Sunday, February 13, 2011

Think Situtational Anxiety Is In Your Head?

It is. And it's in your bloodstream, too.

The feelings we experience as situational anxiety during the adoption process are caused by elevated levels of stress hormones.

I said at the beginning of this series that my only real qualification for speaking to this subject is that I've "been there, done that." However even having been a chemistry major for a while in college does not qualify me to speak with any authority on the biochemistry of situational anxiety.

The good news is that you don't have to take my word for it.

The first half of this article How Your Brain Responds to Stress will give you an overview of the biochemistry of anxiety and will supply keywords you can use to conduct your own survey of the research on this subject. The body of literature is vast so you can keep your research monkey happy for months popping stress studies like bananas. Good news if you have along wait ahead of you :).

If you find the language in that one too technical, this 2003 article in Newsweek by Geoffry Cowley and Claudia Kalb Our Bodies, Our Fears discusses how a wide range of anxieties effects our bodies.

Remember: while the triggers for the situational anxiety we experience during the adoption process are unique to adoption, the anxiety itself is the same anxiety common to the human experience. The biochemistry is the same, whether the subject being studied was job stress, chronic illness, or living in a war zone.

Pay close attention to the research on the effects of chronically elevated levels of cortisol on the mind and body. People who experience higher (more handicapping) levels of SA during the adoption process are typically in this category. The name of the game is trying to manage your level of stress hormones to keep them in a range where your parasympathetic nervous system can kick in and do its job of helping restore biochemical balance (making you feel better, or at least more functional).

You want to do everything you can to avoid more or less constant levels of elevated anxiety hormones, especially if you are facing a long wait, because the the hormonal effects snowball and push you into 'chronically elevated' territory (the island in my story). Once you are on the island, it is hard to get off.

It is a quite different to find yourself on the island with a travel call two weeks in your future. In the short-wait scenario, the end of the wait acts like a Magic Eraser: the situational anxiety seems to vanish with little lingering effects.

But when you understand that physical chemistry underlies the feelings we experience as SAA, it is easy to see why higher, chronically elevated levels of stress hormones can't be flicked off like a light switch at the end of the wait. The biochemistry doesn't work that way. So you don't want to go to the island with six months left on your clock. And if you find yourself on your way there, you can recognize what is happening and make some course corrections while you still can.

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