Acceptance does not mean being a victim.

In martial arts, for instance, a practitioner remains calm but focused.  They accept their situation completely.  But, equally, that acceptance functions to make it more likely that they can change the situation through appropriate actions.

AN EXERCISE

When you feel yourself getting anxious about anything, try to reflect on the usefulness or otherwise of your response.  This may not immediately change your body’s response, as much of it is automatic.  But frequent reflection can help teach your body’s system that there is little point in a pronounced state of adrenal alert.

Take a moment to sit where you are, and just breathe slowly and deeply.  It does not mean you are becoming a victim.  It just means that you are allowing yourself to accept your situation before you respond.

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SUMMARY

Anxiety is an immediate wish to be other than where you are right now.

During our animal evolution, anxiety was useful for survival.  Nowadays, it makes us unhealthy, disrupts our clear thinking, and isolates us socially.

It may be a better strategy to accept where you are right now.  This ensures that you stay calm, perceptive and sociable.

You can still change things.  You may even be more effective in making changes, because your actions will be fed by peace, perception and goodwill.

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