Archives for Anxiety


How to Mindfully Deal with Difficult People (and Save the World)

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...

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STOP: The Surprising Power of Waiting

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

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How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: An Interview with Toni Bernhard

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
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12 Striking Photos Depicting Depression and Anxiety

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.
"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."

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Four Steps to Freedom from Negative Thinking

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 Practice

When 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):

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A Mindful Proposal: Can You Handle 5 Minutes of Solitude?

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?

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The Key Mindset that Can Never Lose

Life is full of ups and downs and often times because our brains our wired to pay attention to the negative more, the losses are magnified, rehashed and fertile ground for self-criticism. Maybe you fall short on a test, don't get the feedback you were expecting from a work project, end an intimate relationship, keep falling into bad habits or continue falling into bouts of stress, anxiety or depression. We see all of these as negatives in life.

But the key mindset that turns on this on it's head and catalyzes growth and happiness is the learning mindset.

This is a single thread that weaves throughout Uncovering Happiness and also the newest release MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. 

Every single experience in life contains information to help us get better and better with our intentions in life.

If you've followed my writings you know I'm a big fan of a short phrase to help us grow from the inevitable obstacles of life:

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What Does It Mean to Let Go?

In this human life we get our share of joys and our share of sorrows. The brain is wired to hang onto the fears and sorrows more than the joys so that it guard against what's uncomfortable and keep us safe. However, in doing this we have the experience of holding onto the difficult in our lives and many of us would enjoy the ability to "let go" a little easier.

One of my favorite paths in teaching isn't through the intellect, but through poetry which can reach beyond the rational brain and more directly to the emotional brain where our decision making and "holding" lies.

Here is a poem that speaks directly to the possibility of letting go.

Pause...Take a Breath...Read...See What Arises

She let go
She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
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Learn to Forgive Others No Matter What

A little while ago I wrote a post around the importance of learning how to practice self-forgiveness. In that same vein it is essential to learn how to practice forgiveness no matter what. This may sound extreme, but let me explain. Forgiveness, as you may have heard or experienced, is simply the act of letting go of the burden that you carry from another person who has hurt you out of their own pain, ignorance or confusion. It's a practice of freeing up your energy to focus on things that incline toward your own health and well-being or the health and well-being of others.

There's a saying:

"Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get hurt or die."

The reality is holding onto resentment, literally keeps our cortisol running and makes us sick.

The wonderful thing about forgiveness is it really only takes one to tango. You only need one person to forgive - you! You don't even need the offender.

Right now, if you have someone you're holding a grudge against or are resenting, imagine the two of you tied together in a tug of war and imagine the cord being no longer have the tension of the rope, you are free!

Of course it's not often this easy and it's a practice to forgive, but what else is there to do? Hold onto the resentment so we continue to suffer? We've already been hurt, why continue to inflict further suffering on ourselves?
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”—Paul Boese
If you are open to letting go of the resentment-habit and opening up to a better future, play with the following short forgiveness practice from The Now Effect:
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Learn to Forgive Yourself No Matter What

One of the greatest, most unproductive and destructive mind traps many of us face is self-blame. It's as if the brain doesn't know what to do with the uncomfortable feeling that's there and it projects it inward. I've never seen a single example where self-blame is constructive. We all make mistakes in life, some greater than others. But there is a simple truth in life that is worth understanding, we all do the best we can with what we know in any given time.

It could never be any other way.

There's a simple thing to practice that can bring us back to our senses with a bit more self-compassion. This inevitably will lead to greater ease, understanding and refocus us on a more constructive path of health and well-being sooner. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it.

No matter what you've done, it doesn't serve you or anyone else to stew in self-blame. What would serve yourself and others more is     moving into a place of understanding and making peace with yourself. From this space you are better able to more constructively serve yourself and others.

In Uncovering Happiness I share a very personal story where in my twenties I was incredibly destructive to my mind and body. I would be constantly caught in a web of blaming myself for the things I would do - only to do them again.

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