Archives for Anxiety
Everyone at some point in their life will be affected by depression whether it's their own or someone they are close to. Almost 19 million Americans alone have periods where they feel a lack of pleasure or interest their usual activities combined with feeling tired and heavy, potentially overly emotional or numb, and an onslaught of negative and self defeating thoughts that can keep invading the mind over and over again. The more periods of this depressed mood we have in life, the more likely we are to fall back into them again. Why does this relapse occur and how can mindfulness offer hope? Falling into a depression feels traumatic and just like getting bit by a dog causes us to be fearful of and oversensitive to dogs, our minds and bodies become oversensitive to associations with the depression causing us to react to any sign of it. Feeling low mood is normal for everyone, but if we've experienced depression in the past, this may be a trigger for thinking depression is about to set in again. If we feel tired or if we notice sadness, the mind pops up with the worry "uh oh, that is how I felt when I was
It's as if someone from the outside has decided to play a cruel joke on a large segment of humanity. From the outside looking in they're saying, "Let's turn up the dial and increase the speed of life for these humans and see how much they can take before they naturally combust." We've fallen into a trance of sorts where there's some warped shared understanding that to be busy means we are productive members of society, needed and important. This is supposed to then make us feel good, but at the end of the day it comes with a terrible expense - increased stress, anxiety, depression, cellular inflammation and less time, value for play and taking care of ourselves. The reality is, if we want to increase the general well-being of our culture we need to stop the glorification of busy. Can we begin to accept that it's also okay to lead a calmer and more joyful life? Can we practice and learn to see others who are doing this, taking time for themselves, playing and finding enjoyment in life and rather than meeting them with judgment, practice seeing their joy and being happy for their happiness? Ask yourself, what would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if there were more people who were encouraging of and genuinely happy for the good moments you experience in life? How would that make you feel? And how would it make you feel if you felt genuinely happy for
I often say if there's two things in life that we can't evade aside from death and taxes, it's stress and pain. Suffering is a part of life, but the mindset we layer over it makes all the difference. I have so many examples in my life, and you may as well, where a difficult time was upon me and that very time was the seed which brought on the growth of the next moment. The reality is, we never truly know whether an experience in life is good or bad because we don't know what's going to happen next. In Uncovering Happiness I write about how the deepest, darkest moment of my life was exactly what inevitably opened my mind to seeking out support that led me to where I am today. It was this very experience, and many more like it, that led me to seek out mindfulness, which
We all have difficult people in our lives, it's part of the human experience. Typically, we tend to see them as a nuisance, individuals we have to put up with, or even avoid. This also comes with it's share of suffering. I'm not familiar with the author of the quote above, but the message is worth being curious about. What if we could change our perception to seeing difficult people as messengers or teachers who arouse something inside of us that needs to be cared for or loved? If we do this, might we become less reactive toward ourselves and other people? Inevitably, won't this provide a chance for more relationships to improve? Might it be easier to let go of bitter grudges and move toward strengthening mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness? This isn't Pollyanna, it's a practical approach that can help us focus more on what matters in life. Moreover, consider this: If relationships improve, might that support communities, regions and countries to improve? Is it possible to set off a spark in this way that leads to not only the healing of our individual being, but the healing of humanity? Whoa, that's a bit too large to imagine perhaps, so let's just begin with today and ourselves. Today, try this...
There's a practice I've been doing for a while that is so simple and yet so impactful in working with difficult people and also bringing a sense of balance and perspective in the moment, it's almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver's brain I think you'd see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high. One day while I was driving here I was cut off by some sports car that seemed to be speeding weaving in and out of the car lanes. My teeth locked together and my shoulders tensed and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO. In that moment I realized how tense I was and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars. That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important. My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, "What is it that I'm actually needing right now?" The word "ease" came to mind. So I said...
Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it's best to fill that time with something... anything. Whether we're in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor's office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web. However, the belief that waiting has no value is mistaken. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life and even success, lies in learning how to find peace with waiting. We've all heard the famous adage, "Patience is a virtue" or "Good things come to those who wait." Easier said than done, why? We're not in control of our brains Because underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of waiting is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you're alone that means you're not being protected by your clan and it's a threat to your safety. In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to "be with" so you're not alone anymore. In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you're not. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run our brain, the stronger it gets - or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says, "neurons that fire together, wire together." Using waiting for good
One of the essential commonalities we have as human beings is that at some point or another we all experience some form of suffering. This isn't meant to be a downer, it's simply a fact of being human. Today, you're going to hear from an incredible woman, Toni Bernhard. She is the author of the award-winning book How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers and How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Her newest book is called How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. She also writes a great blog called, “Turning Straw Into Gold." Today Toni talks to us about why the path to peace begins with facing difficult realities, how mindfulness can help with chronic pain and illness, and some of the key lessons she's learned. Elisha: How is this book different from your other book on chronic pain and illness, How to Be Sick? Toni: The new book is broader in scope than How to Be Sick, and it’s organized differently. How to Be Sick is organized around concepts and practices to help people learn to live with grace and purpose despite the limitations imposed by their health. By contrast, the new book is organized around specific difficulties and challenges that people face, such as dealing with others who don’t (or refuse to) understand; making the best use of your short time with the doctor; coping with isolation and loneliness; handling mood swings and painful emotions; the difficult challenge of being young and chronically ill. The new book goes beyond my personal experience because I draw on the thousands of people who’ve written to me about their health struggles. What the books have in common is a liberal use of personal anecdotes, easy-to-learn practices (such as mindfulness and self-compassion), and my conversational style of writing. People tell me they feel as if we’re sitting in the kitchen together chatting over coffee or tea. Elisha: In the introduction, you say the path to peace begins with facing life’s stark realities. What do you mean by that? Toni: I’m referring to some of the inescapable realities of the human condition. First of all, we’re in bodies and they get sick and injured and old. Coming to terms with this opens the door to
We live in a time where there is simply too much to pay attention to. Our nervous systems are overloaded leading many people to disconnect and now we're seeing rising levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, there isn't a single person I know who hasn't experienced these in one form or another. But when you try to convey what anxiety depression really feel like, words never really do it justice. Katie Joy Crawford is a photographer who through her own experience has created 12 stunning photos she calls, "My Anxious Heart" depicting how anxiety and depression feel. Allow this to be a mindfulness practice, take a breath and look at each picture, notice what kinds of thoughts, emotions and sensations arise. Does the picture resonate with you in some way or at some point in your life? A picture is truly worth more than a thousand words. "depression is when you can’t feel at all. anxiety is when you feel too much. having both is a constant war within your own mind. having both means never winning."
A number of years ago I created a free email-based program called "Daily Now Moments." Every day people get an email into their inbox that is meant to inspire a moment of mindfulness or give some practical guidance in the direction of emotional freedom and happiness. One of the practices is called "The Freedom Practice" and I wanted to share it with you because it can be so useful in gaining freedom from styles of thinking that don't serve us and keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression and even our addictive behaviors Sometimes I call these styles of thinking "Mind Traps." Mind traps are styles like catastrophizing, blaming, exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive or just your most common negative thoughts.
The Freedom PracticeWhen you first notice a mind trap or common negative thought, first stop, take an intentional deep breath and from this more mindful space, move through these next four steps (Name, Feel, Release, Redirect):
In a past article, journalist Andrea Chalupa made a Mindful Proposal for everyone to make a plan to take out 24 hours in solitude. She quotes her father, Dr. Leo Chalupa, saying that "A national day of absolute solitude would do more to improve the brains of all Americans than any other one-day program." This might sound scary to some and intriguing to others, but have no fear, this is not going to happen. But what can happen? Thomas Merton said, "Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it." We are in an age where there is no solitude at all and if there were any we'd grab for our phones to make sure there wasn't any. Whether you're in the camp who believes it our not, the pace at which we live our lives and the amount of things we try to pay attention to at once are major recipes for stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviors. Spending time in solitude is actually a very healthy thing to do, it's giving us an opportunity to balance the busyness. It's not only a mindful act, but a self-compassionate act too. Furthermore, the more balanced you are, the better you'll rub off on others, so maybe consider it's something that can might even make the world a a little bit better. So what if we took her proposal to heart, but scaled it back a bit? How about starting with five minutes of solitude per day? Maybe we can even scale it to two sessions of five minutes a day at some point? Why even consider this?