ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Anxiety: the good, the bad, and the unbearable

Jack Bragen
Friday February 17, 2017 - 10:08:00 AM

A psychiatrist said (I don't remember which one, or under what circumstances) that some amount of anxiety is useful because it keeps you on your toes.  

It is true that if you are taking care of yourself, you must be engaged with your environment. This means not ignoring that twinge in your gut that is telling you something needs to be done. That could mean paying bills, using caution on the road, or being mindful of some other necessity. That twinge in the gut, which is one form that anxiety sometimes takes, is intended for self-protection, and sometimes it helps you.  

On the other hand, sometimes the twinge in your gut is a false message and is unnecessary worry, something that only makes you falsely alerted, and that can lead to creating new problems--where there was no actual problem in the first place.  

This is the dilemma that people who have paranoia face. Is a problem real and does it need to be addressed, or is it imagined or overblown? This is where therapy can help.  

While deep psychoanalysis to unearth some psychological problem left from childhood doesn't help most mentally ill people, therapy of the type where you do problem solving for daily living can be helpful.  

We must learn to deal with practical problems while not panicking over something about which we needn't worry.  

Excessive anxiety doesn't help you; it only makes new problems or it makes it impossible to deal with existing problems, due to its immobilizing or other uncomfortable properties. When people have excessive anxiety and try to sweep it under a rug, so to speak, it potentially causes denial of problems.  

For someone with generalized anxiety who represses it or walls it off, the "good anxiety" could be lumped with it, and you may miss messages that you may need. This is also applicable to those who take an excessive amount of antianxiety medications, or perhaps the wrong medications for anxiety--either of these might block too much brain function.  

Prioritizing emotional comfort above "survival" is where the desire not to feel anything painful supersedes practical needs. This may work for a while, but in the long run, it is a path of ruin.  

Life isn't always comfortable. However, at those times when circumstances are essentially okay, we should not feel terrified and we should not feel massively anxious to the extent that we can't function.  

It is not unusual for persons who live in outpatient institutionalization to become hypersensitive to emotions. This is partly because therapists, through their techniques, cause emotions to become amplified. This is the opposite path compared to that of people who are employed and in the mainstream, non-afflicted population.  

We need at least some of our emotions. We need to get anxious some of the time; the body could be warning us to pay attention to some concern. However, anxiety in excess, which can be a result of a brain malfunction, can be unbearable, and can block the very actions that could resolve a problem. It is a fine line, but we must walk it.