Stress Management Part One: Don’t Be A One-Hit Wonder

2016 November 23
by Dr. Steve Sarche

As the polar ice caps are melting it seems that not only are ocean levels rising, but so are anxiety levels.   In my years of practicing psychiatry, I have found that this calendar year has brought the most collective anxiety I’ve seen in my patients.   This is not a phenomenon isolated to my practice. There are lots of things going on in the world to be stressed about.

This is a time to focus strongly on stress management. It is crucial to know how to manage stress in healthy ways as ongoing, unmanaged stress can evolve to a full blown anxiety disorder.   The difference between stress and anxiety is that stress is what a person feels due to certain situations and anxiety is one potential response to the stress.   The symptoms of stress and anxiety are very similar but the anxiety symptoms are more impairing and remain despite a stress decreasing or changing.   Finally, anxiety can hit, even in the absence of stress. People who are anxious struggle more with stress because they get anxious about feeling stressed. I believe that anxiety disorders are driven by too much input from the “fight or flight” centers of the nervous system.

This year, I came up with a way to summarize or describe how generalized anxiety feels.   It feels like you feel when you are watching a horror movie. There is a constant undercurrent of a fearful feeling that at times becomes a panic feeling. People who are anxious feel like this all the time, even when they are not watching a horror movie. Perhaps the worst part for them is that they know they are not in a horror movie but they can’t stop the feeling.

With the excessive fight or flight input, the first instinct is to flee or avoid.   This tendency has led to a theory I have about one-hit wonder musicians. We can all think of some of those acts, they made a brief appearance on the Billboard charts, often up to number 1, only to never be heard from again. Just for fun, here are the top 10 from VH1 in 2002

Ten: “99 Luftballons” by Nena (1984)
Nine: “Rico Suave”, Gerardo (1990)
Eight: “Take On ME”, A-ha (1985)
Seven: “Ice Ice Baby”, Vanilla Ice (1990)
Six: “Who Let The Dogs Out?”, Baha Men (2000)
Five: “Mickey”, Toni Basil (1982)
Four: “I’m Too Sexy”, Right Said Fred (1991)
Three: “Come On Eileen”, Dexy’s Midnight Runners (1982)
Two: “Tainted Love”, Soft Cell (1982)
One: “Macarena”, Los Del Rio (1993)

(Interesting how the 1980’s, especially 1982, are the clear-cut one hit winners)

Anyway, back to the subject.   My theory about the one-hit wonders is that they are one-hit because of anxiety.   Certain people with anxiety are perfectionists. The drive for perfection is an attempt to control things externally because they don’t feel in control internally.   I propose that if an artist has anxiety and produces a beautiful piece of music that becomes a hit, he never does it again because he is too anxious that the next song won’t be good enough. Instead of putting more music out, he avoids it or tries too hard and produces work that is insincere or seems forced or constrained. I am not diagnosing any of these artists as having anxiety disorders.   The theory could be wrong and there are many other potential explanations for being a one-hit wonder.

Anxiety is intrusive.   It forces its way into your nervous system and it intrusively causes negative feelings, negative thinking and negative, often distorted assessments of the past, present and future.

It makes sense, then, that the first instinct is to flee from that thought pattern and those feelings. The problem with avoidance is that it causes major disruptions in a person’s life. There will be a drop in productivity at work and home. Things won’t get done and therefore problems will get bigger. There will also be social distress. It is a lonely and isolative feeling to be anxious. Sometimes the anxiety is so severe that treatment is needed to help a person stop avoiding.

Don’t be a one-hit wonder and avoid doing things and putting yourself out there just because you are worried you won’t be good enough or that the results will be bad.   Avoidance in and of itself strengthens stress and anxiety. To me, failure is more about not trying and less about results. The list of successful people in business, sports, art, or any field is full of people who have failed at things.   Look at it this way; if we all didn’t spend the first 1-2 years of our lives trying but failing to walk, we would all still be crawling. The fact we all learned to walk means we all started our lives with a hit.

(I will write a second part to this article to focus more specifically on stress management, but here is a spoiler alert: Use self-directed wellness).

PS…

In looking at one-hit wonder lists, I came across a word that was new to me: “Googlewhack”.   This is a term for looking for a two word combination, not using quotes that upon googling will only produce one hit.   As you can imagine, as Google evolves it is getting harder and harder to come up with a one-hit wonder as rare as a Googlewhack.   (This was added to highlight that distraction is another good way to manage anxiety).

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