“Our brains cannot tell the difference between something we’ve vividly imagined and something that we’ve actually experienced.” – Tony Robbins.
What do I know?
Before we indulge into this article, I just wanted to clarify a couple of things first. I have absolutely no intention of trying to diminish the difficulties people face in trying to overcome their anxieties, nor am I trying to make it sound like it is really easy and simple to deal with it when it overwhelms us. I am not in any way trying to bring shame to those that have suffered, or still do suffer with this mental struggle.
I am not a doctor, or a psychologist and therefore none of what I say is to be considered professional advice. Also, please remember that each individual experience is unique and what works for some, may not work for others; but ultimately there is something that helps everyone, we just have to find it.
What I am going to do is tell you about my personal experience with anxiety and how I discovered how to manage it and, in most cases, overcome it. Don’t expect to be completely ‘cured’ overnight; like anything we want to achieve, it takes time, persistent and commitment.
Lastly, be open to trying anything in moments of angst; try everything, and then decide what works best from you. Even if you haven’t been ‘officially’ diagnosed with anxiety, there are times in everyone’s lives that they could do with a ‘trick’ to bring their mind back to serenity.
Stay with me, and share with me your thoughts at the end, should you choose to 🙂
Fear, worry and anxiety?
Our species originated and developed from having one sole purpose, survival; with the ‘fight or flight’ mentality enabling us to flourish throughout the history of our ancestors. Yet nowadays we find ourselves constantly challenged by a multitude of new complexities: those that are inherently interconnected with a modern society.
Life can be painful, sometimes we don’t even know what is causing the pain, but you don’t know when that pain is going to end. Your emotions are all over the place, maybe you just want to lay there and cry. You don’t know what to do, you just want to feel human again. You just want the day to be over so you can go to sleep and have a break from the world. Does this sound at all familiar to you?
Some may say “just get a grip”. Or “man up”. Or “it’s your own fault.” In some sense I would be inclined to agree…
But imagine if this is what you’re subject to on a daily basis. Imagine waking up on a daily basis and having to go to work, or go to lectures, or even just interact with society and all you really want is for the day to be over so that you can go home and lay in bed and hopefully, eventually, maybe fall asleep so that you don’t have to deal with the shadow of darkness that reigns over your mind any longer.
This can be what it is like to have to deal with anxiety, and ultimately, this was my experience with it over a number of years.
Anxiety orders are incredibly common and in this modern world the number of cases is cascading into some alarming figures. But what causes it?
Social media use and mental health
The Journal of Affective Disorders published a study in 2017 that found a positive correlation between the increased use of social media sites and anxiety orders in adults. This is not surprising really given that social media gives us instant visibility of everything that we don’t have, instant access to things to compare ourselves too. This can be problematic for those of us that have a tendency to worry about every little thing.
The concept of comparison
Academic studies have linked social media to feelings of low self-esteem, isolation and loneliness in individuals. Given that the human race possesses a natural tendency to compare themselves to others and it has been suggested happiness is confirmed by our ability to match these hypothetical comparisons to our objective reality, it is no wonder that these negative feelings and emotions can develop over time. Much of comparison is to higher status, superficial and materialistic items. We seem to think that our significance in this world is determined by what we have and not that which we are. Social media provides us instant access to means of comparison to everything else in the world and sometimes seeking self-validation through the content we share.
Other people’s opinion?
We seem to have become a part of a cultural phenomenon that constantly seeks approval, giving the responsibility of how we feel to other people.
We have become dependent upon what other people think of us, giving other people’s words and behaviour the power to upset us.
“What other people think about me is none of my business.” – Simon Cowell
Personally, I speak from a place where I used to worry about everything; why are those people looking at me? Why are they laughing? What if ‘this person’ doesn’t like me? What if I upset someone? What if I fail my exam? What if I fail my degree? What if I don’t get a job? What if ‘she’ cheats on me? What if ‘she’s’ attracted to someone else? What if ‘we’ break-up? Maybe they’ll be more liked than me because they have more money, a nicer car, a bigger house? Maybe they’ll be more popular because they’re funnier than me? Maybe girls will be more attracted to ‘him’ because he looks better / bigger than me? What if I’m not perfect? What if what I do isn’t perfect?
Yes, I am male; yes, we worry about this shit too! Or I speak for myself at least, and I am sure I am not alone in it. The ‘what if’ mentality. I used to get overwhelmed by thoughts like this ALL the time; it’s like a domino effect, one thought just leads on to another and in some cases, in the end we end up suffering from anxiety attacks and searching for anything to relieve ourselves from the pain and suffering.
I guess ultimately, it all stems down to the fear of not being good enough for something or someone, or worse, for ourselves.
The fact of the matter is, the human brain is fantastic at just making shit up. If we don’t learn to understand and control our own minds and emotions – it will control us; that is my perception and experience with anxiety.
The words that changed My Life.
“Our brains cannot tell the difference between something that we’ve vividly imagined and something that we’ve actually experience.” – Tony Robbins.
I first heard this whilst on a train listening to “The Edge” by Tony Robbins on Spotify; sometimes it just takes someone to word their perspective in a particular way and it resonates so profoundly with us, a shear moment of enlightenment.
For me all of a sudden, it all made sense; all these worries that I was having were causing me so much pain and suffering, not because they were necessarily true, but because my mind could not tell the difference between what I had made up in my head and what had actually happened. I spent the remaining half an hour of the train journey just laughing to myself. Who knows what I must have looked like, but I didn’t care anymore ;).
Worries, fears and questions like I mentioned above will still arise every now and then; that’s just part of life. It is knowing how to deal with them when they do that has allowed be to conquer my anxiety for what it was.
“One day the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful.” – Freud.
The power of Focus.
As I began to deepen into curiosity as to what causes an anxiety and why so many of us are challenged by it, I discovered the greatest secret of all (in my limited opinion) –
Having anxiety is actually our greatest gift. All of that suffering is actually exactly what we need to thrive in life when we manage to shift our thought perspective. How?
When we experience feelings of anxiousness, in whatever form; it is simply our brain fixating on that particular thought and maintaining an obsessive focus on it. Why? Well our brains are wired to help us survive, to overcome problems and remove ourselves from the path of fear. The problem is that our brains can’t actually do anything about these thoughts, because they don’t actually exist in reality. Therefore, we continue you to focus on what we cannot control. We develop this insane ability to focus on something!
So, what can we control? Well, once we become aware of our thought patterns, the signs, we can absolutely control our own thoughts. What if we shifted our focus then to a thought that made us feel incredible? Imagine we could use this insane ability to focus, that is, our anxiety, to think about something that makes us feel incredible. We can!!
“By taking conscious control of your mind, you can rejuvenate your life.” – James Allen, As a Man Thinketh.
Twelve Tips for managing Your anxiety.
Of course, there is far more to it than just reading one quote that resonates with you so deeply. That really just catapults you in the right direction, but you still have to work on yourself. Commit to improving yourself; constant self-improvement, belief, and self-love. Here’s some of the things I do that I find really help –
- Balance your lifestyle.
- Workout and connect with your body.
- Spend time in nature.
- Eat a healthy and nutritious diet.
- BE grateful.
- Smile and laugh.
- Limit your caffeine intake (This is difficult for you coffee addicts like myself).
- Spend time with great people who uplift you; family, friends, life partners.
- The most important one; Do what you love and stay true to yourself, always.
You don’t have to do all of these, just decide and discover what works best for you. I you have any other habits you have found helped please share them with us. If you would like to know why these help reduce our anxiety, comment below and I’ll write another post.
I have a whole bunch of book recommendations to help you come to understand your mind and how it works, again, shout below if you want to hear what they are. For now, I strongly recommend_ Dale Carnegie’s – How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Great read!!
Fundamentally speaking, our anxiety probably isn’t our actual greatest gift, but this is how I have decided to perceive it in order to use it to my benefit and feel empowered by it, instead of fighting it. And do you know what, a lot of the time it works and I really hope it helps some of you too!
If you haven’t found what works for you yet, that’s okay, you have the most beautiful moment ahead of you when you do.
And, if all else fails, just remember, the sun will set each day and it will rise again the next.
“Even when the sky is overcast, the sun hasn’t disappeared. It’s still there on the other side of the clouds.” – Eckart Tolle.