Stilling the Mind and Overcoming Anxiety

Update: My friend Chris and I recorded a podcast about social anxiety and exposure therapy. You can access the podcast on Spotify and through the website.


Finally writing this article. I think I put off writing an article about anxiety for so long because it gave me anxiety to think about anxiety, or to even admit that I have it. Interestingly, as I started to break down the causes and triggers of my anxiety, I felt freed from it. Contradictory to “what you think about, grows,” I actually give the true me more power by listening to subconscious cues and messages from the universe rather than overcomplicated constructions of the mind. Especially those signals to surrender, let go, give up perfection, strengthen my boundaries, and speak my truth.


Personal journey with anxiety: As a kid, I was constantly praised for being bright, smart, etc., reinforcing intellect as a static, unchanging part of my identity, to the point where my ego would buckle under the pressure of mentally underperforming. We can’t always be “on.” For many years, I preferred writing over speaking. I was afraid to be judged for my words, and writing appealed to my perfectionist side. Journaling and meditation have proven to be powerful anxiolytics.


Dreams are a portal to the subconscious: The beach is one of my favorite places to be. However, I used to have recurring dreams about drowning in the ocean. The water level would start to quickly rise without warning, and while trying to escape, my feet would get caught in the sand and I would get consumed by the ocean. I eventually interpreted this as a message that I am feeling overwhelmed by an external force–something that’s “not me.” Meditation, breathwork, and journaling regularly have kept these tsunami dreams at bay.


Nobody else in this universe is YOU: Nobody knows you better than yourself for the sole fact that your body is your vessel, and only you can read your thoughts. It’s up to us to make ourselves known, speak our truth. Nobody else can tell you who you are. You deserve to freely live your life. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.


Overview:

  1. What is anxiety?

  2. What causes it?

  3. How can I overcome it?



What is anxiety?


1. Expectations


We attach notions of what we “should” be or do to our identity. You are your own harshest critic and notice minute mistakes you make. The ego then projects these insecurities onto other people. The sense that people are watching, analyzing, or judging us turns what we do into a performance. The thought or fear of others perceiving or judging us a certain way is an ego-generated assumption, a self-limiting belief. Linked to this idea is impostor syndrome, the feeling that you don’t deserve your success, or feeling unnatural and “fake.”


2. Fear


Anxiety ranges from discomfort to dread to panic. Plainly and simply, anxiety is rooted in fear. Fear of sticking out; fear of being unapologetically you. Fear of vulnerability; fear of judgment. Fear of being alone with oneself; fear of deeply evaluating any mismatches between thoughts, values, and actions. The list goes on. The ego seeks to preserve itself at all costs. Status quo is a reflection of ego.


3. Misalignment


Anxiety is a message from our intuition about misalignment between mind and body. We may feel intuitively called to take action (i.e. it’s in our essence to seek something from the universe), while our physical self is not healed and is holding us back. We may be doing something that we would much rather not do. Alternatively, we may be avoiding an important task. In the cases of both escape and avoidance, intuition tugs you away from your body’s situation, and that creates dissonance. Eventually, this anxiety may create enough turbulence to activate physical change and/or catalyze a spiritual shift.



What causes anxiety?


1. Neurological patterns


Consciousness evolved by necessity of adapting and learning in order to survive. Thinking and focusing on the negative allows us to anticipate and solve problems and seek a better situation for ourselves.


2. Cultural fear conditioning


We are surrounded by marketing strategies that distort perceptions of success and happiness. Social media can lead to comparison and instill the sense that we never have enough or aren’t good enough, feeding into the illusion of scarcity. Entertainment and social media may also plant false ideas about self-worth and feed into the illusion of separation.


3. Toxic energy


Negative comments from peers and family may take years to let go of, especially from childhood imprinting. Often, people are just projecting, reflecting their recent surroundings or the state of their ego. We must understand that we cannot control other peoples’ words and actions–they are reflecting their perception, and their comments and judgments have more to do with them than us. We can only control our response to them.


According to The Holistic Psychologist, when weighing the value of someone’s opinion, ask yourself:

  • Does this person have a life I would want for myself?

  • Do they have high emotional well-being?


4. Emotional sensitivity


The understanding that everything is connected evaporates the separation between self and surroundings. If you are a highly sensitive person, you readily pick up on and absorb others’ emotions. This can be draining. As a coping mechanism, you may put up walls that prevent connection.


5. Holding on


Anxiety has as much to do with the past as the future. Identification with or attachment to our thoughts, memories, past, intelligence, appearance, or external validation can result in anxiety. You are not your mind, and here’s why: your thoughts are temporary; brain states reflect energy levels. These things are dynamic and don’t get at the true essence of us.


6. Perfectionism/need for control


Inner criticism includes beating yourself up over mental performance (intelligence, memory, problem-solving), social performance (e.g. confidence, charisma), or appearance. The phrase “What we focus on, grows” can lead to meta-anxiety. Anxiety about anxiety. We are afraid to confront our anxiety head-on because we are afraid we will give it more power. However, this is just the opposite.



10 Reminders and Antidotes to Anxiety


1. Grounding in the body


Anxiety manifests as physical tension: tightness, overwhelm, and stress in the body. Attend to your physical health through bodily awareness, attention to posture, breathing, and moving around regularly. This is all contributing to waves of flow transmitted by your spinal cord, your sympathetic nervous system. Your gut, heart, and lungs are connected via the vagus nerve to the brain. These organs are more afferent than efferent (they’re more of a transmitter than a receiver of brain signals), and they provide the window to the subconscious. This means you can essentially “reset” your brain by moving your attention to your whole body instead of your mind.


2. Do it within 5 seconds


Speak from your heart instead of living inside your mind. Do what feels natural; follow your intuition without hesitating.


3. Acceptance


Be okay with yourself, because you’re always learning and there is beauty in imperfection, just as there is strength in struggle. There is no one else quite like you. Don’t forget where you come from, so you can be absolutely amazed at your progress.


4. Don’t blunt who you are


Anxiety can be a side effect of being an intelligent, empathetic, highly sensitive person. Be courageous. Acknowledge you feel so deeply because you’re kind. Softness is a superpower. This opens you up to connection with others. Speak your truth. Don’t allow society to mold you–you have the power to mold society!


5. Still the mind


We are constantly in flux on many levels (circadian rhythmically, hormonally, energetically). This awareness of balance allows the higher self to emerge. Stilling the mind and focusing on breath leaves no room for anxiety. Instead, consciousness builds and ripples with creative complexity.


6. Be present


You are always in the midst of a new beginning, a precise, unique coordinate of life in space and time. Your essence is revealed by flow and motion, not immobility and overthinking. When we let go and surrender to wonder and simple joys, we simplify the act of being, experiencing, living, and in the process, get closer to the essence of our selves. When we ground ourselves in being, we start to realize our untapped power and freedom to alchemize our destiny. Your mind configures the “past” and “future;” your soul re-wires you for living in the present and enjoying the divine experience of existing. Living in the present is the only way to guarantee you will live life to the fullest. There is never not “now.” So why is there ever “not now?”


7. Letting go


Reduce your attachment to moments past, especially the small ones–mistakes don’t define you. Let go of “should,” projections, and the false observer. Let thoughts pass without holding on. Let go of being perfect. Ironically, surrendering need for control increases your power.


8. Observe


Holding space for anxiety doesn’t mean it will grow–just the opposite. Usually when we ignore something and hope it goes away, it gets bigger. Do not suppress or avoid it. Observe your ego and self-talk non-judgmentally. Understanding darkness helps us appreciate light. It may be uncomfortable initially, but observation builds the bridge that helps you align with your highest self. Pure awareness changes consciousness.


9. Who you are


Assimilating the external and internal can be a challenging process. Some things are meant to be unlearned, like TV/media programming that imbues us with a false sense of scarcity and separation.


10. Say yes to yourself


What is your soul magnetized to? What do you gravitate towards effortlessly? Practice self-love, and be kind to yourself. Tap into the real magic by doing what YOU want, not what you think your audience wants. Loving yourself is selfless, not selfish, because by living your passion/purpose, the world can receive your greatest gift. Connect to yourself to build stronger connections to others. Do things for yourself, be your own best friend, respect your own boundaries, and you will truly flourish.

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