The Anxious Mind
Even the calmest of persons experience anxiety. They may appear unflappable. But, beneath the surface everyone goes through bouts of anxiety. Some are able to cope with anxiety better than others but it spares no one. Like the common cold, anxiety does not discriminate.
In an acute form anxiety can take the form of panic attack. That is a serious condition requiring specialist attention. Sometimes even medical intervention. Like common cold turning to high fever. More so when it turns chronic. But, for ordinary anxiety common sense remedy works well.
Let us stay with the cold analogy for a bit longer. Cold often starts with an allergy. There are triggers for anxiety. Despite best precaution it is sometimes impossible to avoid those aggravating circumstances. What helps is awareness about the presence of those contagious elements in the air.
Only prophylactic for cold is building immunity and resistance to infection. The way to deal with anxiety is by preparing the mind.
Following awareness, the first step is to distance the cause of anxiety. We treat cold as something that has come from outside. In the same way, we need to separate anxiety from our consciousness. The trick is to become an observer. Mindfulness is the key.
Rejecting or wishing away anxiety is not a solution. Nor should we try to bury it in other activities. It will only come back back with a vengeance. (The same is true for OTC anti-anxiety drugs which are habit forming).
Detaching feelings from thoughts can be provide relief. People who seem to have better control over their emotions are able do that. Few are born with such quality. It comes with practice.
Focussing on the feelings and sensations help us to externalise the thoughts. Analyse it without getting caught in the turmoil.
One technique that works for me . I try to visualise what could be the worst consequence. Be it missing a flight or getting a pink slip. Thinking of the extreme forces us to look at fallback options. That alternatives exist make us realise that it may not be the end of the world. That itself can take the lid off the pressure cooker.
The bigger problem is irrational anxieties. A dear friend once told me, any loss that you can measure with money is not a loss at all. The real losses are those that cash or MasterCard cannot buy back.
But, even for those framing helps. Try meditating on the present placing the thought on the subconscious. Focus on the breath or follow the sensations in the body. Immerse yourself in mentally chanting a mantra. The sensory feelings and thoughts drift away like floating clouds against a blue sky. That teaches us about the transience and impermanence of it all.
A calm mind brings other universal truths to the surface. We appreciate that others are coping with similar worries at this very moment. Many have faced similar worries in the past and come out of it. Even when their worse fears materialised they have survived. In the ultimate analysis — nothing or no one is indispensable in this world.
I had once asked a senior monk of the Ramakrishna order how does he deal with anxiety. The revered Swami said he has a simple formula. He puts his worries at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna saying — Thakur it’s your problem you please deal with it.
Surrendering to a higher power is not a sign of weakness or accepting defeat. It is acknowledging of our limitation and being OK with it. It is telling ourselves we are after all human. We are not expected to solve every problem in life. And, that is fine.
This itself can be liberating and take a huge load of our chest. And, from there can spring the solution that we are seeking in a flash.