Jump to content

13 June 2023

Jangly Days

Written by
Jennifer Garvey Berger

Last Friday was a jangling day for every good reason and no good reason at all. I wonder if this happens to you. For me it’s a free-floating anxiety that ranges from the horrors of climate change to the confusing peril of Artificial Intelligence to the question of whether the mushrooms a friend foraged are safe to put in tonight’s risotto.

For me, the anxiety can be attached to something or not. It can appear on super busy days or somewhat empty ones. But what all these days have in common is that they make my head swirly, and everything around me seems to be a threat. My mind goes to the most catastrophic outcome for any possibility (see risotto, above). My brain ricochets from topic to topic like a fly in a glass. It is a complexity overwhelm day.

I know what this complexity overwhelm is. Carolyn Coughlin and I have written a book about it Unleash Your Complexity Genius to explore the phenomenon of complexity overwhelm and begin to learn what to do about it.  I know that what is going on inside me is that my sympathetic nervous system is lit up, and that really this anxiety is a reinforcing cocktail of particular neurohormones that are useful when facing into a physical threat. This cocktail is much less useful while sitting in front of my computer.

The funny thing is that even though I have literally written a book on this topic, still my impulses are my impulses. And, perhaps like you, I find that my impulses when I’m in this state are exactly and precisely wrong. I look at Instagram which unsettles me even on a good day. I scan the newspaper headlines. I eat chocolate or cheese (sometimes both, though rarely together). I read my emails without taking them in. I experience the classic response, an action urge, and I want to do something—anything—to make this feeling go away. I want to be alone, head down, powering through any problem so that I can finally have a feeling of control. And none of these responses are helpful.

I have learned a thing or two with all of this research though, so after giving into my impulses for a few disagreeable minutes, I began to push against them. We have access to a whole host of things we can do that move us away from complexity overwhelm. Carolyn and I call these our complexity geniuses—those ways humans have of being creative and energized by complexity rather than overwhelmed by it. It turns out there are so many ways for us to engage our complexity geniuses, and we can try them even though our impulses tell us not to. 

So I tried to practice what I preach. I remembered that connection is one of the biggest antidotes to complexity overwhelm. I called a friend. It was funny how much I didn’t want to and struggled to make myself do it and funny how much it helped. Even though I didn’t accomplish anything or make progress on the various things that were swirling around me, I leaned into his joys and worries and shared mine, and I felt surprisingly better afterwards. And then I started this blog, where I can connect with you, Gentle Reader. In this blog space I can imagine some of you who often read and write back to me in the comments (hello Gideon! Hello Asha!), I can consider your potential questions and your interests, and I can pull myself out of this mire. I can wonder about what it’s like for you in this space and what you do to pull yourself out of it (wondering is another complexity genius). And I can experiment with seeking out things that make me laugh (experimenting and laughing are both complexity geniuses).

Eventually, I felt better—working away at this blog, laughing with my friends, engaging with a tricky and interesting challenge a new client sent my way. Engaging my complexity genius makes me feel better able to handle my life. Climate change and AI are still admittedly triggering, but I feel less hopeless when I’m not in complexity overwhelm. And the mushroom risotto was delicious—and non-lethal.

Do you have these jangly days? What complexity genius pulls you into a different headspace? Connect here with us and let’s see if we can help each other!

PS The image today is from a beautiful mushroom growing on one of our trees, but not one I foraged or stirred into risotto.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.