The Meaning of Anxiety

All of us have felt ‘anxious’ at different points of time in our lives. We feel it as

  • restlessness: in the mind (too many thoughts), body (inability to sleep, muscle tension)
  • in the doing mode
  • feeling of being overwhelmed
  • feeling like ‘there is something still to be completed’

This is a state of dissatisfaction, unrest. One is constantly waiting to arrive and never does. Our focus is on the future and our inner peace is dependent on some future event which is yet to happen. When at its worst, you do not feel safe in your own body and have a sense of being flighty.

Santa Cruz - relaxing

Santa Cruz

 

From a psycho-spiritual perspective, anxiety arises in the consciousness when one is not true to one self. You are not all that you can be. You are compromising your needs, desires, dreams etc hoping to please everyone else and thereby find your own happiness. You are leading a life based on how someone else (person, society, religion, media) expects you to live.

At the very center of your being, this knowledge exists and surfaces in the form of anxiety. There are several ways to subside the symptoms but healing does not occur unless you work on the sources of the anxiety.

Bringing your awareness into the present moment using various relaxation/visualization techniques and mindfulness can be a good start. The feeling of ungroundedness can also be abated by connecting to earth in some way i.e. gardening, walking barefoot on earth, hugging a tree etc.  Finding the courage in accepting that you are not living your full meaningful life will need some therapeutic work.

Why seeking help is not crazy?

By help here I am referring to any form of treatment for your mental, emotional and relational health. This could be called psychotherapy, counseling, couples therapy, family therapy,  mental health counseling etc. (I do agree that lot of these titles do a good job of scaring people awayJ )

Do you think you are crazy to seek a doctor’s advice when you have been suffering from chronic back pain? I hope not. Of course, we all have among us our friends and family who love to self-medicate & or live in pain. Perhaps there are temporary cures that do work and hey, I am a big believer of natural therapies too. However there is a point when you and everyone around you knows that you are only being in denial or being too willful. It is at this point when you have been living in excruciating pain everyday that you do consider visiting a doctor and seek help.

Applying the analogy of physical debilitating pain to emotional dis-order , the first issue that arises is acknowledging it. We all know when we are not functioning according to our ‘normal’. Every person has a different point where he/she knows that they are doing well. Similarly there are times when we are:

1) Feeling stuck

2) Feeling overwhelmed

3) Overcome by fears / worry

4) Feeling unheard/unsupported

5) Feeling hopeless

SanFranscisco - GoldenGate

Golden Gate, San Francisco

 

The challenge here lies in not only being able to acknowledge it but assuming responsibility for your health/wellness and approaching a mental health professional. Our friends and family can help us a lot and they also come loaded with expectations. In all fairness, they cannot be expected to hear you out non-judgmentally and support you. Do not listen to people who ask you to ‘get over it’, ‘move on’ or ‘be more strong willed’. What intrigues me here is that we do not have such expectations of ourselves or of other people when someone needs treatment for a fracture, cancer or a condition like diabetes. Yes one can choose to ignore these too and you know how it ends!

The next time you know of someone who looks dis-ease d (not at ease/harmony), keep it simple and encourage him/her to seek help. Perhaps your loved one could use a non-judgmental listening ear who can provide support through their period of transition.

Meet your biggest Critic..YOU!

It saddens me to witness so many of my friends and clients become victim to their own inner criticisms. The negative self talk as we know it. Some of us are aware of this constant badgering we put ourselves through and some of us oblivious to it. When we find someone talking out loud to themselves we think they are going crazy but what about this constant unforgiving chatter in our minds?

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Be kind to yourself

One of the earliest issues a child develops while growing up is that of low self esteem. We often try to find external causes for the occurrence (that’s if someone identifies the issue) or assume that the child just needs to try harder in a particular area. As I write this, I am reminded of a friend’s facebook status after she delivered a baby which was “ the way we talk to our children, becomes their inner voice.” If it’s not parents, it is some other family member/friend/teacher/boss etc whose voice gets installed into the software of our brain. Sadly enough we keep running these tapes in our head without ever questioning them.

Messages like: 1) “You cannot even draw a straight line.”

2)  “You should always get an A or else you are a failure.”

3)  “You cannot afford to relax if you want to be successful.”

4)  “Boys are not attracted to you because you are dark skinned.”

5)  “You are not aggressive enough for this job.”

I am sure that each one of us has our own versions of messages like these that always keep running at the back of our mind. Somehow we believe these to be true and keep working as per the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘musts’ other people have imposed on us. We internalize these as our own values and continue inflicting pain on ourselves. All these messages tell you somewhere that “I am not good enough”, “I am not valuable/loved the way I am.” We also begin to play the “ I am good if I do..” game and feel puzzled when we are not accepted anyway.

It is also important to differentiate between this unhealthy self talk and constructive criticism/ feedback. When you receive constructive criticism or feedback for improvement, it is specific to the situation/ behavior and you leave from the situation understanding that you are valued for who you are and are being given suggestions to grow further. For example: A parent could tell a child that “ I was looking at your progress card and congratulate you for your improvement from last semester in Mathematics. Continue to do your best.” The child here is not being judged at a global level that he is a bad child for not receiving the highest grade. It is here that we learn to give ourselves some room for mistakes and ease out the need to be perfect all the time.

Low self esteem shows up in our work as settling for a lesser salary, our belief about what kind of life partner we deserve and what limitations we set on our abilities. A great amount of depression and anxiety stems from this unhealthy inner self talk.

At a much larger level, one cannot accept another person if one does not accept one’s own self. The answer lies in awareness. Be mindful of your inner dialogue, journal about it and reflect on whether it is helpful or harmful at this point in your life.

From a holistic perspective, I would like to mention Dr. Masuru Emoto’s water crystal experiment where he finds that water tends to crystallize in shapes resonating with the type of music being played around the water. The principle behind this experiment is that sound vibrations from the music influenced the formations in water.

With water being a major component of the human body and thoughts containing vibrations that echo through our systems, I would encourage you think about the impact your thoughts are having on your physical/emotional/ mental health.

What we hide does find a way out!

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My desk mirror

Don’t ask me why but today while reading the DSM IV-TR (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) I came across a whole spectrum of disorders that originate from not wanting to acknowledge the negative that exists in and around us. This could be negative emotions i.e. fear, jealousy, anger, insecurity, feeling blue etc. or undesired life circumstances i.e. loss of a loved one, loss of a job, physical illnesses etc. When we look around we are taught to always keep smiling, push things under the carpet, ‘sleep it over’ or ‘drink it over’. The sad part of it is that sometimes the people we love cannot see us in pain longer than what they would expect. This subtle expectation stems from a place of love but leads to us choosing unhealthy coping so as to pose perfectly in front of our loved ones.

Using computer parlance, all of this data does not get deleted on its own or leave the system. It exists in there, somewhere. If we continuously keep storing files in the system and never delete cookies or unwanted files, what does it do to our system? Well, we know it, it slows down. Being a human being and not a machine adds several other complexities and in addition to slowing down, we tend to find ‘releases’ or compensate our pain with temporary pleasures like drugs, meaningless sex and series of addictions.

Our culture today does not teach us ‘Emotions 101’ and we find ourselves battling with them day in and out. Emotions have been portrayed as something that needs to be controlled just as man has attempted to conquer Mother Nature. It is not a war unless we make it one. Akin to our physical ailments where we know the ‘symptoms’ and treat them, emotional symptoms are ignored or the person with the symptoms is looked down upon as ‘the problem’. This is where the individual goes to a doctor and gets prescribed some pills to alleviate the symptoms. The negative emotions continue to stay inside and we just don’t realize they exist, similar to pain killers where pain is numbed not cured.

Emotions need to flow just as water flows. When we try to block the flow of water, it only forces itself out through some opening. How do we maintain this flow? Being open to experiencing emotions, acknowledging them and not to judging will help. Expecting not to feel a certain way is counterproductive. Journaling on a regular basis will help increase awareness. Once we have an increased awareness, the shadows of blocked waves from the past cannot take us by surprise. Seeking professional help to manage emotions also works. I personally love using Dialectical Behavior therapy which draws from Buddhist philosophy of acknowledgment and acceptance.

On a side note, more often than not, our emotional symptoms point to greater unresolved issues i.e. unhealthy interactions in family, societal disparities, cultural incongruities etc. Our individual systems are constantly interacting with the environmental influences..let me save that for another blogJ

Let it flow!