Communications anxiety

2017-10-18

in Internet matters, Language, Psychology

I suppose it’s at least as old as the letter, but communications anxiety (COMANX) has some notable features. Whenever one feels it is possible that a psychologically difficult message will arrive via any medium — whether it’s by mail, telephone, email, text, or Facebook — it sets up the mind to be constantly apprehensive. Every moment of time that passes is either one where such a message is received, or where you’re still waiting.

One option, which I think is frequently healthy, is to limit the time periods in which electronic messages can become known to you, especially when it comes to asynchronous forms of communication like email and Facebook. There is still anxiety associated with the knowledge of being disconnected and the apprehension of the waiting message queue, but to my mind it’s way less stressful than trying to do other things when a message could literally make itself known to you in a fraction of any passing second. (This is one reason why the ‘phone’ part of an iPhone is very stressful, and airplane mode is a blessing for the anxious.)

In the end, even going to live in the Burmese jungle (“You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”) is only a partial remedy to living in fear of the message that could come: the rejection, the admonishment, the confirmation of bad news, the doomed appeal for help.

As is so often the case in modern life, each of us is left with Margaret Atwood’s six options for dealing with the apocalypse: Protect Yourself, Give Up and Party, Help Others, Blame, Bear Witness, and Go About Your Life.

When you decide to protect yourself, please ask: “At what cost to others?”

We can all destroy ourselves by abandoning self-care activities, but check mentally that your “partying” activities are mitigating rather than multiplying your stressors.

Blame can be important in two ways. One is for the historian, and it’s the eventual recognition that something which was done was a great evil. The other has the power to avert the evil if it is applied with speedy effectiveness. Using blame to control people is complicated and risky, you may harm them for no reason, and you may not make them behave as you wish.

Helping others is a universal good as far as I’m concerned, but you must be mindful about what is help and what isn’t and the limits of your understanding. The other night, I saw a raccoon up in a tree in the park north of Ontario’s legislature. A bunch of gawkers with lights and cameras were watching this raccoon and discussing what they ought to do to help it. This is a creature that lives on garbage, dodging terrifying bright-eyed fast-moving lethal monsters (cars), but which is nonetheless in no need of human help in a tree. Short version: don’t assume that what would seem like “help” to you in your imagined version of another being’s situation as definitely being the thing that should be done. Humility is important, especially in the apocalypse.

Bearing witness is inevitable, at least if you are emotionally sensitive enough to have any understanding of what I mean by communications anxiety. The day you start to catalog forms of anxiety is a bit of a watershed moment. Anything in your life that has led you to develop a sophisticated catalog system is probably something that will be important to you for as long as your consciousness holds together.

Go About Your Life: but how?

COMANX is a form of fear of the future, of what’s still in the darkness ahead of you. Trying to stay awake, eyes peeled, looking ahead will unmetaphorically and entirely really kill you until you die and very quickly. If anxiety is something present enough for you to categorize and you live in the modern world, you already have strategies for dealing with the challenges of constant connectivity through multiple means.

Aside to people currently worried about me: a flipside of our society’s attraction to what is happening right now can be an inability to have appropriate compassion for people describing events long-past. It seems urgent and pressing to you because it’s new information, but you shouldn’t necessarily dramatically reinterpret how you see a person or dramatically change your behaviour. It would be much better to find someone currently in distress and give them loving, compassionate, nurturing attention. (Not me please! I would prefer to have some space for a while.)

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