YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City

One way to look at the world and ourselves is to see how we are all connected in a system, and each action or reaction in the system sends out a ripple. Based on the family system we originated from, we have a specific reaction to the ripple. For some the ripple violates a deeply held value within their family of origin, and our reaction to the ripple is reactive to that violation. For others, the ripple is just a ripple and causes no reaction at all.  

Another word for the ripple is anxiety.  

Whatever affects one affects each one in the system. The word that best describes what is affecting one is anxiety. Anxiety moves easily from person to person in the system. Dr. Roberta Gilbert writes,  

“Let us see what it means to be an emotional unit in its most basic form: for example, my grandfather’s herd of cattle. Say the cattle are peacefully gazing in the pasture. But if one cow gets to close the electric fences, sustaining shock, she may jump, vocalize and even jump or run, showing that she is in a very anxious state. How long does it take for the other cows in the pasture to catch the anxiety? Of course, it happens almost immediately. Their behavior soon becomes agitated, showing they have taken on the anxiety of the initial cow. The cattle are showing, by the movement of anxiety through the herd, that they are an emotional system. 

Anxiety that affects one, affects all.   

There are two types of anxiety, and each individual experiences both types to varying degrees. The first type is acute anxiety. Acute anxiety occurs daily and will usually subside after the trigger has ended. An example is when my phone rings and it is my son’s school calling. My emotional response becomes high, and I get anxious, “What’s wrong?” “What did he do this time?” “Is there a shooting?” my mind goes crazy with emotional responses, with anxiety. However, once I answer the phone, and receive the message my anxiety usually dissipates.  

Chronic anxiety is the anxiety we carry in the background. Much of it is programmed into us during our formative years. A great example of chronic anxiety can be found in Disney’s Encanto, specifically in the song “Surface Pressure” in which Luisa expresses the intense emotions, her anxiety, she carries and the pressure she feels to be the strong one but literally and metaphorically in her family. The anxiety she feels is a part of her family unit and each family member carries the anxiety of being the town’s heroes.  

Here are three takeaways for today:  

1) We are a part of a system, and a system is made of interconnected parts. Meaning, we are all connected, and each action creates a ripple that affects the emotional unit.  

2) Anxiety travels among the emotional unit and where it travels defines the emotional unit.  

3) Anxiety cannot be cured or removed from an emotional unit. It is a part of life. Anxiety can be managed.