Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Anxiety: How the Speed of Adaptation Matters

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I shared an apartment with two other friends.  One of which I gave a spare key to my car just in case I ever locked myself out of it.  One day the two roommates decided to play a prank on me and when I got off work one evening and got in my car, little did I know they'd been inside of it while I was working.  As I turned the key in the ignition, every possible electronic device in the car came on (it was the early 1980's... so the car was probably a late 1970's model).  The windshield wipers sprung to life and began flapping, the signal lights clicked on with their tapping, and the radio had been turned on and cranked up to a loud pitch.  So, as you can imagine it shocked and jolted me and I fumbled around in a daze trying to shut things off before finding a giggle inside me about the whole thing.  "Good one!" I thought.  "Those little rascals."

When I arrived home my two roommates had been eagerly awaiting my arrival and were giddy with delight to see my expression as I came through the door.  "You two!" I said, laughing.  "You scared the crap out of me!"  It was a fun and harmless prank, but a good example of sensory adaptation.  In the car, my senses had not had time to adapt to the sudden onslaught of action, activity and noise that sprang to life when I turned the key in the ignition.  So I was jolted into a little bit of shock and alarm.

In this year of COVID we had a slower form of adaptation as we gradually adjusted to things that had to change, such as less driving, less exposure to work environments, less customers, less trips to the store, less noise, less touch, less talk, etc.  And though it was a gradual change, we could say that the adaptation we made regarding COVID was actually much faster than the speed that normal human adaptation typically takes.  

And now that the vaccine is rolling out bit by bit, we are slowly attempting to adapt once again to what will be a seemingly gradual increase in stimuli.  Yet, in reality, it's actually another rapid change when compared to normal human adaptation as seen in evolution.  In the same way I found myself fumbling and flustered to shut down the various forms of stimuli in my car so long ago, we may soon find ourselves struggling to adjust to a return to higher levels of stimulation that we have had no time to adjust to, and though it will be much more gradual than that which I experienced from my two life-traveling-partners so long ago, we most likely will feel an increased level of frustration as things begin to pick back up and push us once again to adjust to levels of stimuli we are no longer used to.

If you think about it, you will recognize this feeling of frustration because you most likely experienced it when COVID first began.  Many of us were forced to adapt a little each day and a little more each week, until we were annoyed that we could no longer adhere to what our daily routine and schedule had been just days and weeks before.  But now that we've spent a year creating an entirely new routine and schedule, it is about to be interrupted to make room for change once again.

What this is already looking like is that some folks are having an increase in anxiety as they slowly become aware that they could be asked to come out of the shells they went into during COVID.  I am hearing more and more people afraid of returning to the rat race, of being asked to return to the offices they once worked in, or of jumping back into the daily traffic they have not had to fight for a year now just to get to and from work.  Many are already wondering how they will make an eventual return to the world of social contact they have not had to experienced for the last twelve months.

With anxiety our body either gears up to fight or run, and in some people right now anxiety levels are rising as would be expected in the normal fight or flight response.  In our modern world the "fight" usually means asserting ourselves or having some form of confrontation.  And the things that are leading to an increased awareness that assertiveness or confrontation might be in order are that many workers are realizing they might need to have a talk with their bosses about the possibility of a permanent change in the location and schedule of how they work from now on.  COVID has opened up a lot of possibilities and working from home has brought to light an awareness that a new hybrid of worker location may be in order even when there is no pandemic.  

So stress levels are increasing in two areas:  For one, it will be important to pace yourself in regard to a returned exposure to the world.  If you have been isolating inside, it might be a good idea to try some short practice trips into the world that feel safe and exercise all the COVID-19 protocols, but that also help you begin your gradual adjustment to more exposure to the world than you have had over the last year.  And two, if you have discovered some nice changes that this year of COVID has made in your life, it's going to be important to assert yourself and let your voice be heard so you can make any health and stress adjustments you think would be beneficial to your work-life schedule.  Most likely you are not going to be alone as many people have really enjoyed working from home and have found they prefer schedules that allow them all the time they need to get their work done while keeping a closer contact to home and family.

Whatever area will be calling for your adaptation, be sure to take it slow.  My example at the opening of this blog entry is a funny extreme of the shock factor when gradual adaptation has not been given the time it needs to do its magic.  COVID has pushed us to change much faster than evolution might normally push us, and the constant prolonged change is also taxing on the human nervous system.  Be sure to take things at a pace that works for you and see where you can make some necessary changes stick, while letting others go.

Thanks to RANT - 73 - Digital Art for the photo,