Overcoming Anxiety - Mindful Acceptance
by George Pitagorsky
Whether at work or home, fear and anxiety can get in the way of optimal performance. When our reaction is driven by any emotion we run the risk of doing more harm than good.
In working relationships some fear to speak up when they see something wrong, others fear failure. There is fear of reprisal, embarrassment, career death, being fired, being different, etc. On a more personal level, there is fear of poverty, becoming homeless, being injured or stricken by illness, loneliness, death, success, elevators, and many others.
Fear is a response to a real external threat or danger.
Fear is a natural emotion that grows out of our need to protect ourselves and survive. When it arises we are on the alert, ready to fight or flee. Even though we are, happily, fairly well protected from physical danger (not that many tigers lurking about) we do face threats. It is quite useful to be alert and charged up in the face of danger. We can channel that energy into thought and effort to skillfully manage danger. Fear is a wake up alarm.
When awake we can pull back from reactive, emotion-fueled behavior and take the best course of action. Sometimes the most effective response is counter intuitive. Stepping back from the fear to assess the real danger and positive/negative effects of possible actions enables greater clarity. Greater clarity enables better decisions.
When emotions arise, stop, take stock and then act.
Anxiety is a response caused by the belief that something or someone is a threat of danger. Anxiety feels like fear, looks like fear, smells like fear but it is not caused by any immediate or realistic threat and it tends to be long lasting. Severe anxiety causes panic attacks. Chronic anxiety is physically harmful.
Anxiety is driven by memory and imagination - reliving the past or anticipating some picture of the future. It reflects a combination of biochemical changes in the body, the individual's personal history, view of life and memory, and the social situation. Anxiety is self imposed and self fueled.
Treating the Symptoms
Fear and anxiety can be addressed in many ways. For example, medication and intoxication relieve anxiety. These are external treatments and may be very effective at relieving symptoms temporarily.
Internally we can work on the causes of anxiety and seek to eliminate them. This requires confronting fear and the thoughts and beliefs that fuel them.
The Cause and Cause Removal
Consciously, or, more frequently, unconsciously, we create anxiety by thinking about negative past and future events. We make up or relive scary stories or overly worry about things we cannot control.
One theory is that "I-dentification" is the root cause of anxiety. Our desire to hold on to our identification with a self defined image of who we are and how things should be is at the root of anxiety. That image is usually associated with the idea that we will survive and that we are in control.
The certainties of our lives can be scary. The certainties are 1) impermanence - nothing will remain the same, everything is changing; 2) along with the positive things in our lives there will be dissatisfaction, pain and suffering and 3) nothing is solid - we are made up of a dynamic interplay among physical elements, thoughts and feelings. We are a verb, not a noun.
There is nothing to rely on. Each of us is vulnerable and will cease to exist. Ultimately we are out of control. There is no ground, no guide posts, no roof and no walls. We are in free fall.
As I said, the certainties can be pretty scary. But when we take them in, it is liberating. We can just let go and be happy in free fall, making the best of each moment. When anxious thoughts arise we can see them for what they are - fantasies, useless and unskillful - and bring our attention back to the present moment. We see the futility of worry. We accept everything, including ourselves, as temporary and relax. We short circuit the process that triggers anxiety and panic.
Relaxing in the face of danger and uncertainty requires effort. The effort is to cultivate mindfulness, concentration, wisdom and compassion to enable acceptance and active relaxation in every moment. When we do that we are free from anxiety. Fear may still arise but it will not do anything but wake us up. Anxiety will be cut at its roots.
© 2012 Pitagorsky Consulting