When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.
These difficult times bring increased stress, and a natural reaction to stress is anxiety. Far from being simple, anxiety is multi-dimensional, as symbolized in brain structure—the brain itself feels no emotions, because emotions occur in consciousness. You are the product of the evolution of consciousness, and your anxiety has physical, emotional, and rational aspects.
Anxiety passes through each dimension in a sequence. What you need to know is that each dimension can generate fear, and yet in itself, consciousness isn’t fearful. Ancestrally, primitive fear originates in the lower brain, where the fight-or-flight response resides, an inheritance shared by almost all animals. Except in a sudden emergency or moment of alarm, modern humans have minimal need to this inheritance. But modern life generates low-level stress responses that we barely notice but which overload the nervous system, which needs the kind of stress relief few people find the time for.
The second dimension of anxiety is emotional, which originates in the amygdala, part of the mid-brain, where your responses are ore evolved. But emotional patterns are learned in childhood and tend to stick for decades if not an entire lifetime. Piling on worry as a habit turns anxiety into a default mode that gets triggered by small events, most not worthy of worry. So like fight-or-flight, the emotional aspect of anxiety has little positive value to modern people.
The final dimension of anxiety is the most evolved, our capacity for reason. Rationally anyone can be shown that fight-or-flight and emotional worries are not reasonable. Unfortunately, the higher brain is a final destination, by which time the other dimensions of anxiety have kicked in. Telling yourself or someone else not to worry registers rationally but doesn’t affect the pathway that fear has already taken.
I’m beginning with these basic facts about the brain to make an important point: although every dimension of anxiety causes some region of the brain to “light up,” you are the ultimate controller of your responses. In the connection between mind, body, and spirit, much of the anxiety response is open to change—once you understand how. The first principle is that spirit offers the deepest level of control over anxiety and stress. There is a level of the mind that transcends the ups and downs of daily life. In its unbroken peace and stillness, this is the place you need to reach through meditation. Having become accustomed to finding your spiritual core, you will find anxiety-packed moments much diminished in their effect.
But meditation is a long-term project, and most people want to know how to deal with anxiety right this minute. There are three things I do personally, but they can be treated as one technique.
- Take several deep breaths—long, full, slow breaths for a few minutes.
- Bring your awareness to the calmness of your heart area to center yourself until the anxiety starts to soften.
The beauty of undertaking a long-term meditation practice is that it becomes much easier to breathe, center yourself, and let your anxiety dissolve away.
The second practice for dealing with anxiety is self-care. Stand back and take a look at how you are relating to stress in terms of your own well-being. Many people plunge into anxiety-packed moments for reasons that contradict their own health and happiness. For some it’s a matter of duty or showing how tough they are or not looking vulnerable. I’m not arguing against any of these motivations. But if you sit quietly and consider how high your anxiety level is throughout a typical day, you can objectively weed out the kind of encounters that you can predict in advance will push your anxiety buttons. I have in mind such things as
- Being around stressful coworkers.
- Jumping into a crisis when you feel nervous and upset.
- Throwing yourself into a stressful situation without knowing how to handle it.
- Feeling duty-bound to take care of others.
- Bleeding emotionally into another person’s anxiety.
- Thinking that anxiety is normal and unavoidable.
If you are as kind to yourself as you are to others, you will seriously examine the damage you are doing to your inner life by welcoming needless stress and the anxiety that accompanies it. Those who are naturally empathic are often also anxious. Wanting to feel what another person is feeling, many empathetic people learn early on that they will pay the price of feeling anxious, and it’s a price they are willing to pay because they value that connection to others that empathy gives them. However, there is a way to remain empathetic without taking on the anxiety.
This leads to the third practice for anxious moments, which is to find detachment while still offering empathy. In my medical practice, especially early on when many of the nursing staff were veterans of World War II or the Korean War, I observed that after seeing so much horror, these women were detached and yet incredibly good at offering comfort, care, and nurturing attention. I know this sounds like a contradiction, in part because the root words in “compassion” mean “to suffer with.” I believe in compassion that doesn’t focus on “suffering with” but on “caring for.” A caretaker who makes you believe in your healing is worth much more than someone weeping by your bedside—such has been my experience.
Detachment isn’t the same as indifference, which contains no caring. Instead, detachment is skillful caring. When I meet someone who has mastered this skill, their behavior contains the following elements:
- They don’t use someone else’s suffering in order to describe their own.
- They pay attention to practical matters first, such as quality of food and other basic needs.
- They don’t point out the good they are doing. They don’t look for credit or praise.
- They have learned how to remain calm in a crisis through repetition, practice, and experience.
- If the suffering person wails and complains, they don’t judge. They allow grief, anguish, anxiety, and every other stressful response take its natural course, while offering an example in themselves of not giving in to these responses.
Learning this kind of skillful caring doesn’t help only the people you care for—it should be applied to yourself. Fear is defeated by the part of the mind that has learned how to confront fear and emerge the victor. Anxiety is multi-dimensional, but so are you and I, which gives us the ability to acquire emotional resilience, to learn new responses, to learn from others’ examples, and to find the core in ourselves that fear cannot disturb.
DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com