Acute Group Anxiety and Independent Survival Mechanisms

That title makes it look like I’m writing a thesis somewhere, doesn’t it?

Don’t be alarmed. This is a casual write-up filled with grammatical errors and misspelled words AS USUAL. But I do need to share a realization I had yesterday.

So, Nikki rides the bus now. And the bus system sent home a letter saying they were going to change the schedule on FRIDAY. Starting FRIDAY, pickup will be at 7am. It has been 7:15 before. So, on Thursday, Donnie got her to the dropoff location at 7:07 (way early for a 7:15 pickup) and watched the bus drive away. He texted me (already at work on the other side of town) immediately and Nikki called me sobbing.

CUE: Acute Group Anxiety.

We were all suddenly experiencing a simultaneous anxiety trigger. Now, this is the type of acute anxiety that we all experience: You forgot your badge at home and can’t get into your building, you’ve hit a traffic jam, you realized you have a test today and you forgot to study: We all experience anxiety in these moments.

Now…here we had THREE people in the same group experience the same event to cause anxiety.

When these chemicals are released in your brain, your evolutionary response is: SURVIVE. The part of you that might evaluate the effects of the group are not making the decisions…only the part of you that can SAVE YOURSELF is in charge. You become hyper-focused on your own survival as an evolutionary mechanism.

When you have three people who are all suddenly super-stressed and who have chemicals surging in their brains that now put them in SURVIVAL MODE…no one makes decisions that are good for the group.

Nikki was in full meltdown mode. With the fight or flight impulse? She wanted to fly. She wanted to just skip school for the day because WHAT IS THE POINT if she’s going to be late? Normally she can work with a team to problem solve but yesterday? NOPE. She was in full breakdown mode because as a kid, that gets you help from adults and that’s how your survive.

I was already at work and my survival hinged on NOT NEEDING TO DRIVE BACK TO THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN. This meant when Donnie expressed that his entire day’s schedule hinged on an early arrival at work, instead of me logically saying, “Well, I actually don’t have anything on my schedule this morning so I’ll make the drive.” Nope. Instead I shot back: “NIKKI CAN NOT BE LATE FOR SCHOOL, YOU CAN BE LATE FOR WORK. LEAVE TO TAKE HER NOW.” This is illogical and if I wasn’t in survival mode because of the surge of chemicals, I would have seen that.

Donnie did not want to be at work late so when I asked Nikki what class was first and she expressed that didn’t matter because she didn’t like that class, he broke into an angry lecture about appreciating the efforts we make to send her to this school and not talking negatively about any of it. Now, non-stressed Donnie would have not even heard her say anything bad about the class because kids say stuff like that all the time, but stressed Donnie? Used that open door as a way to release his anxiety for his own survival.

We were three balls of reactionary behavior in a situation that really needed us all to problem-solve calmly together.

I ended up leaving work and heading to Donnie’s office to meet them. It took me resetting: OKAY, KIM. CALM DOWN. THINK LOGICALLY. IT SUCKS LEAVING WORK BUT YOU HAVE NOTHING ON YOUR SCHEDULE THIS MORNING. THIS IS BEST FOR THE GROUP. That gave Nikki and I a 40 minute commute to her school to calm down TOGETHER. I got her laughing by telling her I was going to storm into the school and say, “ATTENTION MOTHER F*CKERS!” and since I rarely curse, she thought that was the most hilarious thing ever. We talked our way through our stress on the drive and while it definitely tainted her day, she was out of the meltdown mode and able to see the big picture again.

We also talked about how we were all in “survival” mode and none of us were handling it well. We talked about how we all would have done things differently if we weren’t slaves to our brain chemistry in those moments. We talked about how we can recognize that in the future and how, maybe we can trying to stay tethered to the “group” when crisis occurs instead of thinking only about ourselves.

It was a learning experience. Something good for all of us to understand. Even though none of it would have been necessary if the DAMN BUS SYSTEM HADN’T STARTED THE NEW SCHEDULE A DAY EARLY.

I’m probably not over that part yet 🙂

6 thoughts on “Acute Group Anxiety and Independent Survival Mechanisms

  1. Wooow I can easily see how this is a stressful situation and how tempers/ nerves are frazzled and situations exasperated by survival mode. What is amazing how you can step back and evaluated it after the action, move on and steer your kid back into a good humour.

    Score team Zoot!

    I was immediately projected back to childhood by your post and the frequent explosions that my father would have by day to day when we were kids . I understand now that his brain chemistry just wasn’t able to deal with it. Thankyou for helping me make this connection and understanding of why he was so angry.

  2. Fraulein N says:

    You are like an amateur therapist, dude. Seriously, that’s AMAZING that you were able to snap out of the anxiety spiral and help the group. This is where your empathy comes in handy, letting you see everyone’s point of view even when you’re dealing with your own emotions.

  3. Colleen says:

    We’ve definitely experienced this sort of thing in our family! I hadn’t thought about it this way before!

  4. Kelli says:

    I am horrible about succumbing to explosions of stress and anger. When it happens, I try really hard to take deep breaths and reframe my brain. Then, I tell the kids “hey, let’s turn this day around. It’s not too late.”

    It sounds like you ended up handling it perfectly, despite the faulty start. You are teaching Nikki valuable lessons!! Good for you, Zoot!

  5. Elaine C. B. says:

    Wow, what a crappy start to the day. I’m so happy you were able to prevent the small downward spiral from becoming an all-consuming one! And seriously, what is with the bus schedule? I would have been livid, too! I hope you gave them some sort of feedback on that; it has huge impacts to families. Also, happy Friday!

  6. Julie says:

    I am not a physician but after reading that I am going to go on record as saying that you all have very healthy amygdalae.
    (which I just learned is the plural of amygdala. I wanted to type amydalas but that is wrong apparently!!!)

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