In my teens and twenties, I clearly remember feeling different, insecure, uptight and dreading all social scenes and situations. Anxiety was unconsciously controlling my life!
Back in those days, I just accepted this feeling of insecurity and anxiety and found a way to deal with it. So on the outside I looked confident and outgoing, yet on the inside I was super self-conscious, especially around women who grabbed my attention and even more so if I grabbed theirs.
So what did I do to escape my anxiety?
The first thing I would try was to “avoid” any situation where I would feel anxious, which is not the best way to live life! Yet it was my default for years.
The next best thing was to be around people that did not threaten me, people that seemed to be a little shy; this was great and safe yet created a feeling of frustration and low self-worth.
The third tactic and most freeing and enjoyable was to drink some alcohol! Yes, alcohol, why? Because it helped me connect with people and and remove the feeling of anxiety. I practiced this for years, going out getting drunk as we do in Scotland then dealing with it the next day or in my case just not dealing with it…I was very good at AVOIDING!
Before we look at some more enlightening ways of dealing with anxiety, rather than avoiding anxiety, lets look at what anxiety really is and where it lives in our bodies.
Anxiety is a natural part of our experience of life. Everyone suffers from anxiety at some point in their lives, and if we are truthful, anxiety fluctuates around our bodies throughout our everyday lives.
Lets look where anxiety arises from. We store our past experiences in a part of the mind called “chitta”, chitta is the memory bank in our mind. Memory can be helpful, yet there are beliefs stored there that do not serve us anymore.
Another part of our mind is called “manas”, manas is the supervisor of our sensors; our sensors is how we take information in from the outside world. As the information comes in through the senses and moves through the filters of chitta “memory”, this creates a feeling of attraction (pleasure) or aversion (pain).
This is where anxiety starts! If we sense something that triggers aversion from a past experience, then we will start to feel uncomfortable and if this un-comfortability increases because the situation is not going away, we will feel anxiety whether its a threat or not, because it does not know the difference between past experience and present experience.
This is all great in theory, but how can we overcome this conflict of present-experience and past-experience?
There are many different theories out there of how to overcome anxiety, which I’m sure are valid. I think it best and more authentic if I share how I overcame my default behaviour of avoiding anxiety.
I had been into meditation and sports visualisation since I was 18. It was a tool to help me prepare my mind and body to play sport which had a profound impact on how I performed.
Yet it wasn’t untill I was in my early thirties, when I began practising yoga asana and meditation on a daily basis “not just a weekend warrior” that this organic shift took place. There was no pinnacle moment when everything changed. The change just started to surface as my self-awareness improved… This is a very important point right here! I became more self-aware and less self-conscious.
As my self-awareness increased, I began to notice something very profound, I started to love being around people who inspired me yet challenged me, people who were very self confident and present, people who could see through my B.S. because I was ready to face my B.S.
Yet something even more interesting stared to become apparent. That was when ever I had any alcohol “my previous coping mechanism” I began feeling self-conscious and anxious. I had flipped my issue around and to this day it remains this way.
I feel compelled to be around situations and people who inspire me and challenge me even if it feels a little uncomfortable as my anxiety still lives in me but does not have me by the throat.
The most powerful tool for personal, professional and spiritual growth is getting to know your anxiety “intimately”.
“When we take the plunge to honestly get to know ourselves we stop having to prove ourselves and that for me is super powerful and freeing in my life”.
Our gifts and talents lie just on the other side of our anxiety. Our purpose in life is to share these gifts and talents and our dharma “duty” is to remove the obstacles that stops us sharing our gift to the world – what ever that is for you.
If you suffer from anxiety, the first thing to do is own it! Being real with yourself is always step one. From there, begin some kind of mindful movement daily, yoga, tai chi even mindful walking or swimming focusing on your technique and rhythm are great ways to build self-awareness.
As your self-awareness increases, your choices will start to change. Remember there is no answer in life only choices!
Step two. Choose foods and drinks with less stimulants as this will slow down our already over stimulated bodies and minds leaving us feeling more grounded and balanced rather than chaotic and anxious.
As your body and mind becomes more in-tune with one another, rather than in conflict you will then be able to start sitting more comfortably in stillness or meditation.
Step three. There is nothing more powerful you can do for yourself and your anxiety than being still each morning getting to know yourself rather than running from yourself!
Remember, steps one and two are critical first steps or meditation will become short lived or just a box ticking exercise rather than life changing!
Blair Hughes has been teaching yoga and holistic health for over 9 years. His passion to share and inspire those who feel called to grow and transform drives his fulfilling journey through life.