Circumstantial or chronic anxiety?

Yesterday I explored the possibility of helping each learner face stressors in their educational environment with more resourcefulness. The four tools function amidst circumstantial stress. Sadly they do not make a significant difference with a learner's chronic anxiety.

Whenever we're traumatized, we experience being put in danger that is out of our control. We are inherently powerless and incapable of pulling off a win, solving the problem or resolving the conflict. Our limbic system memorizes the cues from these painful episodes to avoid them in the future. Anything that reminds us of the traumatic incident can set off a panic reaction and loss of composure. Most people keep these tragic memories for life. They overreact when they are seventy, just like they did when they were seven years old.

The more overwhelming dangers we've faced with this powerless stance:
  • the more emotional scars we have to endure
  • the more agitation we constantly feel
  • the more hyper-vigilant we are about repeat occurrences
  • the more problems we have with infections, sprains, indigestion, weight gain, sleep and illnesses.
We cannot simmer down, chill out, get a grip or feel calm inside. Physicians label this condition: hypertension. Psychiatrists call this a conflict between our Id and Super Ego. We try to keep a lid on a pot boiling inside with agitation about an archaic trauma and a recent indication that it's happening again.

Chronic anxiety can be alleviated by EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) or some cognitive behavioral therapy. The original traumatic incident is relived to honor the feels of powerlessness, panic and vulnerability. The view of what happened evolves to oppose the aggressors, get angry then, judge their insensitivity harshly and feel intolerant of their conduct. With further reprocessing, other feelings arise that look upon others with sadness and then understanding. A phenomenal amount of life-changing learning occurs as the limbic system revises the literal, vigilant memory. The emotional scars get healed and new situations can be approached with confidence, resolve and optimism.


  1. While I agree that these are the way many people react to these situations, just as many overcome these situations and learn despite the poisonous environment.

    As you described these different scenarios, I could relive those French classes where the professor pointed his finger at me and demanded an answer, or the professor who threw chalk at us in Graduate school as if we were two year olds, or the first grade teacher who announced to the class that I would be moved down in reading class.

    However, my personality was one in which I tried to learn from any situation (whether I liked the teacher or felt comfortable in the environment) and prove to the teacher that I could do it. When my 11th grade math teacher told my parents I just didn't have math aptitude (despite being an A student in Math up to that point) I studied on my own just to prove him wrong. Rather than feeling nervous, it empowered me because I felt I needed to prove him wrong. And I did!

  2. Virginia, I completely agree with you that poisonous environments can work for learning. That appears to be the premise of all the console and online games with gratuitous violence that gamers get better at coping with and motivating enormous commitments to deeper play. Your confidence-building experiences of not letting the adversity get you down --are great examples of a context of independence I wrote about on the 4th. You clearly do not demonstrate a "morbid dependency on authority figures" or the "silencing effect of abuse". You've learned to take the challenge in stride.

    Yet I also argue that those instructors who throw chalk, threaten students and dismiss budding signs of aptitude -- also learned from adversity. They are in a constant battle to be in control which is a feature of chronic anxiety. Like those gamers in "first person shooter" and RPG scenarios (role play game), they are caught up in wariness about getting ambushed, contradicted or disrespected. They cannot handle ambiguous situations or evidence of their needing to back up, slow down and take things a step at a time.

    Thus I'm suggesting that they are equally connected like an ecosystem with learners and administrators who adopt the same battle-prone premises. In the situations you described, everyone is free to challenge each other by getting in their face, posing as an adversary and raising the stakes of the game.

    Thanks for all this food for thought and expansion of what gets included in the total picture!