I’ve received some great feedback on my blog so far – my thanks to everyone who has had things to say either here or by email.  It is pretty great to hear that people are getting traction from the idea that turning problems into crisis is NOT the way to solve problems!  I’ve got a LOT more to say about this… (see my last post about the details of this notion.)

Because it has become my conviction that once a person shifts into crisis mode to deal with a problem they begin a process I’m calling the Chronic Anxiety Cycle.  Or, as my friend Dale calls it, Perpetual Flight.  This process begins from one of the elements of the natural Flight or Fight Response we have to deal with crisis.  When we perceive danger, real or imagined, part of that response is to comb our memories (VERY quickly) for relevant information we have from past experience in dealing with this crisis.  I’m looking at a tiger, for example, so my brain rapidly sorts past tiger experiences to get the best approach to running or fighting.  Great tool in that context, no question!  In addition we rapidly generate scenarios with what we know in order to escape the tiger – we essentially start asking ourselves “what if?” questions.  Again, highly useful in the advent of a crisis…

But when you do this with a problem (something that can’t be solved, most likely, right in the moment, and it will take some time and work to resolve) then this trying to recall earlier dangers becomes a liability.  I call it the Negative Thinking Mechanism, or the “Worry Engine.”  We begin to start thinking “what if”, and the slant is always towards the negative – what happens if this bad thing occurs?  What are the expected outcomes?  We very rarely start projecting sunny and hopeful outcomes – we instead extrapolate negative outcomes.  Makes sense – running into tigers rarely results in happy outcomes.  That makes us more worried, so we do it again, and that increases our worry, so we do it again, etc. 

One of the ironic outcomes of all this projecting is that we step out of the present – we are either reliving previous negative experiences or focused on frightening or unnerving future scenarios.  We are NOT being where we are, right now.  Yet our bodies really only get right now – so regardless of what is upsetting you, your body will continue to generate flight or fight responses – more adrenaline, more preparing to fight or run, more physical and emotional responses designed to gear you up for whatever this danger is.  Only there IS, in this moment, no danger.  There IS a problem or problems to solve, but we are in crisis mode. 

As I said in my last blog post we are not in our most useful problem-solving condition when we are in crisis mode.  Which doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes solve the problem with our crisis response.  Sometimes it works.  And a great deal of the time it doesn’t work.  Whether it works or not the stress on our bodies and minds is much greater than if we don’t approach a problem as a crisis.  And even if we do resolve the problem via crisis mode we almost certainly haven’t accessed our best information, resources, or thinking to do so. 

And, of course, many times the problem continues to grow and get larger (in our thinking), so we worry some more about the problem and the scenarios we are creating around potential outcomes.  If we keep it up long enough we move on further into the Chronic Anxiety Cycle, which in turn takes more energy and increases the drain on our brains and bodies.  If we don’t disrupt this cycle here we begin to set ourselves up for long-term anxiety (i.e., chronic anxiety) and the resulting problems that creates for us.  More about that in the next couple of weeks.  In my next posting I will give you some examples from my own and other people’s experiences around this crisis-problem discussion, and what happens when we start feeding the Worry Engine.