We enjoy watching a cooking show where participants are presented with a basket of random items and have an hour to cook an entrée that incorporates and exemplifies all the items in their basket. Many of the participants shared about the panic that beset them upon opening up their basket followed by solutions starting to present themselves.
I had this same experience at work where I had to untangle some wires on a chip to make sure they didn’t cross. The software we used had failed to find a solution so they were challenging. It felt like a game (not altogether unlike this one). Each problem had a different challenge so the same solution would not work for each one. Some were easy, but my first feeling almost every time was a flash of panic – oh no, this one is going to be super hard. I don’t know if I can even solve this without a lot of work. Oh wait, what if I move that wire over there, and move this one down. Oh. done. Then I would flip to the next one and again feel a brief period of despair.
Most of my job is dealing with broken things for which no solution yet exists. Sometimes we never find an answer to a particular problem like reaching a cliff on a hike and needing to turn around and find another way to the top. Because this is a nearly daily occurrence, it makes it easier to handle situations in life where things don’t go the way we expected. Stuff will go wrong, but we’ll figure it out just like we did the last several thousand problems.
Still, this doesn’t stop the sense of panic we feel when things don’t go according to plan and we don’t know how we are going to make it work. We have two parallel thought processes. The first is our conscious rational brain which panics because it can’t rationally find a solution to the problem. The second is our creative, quiet brain that comes up with solutions and gives us the “eureka” moments where suddenly the answer becomes obvious.
If we panic and give-in to our initial rational-brain response, we might stop working on it, but if we push forward and give our creative side a chance to find solutions we’d never consciously considered, then most problems have good solutions. So the next time something happens and we feel the panic coming on, take a deep breath and wait for a solution to show itself. The solution’s out there.
Sure I’m all about the calming down idea. My own anxiety comes from somewhere I don’t understand, and it’s my brain that tries to justify the feeling. “I must be panicking about something reasonable! I must solve this! If the solution isn’t obvious, I clearly have a real ‘reason’ to be anxious.”
The more I learn about the brain the more it seems that the creative / rational split doesn’t work for me. I think the brain part that doesn’t make up stories, plans, and solutions isn’t the creative part, it’s the part that knows how to be present and connected. Like in Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of Insight talk, I feel like I might find refuge, not in creativity but in the part of my brain that just doesn’t care about the future or the past— the part that has no sense of the future or the past.
Engaging that relaxed present part of my brain interrupts the making-sense part of my brain enough to interrupt the panic, at least in theory.
Anxiously, calmly, anxiously, calmly yours in theory and, sometimes, in practice.
There is a difference between the panic we feel when we know of a specific problem without solution and the generalized anxiety where we can’t even figure out the problem, much less the solution. You’re right that anxiety causes us to try to search for a problem we might be able to resolve but is often like an illusive itch that we can’t seem to figure out where to scratch.
I’ve worked with people who when presented with a known problem they don’t know how to immediately solve hit the panic button. Oh no!!! How are we going to resolve this?!?!? More whining, more complaining, and no answers. This panic, if given into, shuts down trying to find answers. This is what I was trying to point out.
Generalized anxiety can create a panic in our mind too as you point out and it doesn’t help to panic. So we find a way to calm the anxiety without necessarily finding the solution. Your comment reminded me of this bible verse: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:34 (NKJV)
It’s a good distinction. Thanks for pointing it out.
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