Mold on the walls is unsightly. Black and green spots don’t exactly make for a beautiful home.
However, painting over that mold is not a viable solution. Sure, party guests won’t notice over the weekend. But although paint may hide the ugly signs of a mold outbreak cheaply and quickly, it won’t remediate our problem.
Even if we buy several cans of that fancy water based fungicidal protective coating, we still have to properly get rid of the mold. Otherwise we’re vulnerable to potential health affects like nasal stuffiness, throat issues, coughing and wheezing, and eye and skin irritation.
This is the perfect analogy for managing our mental health. For those of us who have ever experienced anxiety, panic, mania or depression, we have learned how important it is to treat our source, not just our symptom.
The challenge is, it’s easier said than done. Most of us don’t have the luxury of being curious or compassionate when we’re in a chronic state of fight or flight. We just want the suffering to end.
Hence the paint. Out of sight, out of mind.
Gilbert’s book about the compassionate mind explains why this approach doesn’t work:
Our brains did not evolve for happiness, but for survival and reproduction. We need to learn how to accept, tolerate and work with difficult emotions or low moods.
When my anxiety started manifesting into chronic stomach pain during my twenties, my quick fix of choice was drinking magnesium tea. Surely this new anti stress dietary powder would help me maintain optimal relaxation and regulate healthy nerve function. And it did improve things a little bit, placebo or not.
Mostly, though, it just gave me diarrhea. There wasn’t a wholesale shift in my ability to regulate my emotions. My ability to manage my difficult emotions wasn’t the focus.
And so, the mold, aka, my anxiety, wouldn’t simply go away just because there was a shiny coat of paint over it.
This is the kind of result we get when we treat our symptom, rather than our source. When we start looking for yet another quick fix to solve our mental health issues, rather than stabilizing ourselves so we can do the real work, then we’re just adding another primer onto the wall.
Until the core causes of our anxiety are addressed, aka, the underlying factors that motivate our apprehensive behavior, our struggle will come back again and again.
Business analysts would approach this issue with something called root cause problem solving. Discovering the points of leverage where patterns of behavior originate and can be changed.
Their theory is, our problems are undesired results caused by structural relationships among system components. And so, acting as an analyst of our own behavior, we consider asking a few strategic but also compassionate questions.
What does this emotion want from us?
What is this anxiety trying to tell us about ourselves?
What are we afraid to feel right now?
What components of our life system might be in disrepair?
What relationship needs to heal emotionally so we can feel better physiologically?
It may sound a bit clinical, but then again, we take our peace wherever we can get it.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Are you trying to solve symptoms that you thought were problems?