“No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen.”
Subtle sometimes, and sometimes turbulent like a storm. It hits you, grips you, and rips you. such is the might of an anxious mind. Often, I am asked, “It’s only anxiety, why can’t you just stop thinking and chill?” I don’t blame them. I understand how hard it is for a person to imagine anxiety. It’s somewhere they have never been, and the intensity of those subjective emotions cannot be shown in physical expressions. To express it metaphorically, I would describe it as a snake wrapping around you, tightening with each pulse, trapping the mind in a loop, till you are looking for yourself in the abyss. In simple words, it’s the exhausting struggle of an endless spiral of questions about some irrelevant detail of a futile insecurity. The baffled, trapped mind looking for the edge of the sphere over and over again.
I would like to specify this is my anecdotal account. My understanding of anxiety would be limited to my subjective experiences of it, and the limited research that I did, for the time being, to get over it. But it did help me recover to a huge extent. I would like to share whatever I have learned in this journey so far, even if it reaches just one person out there.
To those suffering from anxiety, I want to tell you – I am a companion, and you are not alone in this journey. No matter how deeply you feel you are lost in the labyrinth – I want to assure you that, behind all these layers your mind has fabricated, you are still right there. And you will come back. I understand your struggle and have seen glimpses of the darkness that scares you. Like the most uninvited guest, it visits you after a tiring day when you are struggling to sleep, and sometimes even amidst familiar faces, the meaning in them disappearing. I want to describe it only so you know that even the scariest of your thoughts have troubled other minds as well. What I want to tell you is, you should delete this thought immediately that you are alone. Your condescending unconscious is convincing you that there is no shore, but I assure you I have seen it and stepped on it.
Anxiety hits in stages. Before you work on it, you want to understand the nature and depth of your anxiety. To state it simply, anxiety, since time immemorial has had its roots in irrational worries – predicting scenarios extremely unlikely to happen. It is really important to break these thoughts and analyse them as the objective phenomenon that they are. In my personal experience, there was no particular environmental trigger but a number and variety of reasons that had a deep impact on my mind. They kept on adding up and one day I was amidst unusual feelings of a new degree. It is different for different subjects, I am sure, but what can be gathered from my account is that the trigger that causes it is irrelevant. It can be any small intricate detail your unconscious recorded while you were taking a stroll or reading a book, but it inflates the bubble more and more, and unfortunately, it bursts one day in some cases.
A deeper introspection into your anxiety will allow you to understand that your thoughts actually hold no power. As Joseph Goldstein describes, in deep meditative states one analyses that thought itself is the thinker and any attempt to associate your personality with the worrisome thought only aggravates the condition. I acknowledge it’s easier said than done, but repeated training of the mind allows us to puncture the bubble of anxiety every day. It is crucial to be wise and observe your anxiety under an objective microscope, and try experiencing it merely as a process, as a series of sensations the body is going through. A meditative training program allows us to repeatedly cement these thoughts in our brains. This ultimately strengthens our minds against anxiety. What Buddha taught in simple words, is essentially understood as metacognitive therapy in modern science today. To put simply, it is reshaping our thinking about our thoughts.
Here is where I want to share a primer on what helped me cope.
1. Accept yourself. It is a phenomenon, a condition, a metamorphosis and most of all, a chance to become better and stronger than who you were yesterday. So, I know you hate your condition, but acknowledge this that even some of the most beautiful minds in the world have seen these states. Newton, Sigmund Freud, Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, Vincent Van Gogh are a few of them.
2. Identify how your mind tricks you. Since you are under a condition your mind will trick you into framing futile predictions – that you are going to be a failure, that you are undesired, that you should be guilty of certain emotions or that you are going insane pondering over unnecessary details. But since you understand that this is a fabricated state constructed under the high adrenaline rush in your blood stream, you should stop giving this thought any power. This thought is conditional and means nothing in reality.
3. Stop the mental wrestling immediately. Make yourself believe repeatedly that these questions hold no value. It’s not the questions, but your struggle to answer them, which is in the true sense your anxiety. You want to acknowledge the presence of your undesired thoughts, but there is no need to answer them, only observe them. Reduce them from thoughts to just sensations in your mind and leave them powerless. And once in a while ridicule them.
4. There are some fortunate moments in a day when you are not under anxiety. Those are the best moments to understand what anxiety is. Challenge it. Pay attention to a thought, any thought and follow it. See where it goes, what it does, how it behaves. I guarantee you the thought will vanish if you don’t interact with it because it is you who is adding to the state actively by participating in the process, even if unknowingly.
I want to wrap it up with one request. I understand medication is necessary in a lot of cases but please do not underestimate the power of meditation. When Buddha was asked what he gained from years of meditation, he said “Nothing! But I can tell you what I lost, I lost anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death.” Also, there is plenty of scientific evidence that suggests that meditation helps in improving these conditions tremendously. I know you are struggling but please believe in the neuroplasticity of your brain. It’s not the condition that will pave your future, but your choice to deal with it. In my case, the dread of existentialism took over, the rush to find meaning in endless patterns scared me for a time that felt like an eternity. I don’t think I found the answers, but I found that it’s okay to not know the answers. I hope this encourages you to try to reshape your thoughts.