The Red Queen Hypothesis- Dealing with the anxiety that comes with change.
By: Maria Rodriguez, MLS (ASCP)CM
"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" explained the Red Queen to Alice during the Red Queen's race. As a kid, I was obsessed with Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking-Glass. However, I never expected that a quote from my favorite bedtime story would be so relevant in my life.
For evolutionary biologists, the Red Queen hypothesis states that species must continuously adapt, evolve, and reproduce to survive. For Disease Ecologists, the Red Queen hypothesis not only states that organisms must adapt to survive, but they also need to evolve to get the upper hand in the constant evolutionary arm wrestle against competing organisms. For me, as a young professional, the hypothesis describes how important it is for us to embrace change, evolve, and reinvent ourselves. If 2020 has taught me anything, it is that we have no control over what happens around us, but we control how we react to it. Easier said than done, right?
My closest friends will tell you that I am a little bit of a control freak. I like structure, plans and I like knowing what my next step is. I am not known for rolling with the punches and improvising. I can deal with change, but I won't be running twice as fast to get to it. I will be more like Alice and ask for a break to process what is going on around me. The truth is that change causes me anxiety, and it is something that I have been dealing with for a while now. I like to think I am not the only one on this boat. Thus, I wanted to share some of the strategies that have worked for me to navigate this 2020 full of changes. It has been a bumpy road, but I hope sharing my story will help people who might be going through the same and help them realize that they are not alone.
- Let it out. Put a name to your feeling- For me, it was tough to open up about my struggle. At first, I did not know what was happening to me. I was feeling out of control all the time. I started to hyperventilate and cry out of nowhere. Somedays, it was hard to get out of bed. Suddenly, things that were routine became a huge burden. I was ashamed to tell my friends and family about it. So, I just kept moving full speed ahead. However, that made matters worse when I could not keep up with all my tasks throughout the day. That made me feel more out of control and more like a failure. My best friend noticed that I was not acting like myself anymore. She told me, "You do not have to talk to me. But it would help if you talked to someone. Because whatever this is, it is affecting you on a deeper level than what you are willing to admit." Thanks to her, I started going to therapy. In therapy, I learned that the first step is to recognize the problem and name it. You cannot fight a monster if you are not willing to see it! I realized that what I was feeling was, and still is, real. Talking about it out loud to a third person helped me recognize that the invisible monster I was fighting every day is called anxiety and losing the battle against him causes the panic attacks.
- Don't be hard on yourself- There is nothing wrong with you and feeling this way does not make you a failure. It makes you human. I tend to be my worst and most demanding critic. I have noticed that we are usually more agreeable to people around us than we are to ourselves. I have been working hard on being nicer to myself. Who knew that could be so hard? Something that helped me is thinking about my best friend. If she was in the same place that I am today, would I be thinking that she is a failure who is making no progress in getting better? OF COURSE NOT! I would be proud of her. I would be supporting her every step of the way. I encourage you to apply the same logic. Would you be so hard with your loved ones? If the answer is no, then why are you so hard on yourself? We are all doing our best, and maybe some days are better than others. But it is part of the process, and the truth is you might already be doing better than you think.
- Control what you can and let go of the things you cannot – I already told you I am a little bit of a control freak. I like knowing what is going to happen even in movies and TV shows. (Yeah! I love spoilers. That's how bad I am when it comes to being controlling.) Sadly, I do not have the power to see the future, and life keeps throwing curveballs. Thus, I am learning to work with what I can. I cannot control that when I go to the supermarket, the lady in front of me refuses to wear a mask (like seriously lady, how hard is it?), but I can control that I wear my mask and stay super far away from her. I cannot control that the collectors at the physician's office send tubes without names. But I can reject all those samples and call the office to offer training to prevent this from happening again. I cannot control the unpredictable Winter weather in Montana (If it were up to me, it would be Fall all year long), but I can control how I get ready for it. Ok! That last one was silly, but you get my point. The rule is simple if it is causing you anxiety, let it go! Ignore it! You do you! Be the awesome person you are! And control what you can.
- Find a hobby that relaxes you. Find ME time!- Something that helps me keep my panic attacks in check is doing something that relaxes me. Every time I feel that I am out of control and need something to ground me and bring me back to my senses, I bake. Baking is like my meditation time. Following the recipe and knowing what will come out of it gives me a sense of control. Plus, you get to eat delicious treats after it. I also started running. A happy body equals a happy mind! Going for a long run gives me the chance to meditate over certain things that bother me throughout the day. It also allows my body to release all that extra energy. My best nights of sleep come after a nice long run. I encourage you to find a hobby that makes you happy and grounds you. It does not have to be something super elaborate. Sometimes I just get ice cream and watch a nice feel-good movie or play hours and hours of Just Dance. Look for the thing that makes you smile!
Most importantly: be like Dory in Finding Nemo and "Just Keep swimming." We might not be able to run twice as fast to get somewhere else as the Red Queen says, but we can keep going! In the end, it is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is ok to stop to take a break. Change will always be scary, but you are more than capable of reinventing yourself and evolving to be the best person you can be. We all have our internal battles. You are not alone, and if you need someone to talk to, feel free to reach out. I am always here to help.
What about you? Do you have other mechanisms to cope with change? What activities make you smile? I would love to hear from you guys.