By Urvashi Upadhyay, Mindset & Emotional Well-Being Coach
“People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So, the mind becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on”, said Eckhart Tolle in ‘The Power of Now’.
And nothing could be closer to the truth than this for the human mind. There are reasons and explanations for it, as you will read further, however, before the article talks about tips to overcome everyday anxiety, I think it is important to understand what this emotion really is and the purpose it serves.
Anxiety, in simple terms, is a fear or apprehension about what is yet to come. Like any other emotion, anxiety is giving us feedback to our quality of thinking in the moment. It is like an internal GPS that we have, guiding us if our thoughts are off track. It is different from other emotions like anger, sadness, hurt or guilt as these are mostly from events in the past, whereas anxiety is an emotion of the future. The event in question has not happened yet, we are only using the process of imagination to distress about tomorrow inducing fear, inefficiency and negativity. In that sense, it is a serious misuse of imagination.
Imagination is the keyword here. If you can use your beautiful mind to imagine a negative outcome, you can use the same power of imagination to visualize something turning out the way you would like and to focus on your preferred outcome, thereby also energetically supporting it.
What purpose does anxiety serve then? Well, evolutionary speaking, survival is prioritised over happiness. We originated from cavemen who looked out for danger in order to keep them safe. Somewhere, that ‘negativity bias’ still exists in our minds so we are constantly on guard looking out for ways to be safe. The emotion of anxiety exists to protect us, leading us to imagine various negative ‘what if scenarios’ so that we are ‘prepared’ if things were to go wrong.
Think about it, if one thing went wrong for you today and hundreds went right, you are more likely to think of the one thing that went wrong and let that dominate your day, isn’t that true? Humans are not designed to be happy, or even content. Instead, we are designed primarily to survive and reproduce, like every other creature in the natural world. A state of contentment is discouraged by nature because it would lower our guard against possible threats. Our brain is actually designed to ignore all that is working for us!
Pretty much all of us have had an experience with anxiety, it is incredibly common, especially in these unpredictable and uncertain times we live in. Being outside one’s comfort zone can kick off anxiety, trying to stop you from going ahead as it seems ‘unusual’. It’s a primary human need to know about the future. Our brains perceive ambiguity as a threat, and therefore try to protect us by diminishing our ability to focus on anything other than creating certainty. However, it is all the more important that we remain calm in the face of threat to have a resourceful mindset and a phenomenal immune system.
Some strategies that help with anxiety include a daily routine of following the 3M – Mindfulness, Meditation and Movement.
Mindfulness means to be in the present moment with acceptance and non-judgement - where you are not thinking of the past or worrying about the future. It is about focusing on what you want. Whatever you imagine and whatever you focus on, has potential to be true because the mind only understands focus. When feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself that anxious feelings are temporary. Find a way to distract yourself and indulge in an activity that gives you pleasure – anything that gets the mind to come back to the present moment. Mindfulness is at the heart of the next evolution of humanity and those that will survive and thrive will be the ones who can manage their minds effectively.
Meditation, on the other hand, is about connecting with yourself at a deeper level. A great way to have a purposeful morning is to meditate for 5-10 minutes and set intentions for the day. May be close your eyes and do this little exercise - Picture the day ahead (or any particular event you are anxious about) going really well with ideal outcomes. Imagine it turning out in the most perfect way for you. Feel the joy and contentment and continue to deep breathe in that state until you feel better. It’s an act of visualization and you have the power of imagination, so use it wisely!
Another practice to calm your nervous system is grounding. A quick example is the 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique where we use our 5 senses to name 5 things we can see around us, 4 that we can touch, 3 that we can hear, 2 things that we can smell and 1 thing to taste. Research has proven that even though it can seem impossible to stop the negative thoughts spiral, practicing grounding techniques like this and bring us back to the safety of the present moment much sooner. Start and end the technique by taking deep breaths, expanding your belly, pausing and then exhaling slowly to the count of five. Repeat four times.
Last but not the least, movement! Exercise is probably the best antidote to anxiety. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise – do whatever as long as the heart is pumping at a good rate. Our physiology has a direct effect on our state of mind.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring for any of us, we only try, in vain, to be fully prepared for a just-in-case situation, when a better thing to do is to remain resourceful. Remember, you’ve got this! Just because a thought is in your head, doesn’t mean it is real..!