Weeding for the Mind: Getting to the Root of Anxiety
by: Sarah Malik
What can weeding the yard can teach us about handling anxiety?
One of the reasons why positive thinking and affirmations tend to provide only limited help for reducing our anxiety is because the problem is not necessarily in our thinking.
We are capable of having many, many thoughts. We believe that some of our thoughts are true. And we instantly discount other thoughts as untrue.
It is the thoughts that we believe as truth that drive and create our experience, that have power inside of us.
It is the thoughts that we believe that manifest themselves in what we refer to as the experience of anxiety.
Trying to use positive thinking to overpower or to outthink anxiety is like trying to kill the weeds in our yard by mowing them down, only to see them immediately grow back the next week.
If we do not pull the weeds out by their roots, from the source of their growth upward through the soil, they will easily grow back.
Just as our anxious thoughts and feelings easily sprout back when we try to mow them over with the power of positive thinking.
The real solution to anxiety lies deeper in the roots of what we believe.
~Elusive beliefs made tangible~
So realizing that our beliefs are really the source of what we experience is great. But where do we go from here?
The topic of beliefs sounds so airy, so intangible. What are our beliefs? Where are our beliefs? And why are they so powerful?
These are huge questions. So we will start today with just one way of understanding more about our elusive beliefs.
What happens when you try to logically think through your illogical fears and anxiety?
Does your body keep going through the experience no matter what logical argument you try to impose on it?
This is frustrating – I know!
Why is it so hard to eliminate these anxious feelings?
Here is one possible explanation. Just like when you are shopping for clothing, you can try on this idea and see if it fits!
One way to understand how our beliefs can have a tangible presence is to look at how our body and brain interact.
Neurologists tell us that we have a logical, rational brain, referred to as the cortex, where our higher level mental processing goes on. But this processing is connected to our muscles, sending the body messages about how to move through the world, about what actions to take.
And, at the same time, our autonomic nervous system, associated with our middle brain, is designed to communicate with the body through our more unconscious functions. So instead of communicating with our muscles, it communicates with our heart, eyes and lungs. When we sense danger, this nervous system sends a message to the heart to pump more quickly to get us out of danger.
And where are our beliefs associated?
In the autonomic nervous system. In the system designed to get the body out of danger.
What could this mean?
This could mean that what we believe is automatically and unconsciously carried out to the body.
Below the level of our higher brain functioning.
And what we believe has a physical presence through our autonomic nervous system.
And we are not having any conscious say in it!
~Beating a lie detector~
Our beliefs directly and automatically manifest in our physical body.
That is how lie detector tests work. The machine reads those unconscious bodily changes between the different statements we make.
Isn’t trying to impose positive thinking on anxious feelings like trying to beat a lie detector test?
The body follows the mind. And the mind is using the body to carry out our beliefs.
What can we do?
Obviously, we need to work on changing our beliefs – that lie at the heart of our autonomic nervous system.
One way to begin doing this: Let’s work on strengthening our ability to act in spite of our internal, automatic reactions.
What (small) interaction can you engage in this week to generate the automatic, fearful reaction?
Try to recognize the reaction and say, “Oh! That’s my autonomic nervous system expressing my old beliefs!” And see if this new understanding can give you strength to alter your relationship with your automatic reactions and to begin to create a new belief about what is going on in the interaction.
Ask yourself: “Does the interaction feel less threatening? Is there space to re-interpret what is going here? To create a new belief about what is true about myself and the other people in the interaction?”
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