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“Re-Exposure To Stress Might Provide A Similar Relief From Anxiety”

Updated: Dec 22, 2022

My thoughts on a quote from The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

created by author using Midjourney

originally published here on Medium.

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I’ve been wondering a lot about why I relapse to anxious thoughts, depressive mood, and self-harm impulses whenever I get a just a teensy-weensy stressed/worried.

Yes, some part of it is related to a chemical imbalance in my brain for which I am taking medication. But even on the medication, when I get worried, I get worried, if you know what I mean. My partner hasn’t texted me for a little over an hour? Worried. My dog sneezes? Worried. My cat is not readily visible when I get home? Worried. And not just like, “Oh no, I hope things are okay.” It’s like, “What if they died? What if I did something wrong? How can I fix it?” When I know that I haven’t done anything wrong, at all. I didn’t give them any new food/toys, I didn’t start an argument, I didn’t leave the stove on… It’s a sniffle, for Christsakes, your dog is not dying! And when I read this quote, something clicked for me. I resort to increasing my stress levels because that’s what I’m used to. I function in high levels of stress. When there is no stress, I invent stress so that I can function. Isn’t that wild? Dr. van der Kolk makes this quote after he does an experiment with veterans. On average, they were able to keep their hands in a bucket of ice water 30% longer while watching a violent clip from the movie Platoon (1986) than they were while watching a calm clip. These were veterans who had experienced violence like what they were watching on the film. The triggering memories, the stress, was able to provide them pain relief on the level of (approximated by Dr. van der Kolk) 8 mg of morphine. The author has a lot of therapeutic approaches later in the book that I haven’t gotten to, but I think realizing what I’m doing is a great first step.

Does anyone else invent stress when they’re in a calm environment?

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