Posts Tagged 'Anxiety'

Me and my Nervous System

It’s official. The stressful part of my summer has begun. Today was my first lecture in the summer anatomy class. I had to discuss every bone, joint, movement, muscle, artery and nerve in the upper limb. I can’t believe I was able to get through it in an hour and a half. I gave pretty much the same lecture last year, so I really had no reason to be concerned about it, but me being me, naturally I was falling apart and nauseous with anxiety in the hour leading up to it.

I get anxiety about everything, which most people would probably be surprised to know. I try to maintain the cool and calm demeanor of a true Gen-X’er who is so disillusioned with life, authority and ambition, that he just can’t be made to care about anything. The truth is I’m probably much more a member of the Millennial generation, in constant worry about maintaining the status quo and trying to please everyone all at once. The fact of my actual age would put me in a hazy area between GenX and Millennial, so maybe both are true. I am certainly disillusioned by authority and I generally try to avoid rules whenever possible (classic GenX features), but I also love group work and am an overachiever (only on paper, not in my heart – why do I feel I have to apologize for doing good work?).

I’ve learned to manage my nerves in the days leading up to whatever terror-inducing event is on the agenda by pretending to not think about it and keep busy with other things. I direct your attention to Exhibit A: my manic house cleaning episode yesterday – a classic mind-diverting tool. This strategy inevitably breaks down within the hour prior to said terror-inducing event and out comes the crazy stomach. I used to curb this by not eating for a day leading up to the event, but now I have acid-related stomach disease so that’s just not an option. I’ve gotten much better in the last few months about eating breakfast every day and staying away from Bloomin’ Onions and any wing sauce higher than Honey BBQ on the Buffalo Wild Wings “levels of hell ” scale. For some unthinkable reason, I had nachos from the hospital today for lunch, further complicating matters. Granted, I got no salsa and only had chicken and cheese on them, but seriously, that cheese product is closer to vegetable oil than cheese.

Getting back to anatomy, I think it’s fascinating how my anxious brain makes my stomach way too acidic and makes digestion happen either way too fast or not at all. The nervous system of the gut is pretty insane. There’s just as many nerves in the gut as there are everywhere else in your body, leading some people to call it “the second brain” or “second nervous system.” In fact, the gut nervous system can act on its own entirely on reflexes without any input from the brain. Just talk to a quadriplegic, once they get the food in their belly, the GI tract just takes over. The fact is though, there are many connections from the brain to the gut nerves that get activated when you smell or see food, making you feel more hungry. I will spare you the lecture on the spinal levels of the Splanchnic nerves and their target tissues. Those connections are all part of the sympathetic autonomic nervous system, or the good old “fight or flight” system. So naturally when I start to irrationally believe that I will suddenly forget how to teach my brain sends my GI tract into utter chaos. Perhaps I should see about severing those connections from brain to gut. On second thought, I’d probably end up paralyzed, so maybe not.

I’ve thought a lot about this and while my nervousness is one of my least favorite personality traits (and one that I hide very well), I’m pretty sure it’s one of the main reasons that I am a good teacher. Very rarely does a student ask a question that I haven’t already anticipated at 3 in the morning. I practice all of my blackboard drawings on my office whiteboard several times to make sure I don’t forget any important details. My goal is that my anxiety and terror can eventually give way to a more sensible sense of preparation sans nausea. Of course last night on “The Next Food Network Star” Bobby Flay ruined my dreams by telling me that he still gets nervous every time he’s in front of the camera. God damn it. BTW, two thumbs down to the judges for sending stand-up comedian Cory Kahaney packing. I was enchanted by her quizzical mix of Mediterranean cuisine and non-stop laughs.

Anyway, the lecture was a success by my own estimation. Most of the students seemed to follow so, if I can read body language, it probably worked for them too. We’ll see tomorrow when I review the important concepts. Of course that will not come without significant brooding and maybe even a little nausea.