I slept badly last night. Every time I woke up, I felt anxious. I had no idea why. So, of course, I started thinking through my life until I found something I might have reason to be anxious about -- which then gave that anxious feeling an object to focus on and feed on. Ugh.
In grad school, I read a study about a clinic that served patients with severe anxiety disorders. They discovered that the feeling people have during panic attacks -- the feeling that they're having a heart attack or something terrible like that -- that feeling is not so much a symptom as it is a cause. Their patients, for the most part, were experiencing the body's normal reactions to normal anxiety (quicker heartbeat, sweaty palms, faster breathing .... a bit more elevated than the average person would have, but still normal) and interpreting them incorrectly. They thought something was terribly wrong with them . . which made them more anxious . . which increased the symptoms . . which confirmed their fears and made them even more anxious . . and they eventually cycled into a full-blown panic attack.
When they taught their patients about the body's normal reactions to everyday anxiety and behavioral techniques to deal with them, 90-some percent of their patients had no more attacks. And these were all patients who couldn't survive without medication before this. My Jersey friend Peggy had a similar treatment and was cured of years and years of panic attacks.
At the time, I was fascinated by this study because I applied the idea to my depression problems. I would find myself, randomly, feeling a bit blue. There could have been any number of reasons for this: I was tired, I was coming down with a cold, I'd been home alone with a baby too long, I was coming off a sugar high from eating half a box of Apple Jacks. But I would think, "I'm depressed. Why am I depressed?" Well, if you look hard enough, you can always find something in your life to feel depressed about. I'm so unfulfilled in my work . . my husband doesn't understand me . . yada yada. So then I would obsess over this terrible situation in my life, get more depressed, finish the box of Apple Jacks, get more depressed, pout on the sofa, get more depressed . . . and ultimately I nursed that little blue feeling into a full-blown depressive episode.
In small group last night, we talked (well, I talked) a little bit about how deceptive our feelings can be. I've come to not trust my feelings very much. They're too easily affected by things -- the weather, the time of the month, "a bit of underdone potato", as Ebenezer Scrooge says. My feelings are not reality. My feelings do not define truth. I grow increasingly disturbed by the world's mantra to "listen to your heart". The Bible tells us the heart is "deceptive above all things". That's pretty darned deceptive.
The truth is, I have nothing in my life to feel anxious about. And even if I did, my feeling anxious would do nothing to solve the problem. Take that, stupid hormones.