These 3 Things Can Permanently Shift Anxiety Out Of Your Life
Years before I started my daily spiritual practice, I spent most of my time in a state of worry. I was nicknamed “the worrywart” in my junior year of high school and it was actually published in that yearbook. Worry consumed my life. It gave me a stomach ache to the point I would throw up before school or feel nauseated every day at school. Then the worry intensified, as I worried I would throw up at school and embarrass myself.
From there it became anytime I was in public. Looking around my surroundings, I needed to find the “exit” sign in order to have an escape route. I was consumed by worry and the “what ifs” of life to the point it was debilitating. I would leave class early, I would avoid public places, and sometimes I would lose control and vomit.
I felt unhappy and I was losing my social life. I wanted the worry to go away. I wanted change. I wanted to release the fear that throwing up in public was causing me. I mean, so what if I threw up? What’s the big deal and what is the worst thing that can happen if I did? Good news is, I am stubborn and also curious, so my inner detective decided that in order for me to change, I had to know how my mind worked and how I could work with it to start to loosen the grip anxiety had on me.
Thoughts that circulate in the mind and ruminate over and over in circles, like the spirals of a tornado, is a medical condition called rumination. And just as a tornado is destructive, thoughts of worry and anxiety are equally destructive. They keep us in the doghouse and keep us suffering.
Rumination is a punitive form of self-punishment. Rumination is repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion or resolution. Adding more wind to the storm, the repetition and the feelings of inadequacy to stop the thinking raises anxiety even more, which creates a positive feedback loop, meaning the brain neurons are set on repeat. Ruminating is worsened by the brain’s inability to flexibly generate solutions and the chemistry of neurotransmitters that are hardwired in, both making it hard to switch to another perspective to find the way out of problems.
The brain is like a computer in that the memory of the brain stores the experiences of the past and draws upon those past experiences to explain what it expects in the future. For example, when I entered into a situation of being in public, even if it were for something fun, my brain lit up connections to the times I was a worrisome worry wart at school and it would give me the same nauseated feeling of anxiety. Fortunately, as with any computer program, we are able to upgrade to new brain software programming.
If you are dealing with any form of anxiety from the worry or wonder about life’s “what if’s” that leave you with the taste of anxiety in your mouth or stomach, there is something you can do to change it.
Here are three steps you can use to change your inner programming:
- Allow the worry to change to curiosity. What was it that you are actually so afraid of? In my case, was it the puke? Losing control? Having people laugh at me or get grossed out? And then what would happen, would I die? No. By focusing on the why, it shifted my focus onto a bigger picture, which actually distracted me and took me out of the circulating thoughts.
- Give yourself choices. You can leave the situation that causes you discomfort just to meet it again somewhere else, or you can stay and breathe through it. You have control over this choice. In the beginning of my practice, I left the situation more often than not, but over enough times of running from feeling my discomfort, I eventually decided to stay when I realized that I never actually threw up. I made a choice to live with the discomfort and carry on anyway. And by making this choice to allow the discomfort, it actually loosened its grip on me. My brain softened into a new direction which eventually broke up the internal storm of thoughts.
- Give your anxiety a voice. Let your anxiety speak to you. My anxiety said to me, “I am fearful of losing control because I don’t have enough control in my life right now and I need to feel safe”. By voicing that fear, was another step I needed to take back my personal power. By voicing my fear, I could then change the message I was saying to create a new positive affirmation…”I am safe and am willing to let go of the fear”.
These three things give new choices that shift your power:
- Clarity of voice
In combination, these tools gave me a new outlook and a way to practice staying in the moment and leaving the twister of my mind, the circulating ruminating thoughts of anxiety. It is possible to see clearly, moving past the storms and into the center of the calm of who you are.
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