Here is a list of books for coping with anxiety: Stop Obsessing!:How To Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions by Edna B. Foa, R. Reid Wilson Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, Beverly Beyette The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle Retrain Your Anxious Brain by John And Daylle Deanna Tsilimparis & Schwartz Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel B. Smith The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan W. Watts The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts by Lee Baer
As a human we experience thousands of thoughts a day. We hold on to the ones that evoke an emotional response, happiness, sadness, loneliness, despair, shock and so on. From the thoughts we have held on to, we start to create a personalized connection with the idea, “why did I have that thought?” or “this is truly what I want” or “I can’t wait for this to happen”. This habitual response to thoughts has been a roadblock to combating mental health and ultimately living more content and fulfilling lives. Imagine an Internet webpage that is receiving thousands of pop-ups a day. Some are about finding love, winning the millions, luxury vacations others are viruses, pornography and scams. What do we do? We close the pop-ups, we install pop-up blockers, and we continue on to use the webpage. If we use this analogy for our mind we can see a similar pattern, our mind is the webpage and our thoughts are akin to pop-ups some are fantasies others are nightmares. If we just allow the pop-ups to be pop-ups nothing more, we can develop a pop-up blocker within our very own consciousness to sever the response towards these ideas.
I know it sounds odd why wouldn’t we want to enjoy our fantasies of winning millions or falling in love? The reason is the flip side of this is much more harmful when we allow ourselves to fall into these ideas. Fantasizing about love actually leads to feeling alone, fantasizing about money actually leads to amplifying the lack of money you currently have. All these “wishes” highlight the “lack of” in the present. This leads to us feeling more inadequate, and less fulfilled. I am not proposing that we don’t want to better ourselves, or achieve things, or that we should just accept our circumstance. I am merely suggesting that not being able to feel content within our current situation will lead to not being content when our wish list is achieved either. Because this isn’t a mechanism that can be fixed by the external, it is an internal habitual behavioral pattern that we have to recalibrate. So, when we are trying to accomplish things or better ourselves it is not coming from a place of lack of, or it is not coming from a place of inadequacy. It is coming from a genuine place of ambition and inspiration. Meditation taught me how to use the practice as a tool to recalibrate my distorted thought patterns.
How meditation works:
There is not a one size fits all when it comes to meditation, there are many different approaches. I will share what I find most effective in my practice:
I like to meditate first thing in the morning, I find this helps start off the day refreshed and positive. I like to find a quiet spot in my house, or even just sitting on my bed. When I first started I did 5-10 minutes every morning, it was difficult for me to get into meditation because I was self conscious about if I was doing it right. I even felt a lot of anxiety at the beginning, because I was forcing myself to sit with my thoughts. The very thoughts that drove me crazy. Anytime I found myself getting too anxious I would take a break, breathe and try again. Overtime it got easier and more natural, and eventually a beautiful thing happens. I started to observe my thoughts and did not allow myself to be consumed by them anymore. I tried my best to not identify with the noise and overtime I learned the powerful tool of mindfulness.
It is not just the act of sitting silently in a specific position that matters with mediation it is the act of being mindful of your thoughts that can ultimately loosen the grip anxiety has on us.
Meditation takes time and practice, at the beginning I really challenged myself to meditate by making it apart of my routine. I had a calendar beside my bed that after each day of meditating I would cross off the date. Eventually, after seeing my commitment the momentum kept pushing me to keep at it.
Here are some great tools that can help in the meditation practice:
Life is hard, that is true for every person no matter what culture, upbringing, intelligence or beliefs. Life is full of experiences, these experiences shape our memory and our memories follow us for the rest of our life. We hold onto pain, happiness, grief and so on. We maneuver through future events with those lasting imprints. We all are interconnected, characterized by the need for affection, love and accomplishment. As a child we start off by being curious, ignorant and most of all innocent. Then “life” happens, parents, relationships, health, and our careers may let us down. Some people come out unscathed, some are extremely impacted and others will be slightly impacted. For those of us who are left impacted in the collateral damage of our “life” we enter a journey. The journey: of trying to figure out how to sever the tie between our mental state and being happy.
Being able to separate thoughts and our conscious mind is integral when combating mental wellbeing. Our brain is wired to try and find solutions to problems, the mind presents the solutions and we hold on to the ones we believe are logical. The key thing here is that we believe they are logical, not realizing that the gatekeeper of these thoughts can actually be illogical. For example, lets use negative self talk: “I am fat”, “I am never going to find someone”, “I am not productive”, “I am unworthy” and the list goes on…This negative self talk can be excruciating, and difficult to get out of. The mind starts to play this recording over and over again, and because it feels real it must be real, I must be genuinely not worthy. These feelings turn into suffering and the mind has now impacted our ability to disconnect from these ideas.
I know this because I was there; I never realized that there was a difference between my thoughts and myself. I always believed that if I thought something that it came from me and that it is connected to the core of my existence. I genuinely believed that the thoughts represent who I am as a person. It took me a while to understand why I suffered with panic attacks, intrusive thoughts and constant worrying.
Life with anxiety is extremely difficult, demoralizing and can halt the ability to get up and live day to day. There is also an unfortunate stigma connected to anxiety, I know personally that I felt weak and afraid. I finally hit a breaking point last year when I could not tolerate the agony of my anxiety anymore and pushed myself to start searching for tools to help me with my mental health.
The past year has been a beautiful and life changing experience for me. I discovered incredible books, meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy. I want to provide the resources that helped me so much to others, and try and normalize the conversation around mental health.
A wonderful idea from Intelligent Change:
Imagine how it would feel starting every day in a positive mood, energized, ready to take on the world. Instead of mentally replaying all your life’s problems and pulling the covers over your head, you chose to take control of your mind and focus on the good.
What exactly is a Gratitude Journal?
On a very basic level, gratitude journaling involves writing about things for which you are grateful.
On a deeper level, gratitude journaling helps unwire any negative patterns you may have. By keeping a journal, you develop a practice that keeps you accountable to getting the results you want while developing appreciation and enjoying happier days.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is structured around the idea that our thoughts influence our feelings and behavior. The idea being that if we can change our reaction to the thoughts we can in turn change our behavior. Over time something that used to be triggering no longer is, and something that usually would become trigger no longer has the same hold on an individual.
When my anxiety got really bad, I started searching the web for answers on how to cope with anxiety provoking thoughts. I ended up finding lots of information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I started to look for a CBT trained therapist and ended up finding one who uses CBT and Mindfulness. The process was not easy at all, but definitely worth it. I was able through working hard and being guided by my therapist to challenge my thoughts and ultimately change my perspective.
For example, the idea that I was inadequate would before evoke a response of “I feel inadequate so it must be true” after cognitive behavioral therapy the response changed to “ I accept the presence of this thought, and I know it is just a thought”. The most gratifying experience of cognitive behavioral therapy is when I was able to recognize that I not only had a pattern of negative and self-consuming thoughts, but I had thousands of thoughts. When I was able to observe the other thoughts, I then was able to push the self-consuming thoughts in the same backdrop. I had no response to them, they were just the same as the thousands of other thoughts I had. I started to view my thoughts differently, and was able to watch them come and go with no judgment and no attachment.
I also learned that my thoughts were not connected to the core of who I am as a person. And that the “What if…” is not something that can ever be answered no matter how long and how much time I spent ruminating about the thoughts.
I still have moments of anxiety, but I now have the tools and resources to tackle it much more effectively. My anxiety is no longer crippling, and I am able to live a much more healthier and fulfilling life.
“You are not your mind.”
– Eckhart Tolle