Anxiety might be overthinking, hypochondria, a sense of impending doom, dread, or fear. Cortisol levels are high this year, and the worst part is that once you start to worry about something real, you continue to worry about your worrying, then worry about worrying about worrying, and so on indefinitely.
In the bush, anxiety protects us from harm by creating a sense of caution when approaching uncertainty. But when you’ve done all you can to keep your and your loved ones safe, anxiety eats away at your emotional well-being, cognitive abilities, and physical health.
Anxieties are rampant, obsessive thought patterns, and, unless it’s clinical (stemming from a chemical imbalance rather than a thought pattern), you can turn it off (not to denigrate, even if it is clinical, consciousness can still flip anxiety’s switch). Mind is tied to body, and body to mind (page 31). So, transforming one invariably alters the other. Here are some practices on the physical and mental levels to ease any anxiety.
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants, improving circulation and lowering blood pressure – both physical manifestations of stress. It’s also delicious. But stay away from milk chocolate. Milk chocolate lacks the flavanol responsible for dark chocolate’s benefits.
Probiotic foods balance your gastrointestinal tract. In turn, they improve your mood and decrease neuroticism.
Probiotics are found in all fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kefir, and apple cider vinegar (my favourite vinegar for salad dressing and coleslaw).
Citrus fruits deliver vitamin c, with which the adrenal gland regulates cortisol levels. Squeeze a whole lemon into a litre of water every morning, but avoid this practice at night as the acid may damage enamel.
Sleep. Anxiety promotes insomnia. Insomnia leads to worrying about not sleeping, which only makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. Exercise and the food tips above both contribute to a good night’s sleep, as does a hot bath or shower.
You can’t think your way out of stress and fear – overthinking is the problem – but you can un-think towards peace by inverting your approach to life.
Our thoughts and emotions attach the labels of “good” and “bad” to our experience. These labels are helpful to our survival in dire circumstances, but in a calm environment, they torment the mind, leading us to ruminate on uncontrollable, unpredictable variables. Meditation interrupts the knee-jerk reactions of thought and emotion that start an anxious spiral.
It’s true – there are undeniably “bad” events in life. But can you see the consequences of any happening in time? There’s a zen parable I love. Only a vision of all connections through space and time could equip us to clearly decide what circumstances are ultimately helpful or harmful.
Our minds attach labels to experience, but conscious awareness does not. It – you – are free to change your definition of any event and transform your reaction to it. This does nothing to the world as it is. Instead, it reshapes your approach to that world.
Understand and appreciate that your perception of the world is most often a reflection of you, your habits, beliefs, and upbringing, rather than of the world as it really is. While there’s certainly reason for concern and precaution, it’s too easy to twist facts into paranoia.
By grounding your perspective in the world rather than the world from your perspective, you create space to reflect on the stimuli entering your nervous system. Meditation delays the impulse to obsess over and react to the endless news cycle and that maskless person at the grocery store. This is the state of inner peace: witnessing without labelling.
Here’s a quote from Jiddu Krishnamurti I love:
“I don’t mind what happens. That is the essence of inner freedom. It is a timeless spiritual truth: release attachment to outcomes, deep inside yourself, [and] you’ll feel good no matter what.”
He’s telling us to emotionally un-invest in the occurrence of one event over another. By doing so, we allow ourselves to accept reality as it happens to unfold. The acceptance of lack and uncertainty is the inner peace of Krishnamurti’s imperturbable happiness. Accepting reality as it is implies reconciling your state of mind with outer turmoil.
For first-time meditators
There’s no need to start this practice with awareness as still as a pond on a windless day – that’s impossible given the mind’s tendency to action. Thoughts are inevitable and trying to ignore or turn them off is as engaging as a good book. Let your thoughts arise and pass; in the same way, you inhale and exhale without holding on to each breath.
As you continue allowing each impulse to come and go, you’ll notice the wind settle a little more with every second.
For meditators of all experiences
Once you’re in the meditative state, observe the flow of perception from the world, past the labels for your experience, to the thoughts and emotions responding to a label. Now invert that flow. Entertain a perspective contradictory to your initial reaction. Then, find or invent a belief that supports the new view, and see how your labels of the world change.
And skip watching the news! Mainstream news outlets are motivated by views, and we’re naturally wired to pay attention to fear. Media exploits your concerns and turns them into anxiety to keep you watching in hopes of information that solves the problem they just wrapped in hyperbole. Please stay aware and informed of current developments and best practices, but over-exposure drains your cognitive and emotional reservoirs. Consuming uniquely useful or joyful content, however, nourishes your mind and replenishes your heart.