My family and I were invited to an event during the week. We usually donâ€™t do activities Monday through Friday, but my husband was excited about it. The event would start at 6 p.m., and as soon as I saw that, my chest tightened. I could feel anxiety wash over my body. My son (whoâ€™s 5) goes to bed at 7 p.m., and the event would go well past that. I tried to calm down, and rationally I knew it would be okay, but that did not stop the awful nagging feeling that we shouldnâ€™t go. The problem is that my brain, riddled with misfiring neurons, doesnâ€™t always think rationally. Itâ€™s rare. Anxiety always wins.
My thinking is rigid, very black and white. Iâ€™d like to think Iâ€™m open minded about most things, but I donâ€™t have the ability to adjust my behavior at times. Cognitive rigidity (lack of mental flexibility) is a sign of poor mental health. Itâ€™s associated with many mental health conditions, but others can experience it, too. Like when youâ€™re solving a problem and think your way is the only way to go. Rumination also is a big part of cognitive rigidity
Honestly mineâ€™s not so bad (depending on who you ask). After I had my first child I read about what temperature parents should set in a babyâ€™s room. I saw that number (I canâ€™t remember it now) and obsessed. I bought little thermostats for each room in the house, and I watched them closely, adjusting the air or heat to reach that magic number. Thatâ€™s anxiety at its â€œbest.â€
Things arenâ€™t much different now. My daughter, a first grader, has to be at school at 7:50 a.m., so in the mornings I watch the clock and bark â€œyou have 30 minutesâ€ then â€œfive more minutes, stop lollygagging.â€ I feel like we have to leave at 7:20, even though weâ€™re five minutes from her school. And they donâ€™t open the doors until 7:30. If weâ€™re running behind, each minute passes painfully, and my anxiety ramps up. Weâ€™ve never been late though. What exactly do I think is going to happen if we donâ€™t show up 20 minutes early?
Why does it matter if the temperature is one degree off?
Is the world going to end because my son goes to bed later than 7 p.m.?
Again, Rational Heather says no, but itâ€™s hard to hear her over the thunderous voice of anxiety, which gave birth to all this rigidity. I know itâ€™s not healthy, and it can damage relationships I have with others because I think my way is the only way, the right way. We have to do things my way, per my anxiety. Who cares if itâ€™s irrational?
Sometimes I feel trapped in my body and that itâ€™s betraying me. Anxiety is a liar, I know, but itâ€™s hard to differentiate between the truth and lies. It makes me wonder if I can trust my brain. The fact that I really canâ€™t is scary. I try not to pull at that thread too much.
I wish I could relax and go with the flow, but thatâ€™s just not who I am. I have to live with the rigidity and try to manage it best I can. There are positive aspects of anxiety (like always being prepared), and thatâ€™s what I must focus on.
I need to figure out how I can manipulate my black and white thoughts and add a little color.