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cognitive rigidity

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My family and I were invited to an event during the week. We usually don’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 (who’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 shouldn’t go. The problem is that my brain, riddled with misfiring neurons, doesn’t always think rationally. It’s rare. Anxiety always wins.

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My thinking is rigid, very black and white. I’d like to think I’m open minded about most things, but I don’t have the ability to adjust my behavior at times. Cognitive rigidity (lack of mental flexibility) is a sign of poor mental health. It’s associated with many mental health conditions, but others can experience it, too. Like when you’re solving a problem and think your way is the only way to go. Rumination also is a big part of cognitive rigidity

Honestly mine’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 baby’s room. I saw that number (I can’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. That’s anxiety at its “best.”

Things aren’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 “you have 30 minutes” then “five more minutes, stop lollygagging.” I feel like we have to leave at 7:20, even though we’re five minutes from her school. And they don’t open the doors until 7:30. If we’re running behind, each minute passes painfully, and my anxiety ramps up. We’ve never been late though. What exactly do I think is going to happen if we don’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 it’s hard to hear her over the thunderous voice of anxiety, which gave birth to all this rigidity. I know it’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 it’s irrational?

Sometimes I feel trapped in my body and that it’s betraying me. Anxiety is a liar, I know, but it’s hard to differentiate between the truth and lies. It makes me wonder if I can trust my brain. The fact that I really can’t is scary. I try not to pull at that thread too much.

I wish I could relax and go with the flow, but that’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 that’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.

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