Living Life With Less Anxiety and Fear

9

Posted by Jill Whalen | Posted in Psychology, Relationships, Spirituality, Things I've Learned, Thought | Posted on 06-03-2015

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[Jill’s Note: If you prefer to listen rather than read, please scroll to the bottom of this post for the audio version.]

Disclaimer: Anyone who’s followed me for any length of time knows I’d be the first to tell you that if you see a claim on a blog that says something like “be free from anxiety without doing anything!” you should leave that blog and never come back. Which is super ironic in that’s exactly what I’m about to tell you in this blog post. However, if you bear with me, I promise that what I’ve learned and seen work in my own life is not akin to some fake “overnight success” story where if you just send me all your money I’ll tell you the secret! Not in the least. First of all, I don’t want your money. Second of all, the “secret” if you will, is actually just common sense. But you know how common sense is–not common unless you actually know it. Sadly, most of us have grown up being taught the exact opposite of what I’m about to tell you.

Sooooo…if you haven’t been scared off yet and you trust me to deliver on the goods, then the worst that will happen is you’ll think I’m a quack and move on. The BEST is you’ll hear something that just might possibly change your life.

Intrigued? Then please continue…

My Story

The ScreamI’ve thought of myself as a shy person for as far back as I can remember. As a result of my shyness, I was never a fan of change. Change seemed to bring scary new situations with scary new people. Taking away what I was used to and replacing it with a whole bunch of unknowns was often more than I could bear–and I’d often have a melt down.

Like that time in first grade when my teacher was absent and our entire class was moved to the cafeteria with a bunch of strange kids I didn’t recognize. The belly ache I got that day (and subsequent crying jag that accompanied it) came back every morning for the rest of that school year. In my young, anxiety-laden mind, I never knew what uncertainty might befall me each day.

Then there was the time in 6th grade when for some unknown reason the school decided that I should be removed from my current classes on the first floor with kids who I’d known for years, to the second floor (where I had never ventured) with all new kids who I’d never seen before. I still remember how they all looked kind of like monsters to me. I ended up flunking most of my classes that semester and got into big trouble at home, but I’m not sure if my parents ever knew what had triggered the downward spiral. Come to think of it, I pretty much lost interest in school from that time on. While I didn’t continue to get F’s and D’s I never did live up to my potential in school and became a mostly C student.

As an adult, I don’t recall any specific panic attacks, but I continued to be a creature of habit. As long as my days went smoothly, I was fine. But we all know how often that happens! Have you ever noticed how much change and uncertainty we live with every moment of every day? I guess that explains why I was always in a low level state of anxiety without ever really noticing.

Anxiety was my normal.

What I also didn’t realize was I had naturally developed all sorts of coping mechanisms to deal with my anxiety. I would get immersed in the things and people that I liked, and avoid those that I didn’t. If I had to do things I didn’t like, having a few drinks before, during and/or after, certainly seemed to help.

Suffice it to say, I was managing my anxiety fairly well without realizing it, but not always in the most constructive ways. The problem (beyond the obvious) was that the relief was always temporary. Having a new best friend was great, until something happened and we were no longer besties. Drinking alcohol was great, but the side effects–not so much.

My unconscious methods for escaping my anxious feelings (which most of the time I didn’t realize I had) were never good long-term solutions.

What Changed?

I did.

In my quest to lose weight and get healthy, I learned that I’m not all of the things I always thought I was. Seeing that I could transform into a completely different person in a relatively short time opened up space within me to see all sorts of things about myself that I never could have seen before. So when I stumbled onto a teaching that explained how all of our experiences of life are created through our thoughts, I was ready, willing and able to understand it. (Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t get it the first dozen or so times that I heard it–and you may not either–but it did finally sink in!)

How This Relates to Anxiety

First we need to look at what anxiety actually is.

In very simple terms, anxiety is comprised of the uncomfortable physical feelings which are caused by conscious or unconscious thoughts. Basically, thoughts occur in our minds, followed immediately (seemingly instantaneously) with the feelings of nervousness and/or anxiousness. (Incidentally, according to my neuroscientist son, the thought -> feeling connection is backed up by current brain research.)

Anxiety can physically manifest in a variety of ways such as jitters, heart palpitations, stomach aches, flushness, tightness in the chest, sweating, shortness of breath, ticks or other repetitive movements, headaches, high blood pressure and probably many other ways I haven’t thought about yet. I personally tend to get a racing heart and sometimes headaches and/or stomach aches.

What Causes Anxiety?

The causes of anxiety are numerous, but basically it boils down to this:

Our bodies are designed to produce certain chemicals during times of danger to keep us alert and safe (flight or fight response). So initially when we perceive something as scary (whether it is or isn’t), the flood of chemicals is released into the body. We only have to think something is scary for this to happen.

Have you ever thought there was a spider or some creepy bug right near you only to realize it was just a piece of lint or something? The fact that you thought it was a bug triggered the chemicals anyway, even though in reality there was no threat.

This is what always happens when we think there’s something to be scared of. The chemicals flow, our heart races, and we now feel anxious.

But remember: The anxious feelings originated from the initial scary thought.

In other words, we feel our thinking.

Because the chemicals are released so quickly in our bodies, we often don’t realize or notice that we first had a thought about the situation.

Instead, we believe that the outside event is what caused our anxious feelings.

But it didn’t.

Outside events can never cause our feelings.

Feelings are only ever caused by our thoughts.

Therefore what we’re scared of is simply learned thoughts. i.e., Something once happened, we got nervous or scared so we associate that feeling with the event. In the future when that or a similar event occurs we end up reacting the same way via a conditioned thought/feeling response.

It becomes like a reflex.

But Guess What?

For me, just knowing that the things happening in my life cannot in any way shape or form actually cause my anxiety–that only my thoughts about what’s happening can cause it–is extremely freeing!

I’m sure your next question is: how do I know that the things happening in my life aren’t what’s causing my anxiety?

For one thing, if events and situations outside of ourselves could cause anxiety then everyone would be fearful of the same things. And yet, as far as I know there are no universal fears. Some people can speak in public while others are terrified.  Some people love to network in a crowd of strangers, while it’s another’s worst nightmare. Some people love rollercoasters, others–not so much. The list goes on and on.

If the situation is what creates our anxiety, then we’d be helpless and at the mercy of it. And while it certainly feels like we’re at its mercy when we’re embroiled in it, knowing that it’s always our thoughts that create our fearful feelings, means we have an out.

Just knowing this means that there’s an opportunity for any and all of us to be free from our fears.

Now I’m not saying that will happen overnight. In fact, it’s unlikely that you or I or anyone will ever be 100% anxiety-free. But knowing that our fears come from our own thoughts rather than the outside world, puts us back in the driver’s seat.

How cool is that? – Jill

P.S. I recently held a webinar where I discussed this topic. You can listen to the recording here:

Prefer listening? Click the green arrow below!

CONTACT JILL WHALEN to learn how she may help you be the best you can be.


Jill helps people solve their problems! She personally mentors individuals, coaches, small business owners, leaders, groups and organizations to help them uncover their natural well-being and happiness so that they can operate from a clearer state of mind. This in turn has the ability to take their lives and businesses to a higher level.


Jill is also a mentor within the "Primal Happiness Thrive Community" and a faculty member of "Three Principles Supermind." Her blog, What Did You Do With Jill? is a personal account of what she's learned throughout her personal transformational journey.


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Leave Your Thoughts Below(9)

Thank you for sharing, Jill. I’ve lived the majority of my life dealing with anxiety and depression. Good luck on your talk on the subject, wish i could have been there for it!

You’re welcome Matt! Hopefully you heard something in what was written that might help you. Please feel free to contact me personally if you’d like to chat more about it.

🙂

Hi Jill,
I’ve been following you since the days of your newsletter with Karen. I wish I could attend. Are you going to create a podcast of it? That would be very cool.
Thanks
Trish
PS
Good Luck

Hi Trish! I may do an online webinar on the topic at some point. There’s also the podcast I did via the Born Happy show on anxiety you might be interested in. It’s a bit more of an advanced conversation, but you may resonate with it. Also, happy to have an skype chat or something if you’re interested. Just zip me over an email.

Enjoyed your well written explanations that any of us can grasp in this newsletter. Appreciate the additional reading opportunities you mentioned to gain more insight as well. You helped me “think through” a sibling situation and I felt successful.
I cannot be in town for your presentation but would like to experience it in any other way. It takes lots of practice… thanks Jill!

Oh come now, you can fly in for my talk! 😉 Just kidding. But I’m thinking that I’ll probably do an online webinar at some point, so you can take part in that!

I’m not sure I understand. I know some people who suddenly have anxiety attacks and can find no cause for the physical symptoms you describe here. They just panic and have to leave — even if they are in line in a grocery store. They worry something physical may be wrong with them. Are you saying that if they recognize that their thoughts are behind those physical symptoms they may get relief from the symptoms? Or that if they recognize the true reason their bodies are acting up they won’t worry that something dreadful is wrong with them and that may bring a measure of relief?

Hi Barbara, barring any true physical illness (which they should have a medical doctor check for) then yeah, I’m saying if they realize (via an “aha” insight) that it’s their thoughts behind what is making them anxious rather than the event, then yes, they can experience relief. All thoughts come and go. Nothing says that we have to hold onto any of them. They flow through our minds all the time. Anxiety is just anxious thoughts.

Please note that I’m not disregarding what those people are feeling as not being real. It’s very real indeed. Our thoughts are an amazing vehicle for bringing things to life for us. That’s what thoughts are supposed to do. Thoughts and only thoughts are how we experience life.

But in the end, they’re still “just thoughts” and all of them can come and go, including anxious ones, angry ones, sad ones, etc.

Hope this helps!