Why We Suffer From Anxiety and How We Can Overcome It

In any given year approximately 40 million Americans will suffer from a debilitating encounter with anxiety. Over the course of your lifetime, there’s a 25% chance you’ll experience a diagnosable anxiety disorder. This is such a staggering rate of affliction. It appears we’ve adapted to a new norm—one of mass disquiet. We have become habituated to—and normalized—an epidemic of anxiety.

If 40 million people fell suddenly ill, The Center for Disease Control would be working overtime to find both the cause and the cure. As a culture, we only look superficially into the cause of anxiety and focus more on the treatment—typically management through medication. We need to do much better. As a practicing psychotherapist, I’ve been looking at why we are suffering in this way. It’s time we disrupt our complacency around our victimhood.

Stress is normal in our hurried lives. We can look at stress as a byproduct of our adapting to the challenges that confront us. Stress is the result of our deeper engagement with life that can lead to growth, new learning and productivity. But when stress turns into distress it impedes our ability to live well, to live joyfully. Distress calcifies into anxiety. So, the question is: why do we suffer from this avalanche of anxiety? Here’s what I’ve learned.

Anxiety— at its source— is due to our relationship with our thoughts. In particular these are the thoughts which are perpetually seeking certainty. We want to know what the future will bring, and what the consequences of our decisions will be. But that future is of course unknowable. And so, we become anxious as we try to ward off the unknown. This results in our not being in the flow of life as we try to hold back the future. Ask yourself, “What causes me distress and anxiety?” Does it have something to do with your uncertainty about the future, your fear around decision-making?

I had been working with a middle-aged woman who came to see around her anxiety regarding her future. She had been unhappily married for quite some time and shared that she and her husband had been unsuccessful in marital therapy. They had grown apart, were contentious and had little in common. She felt that her marriage was a drag on her life. Given that she had no children and was financially independent I inquired why she was opting to stay married. She said, “I don’t know who I’d be as a divorced woman.”

There it was. Her fear around the unknown—which offered her possible relief and new possibilities—kept her imprisoned with anxiety. She was actually choosing to stay miserably in the known rather than face the uncertainty of a different path—one that might have brought her joy. The question, “Who would I be?” froze her with fear.

We invite uncertainty into many aspects of our lives. We enjoy watching sports and movies because of the thrill of not knowing. But in our personal lives we become choked by predictability and certainty. Seeking predictability stunts our relationships, our curiosity and our greater engagement with life.

So how did we become so attached to needing to know the future in advance? I track the cause to the great 17th century scientist Isaac Newton. He instructed that if we had sufficient information—in today’s jargon we might call that data—we could reasonably predict the future. This became known as determinism. And we have become addicted to this way of thinking.

Determinism has benefited us in many ways, but at the extreme it’s led to much pathology. We live life as though we were playing a chess match. We sit back and calculate our next move. We might fret over whether our decision will be a “mistake.” We slice and dice and analyze the possible consequences of our decisions and we get frozen. We don’t move forward as this straitjacket of fear blocks our flow of life. If you feel anxious around decision making, you’re likely addicted to seeking predictability.

Here’s the good news! It turns out we’ve been living from the wrong game plan. Over the last hundred years quantum physics has revealed an astonishingly different picture of reality. Unlike Newton’s determinism, reality appears to be thoroughly uncertain and that’s actually good news. It seems that nothing is fixed or inert. The universe appears to be perpetually flowing and bubbling with potentiality, a virtual sea of possibilities.

We too can join into that new worldview. When we learn to reframe our relationship with uncertainty, we invite in new possibilities. Remember that what you resist you make more formidable. Paradoxically if you choose to welcome uncertainty it becomes your ally. When we welcome uncertainty and literally embrace it, we are in movement, joining in the flow of the universe. We are then able to navigate our life as it unfolds, in real time.

Think of it this way: Uncertainty = Possibility. If reality is uncertain and we continue to demand certainty we will dysfunction and anxiety will be the result. To embrace uncertainty, we must change our relationship with our thoughts. Try to notice your thoughts. What are they telling you? If you see your thoughts trying to predict the future, release the thought. It’s just a thought, you don’t need to become that thought. “In the nanosecond before your next thought, you exist in a state of pure potential.”

When you free yourself from the torrent of addictive thoughts seeking certainty, you join in the flow of your life and anxiety retreats. It turns out that the epidemic of anxiety is primarily due to living from an outmoded game plan for life. It’s time to embrace what we’ve been resisting and make uncertainty your ally. Uncertainty can become the wind in the sail of our change process.


Transcending Anxiety, Stress and Depression.

A 6 week Live Streaming Online Workshop. Starts Wed. March 7th


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Detoxing Your Mind

Many people participate in cleanse programs to eliminate toxins they’ve accumulated over their lifetime. These poisons drain our vitality and denigrate our health. Detoxing has gone mainstream as more and more people seek wellness. As well, a vast number of us work out regularly, tending to our physical wellbeing. But there’s a most important aspect of ourselves that we ignore—the health and vigor of our minds. We need to detox our minds from the false and limited thinking that disrupts our lives and our relationships.


What do I mean by the toxins of your mind? Over the course of your life you probably cling to a few primary beliefs about yourself. These beliefs shape the way you know yourself and how you think. They are the filter through which you see. From these beliefs and your personal experiences, you have likely become addicted to certain recurring thoughts that write the script of your life. Regrettably, these thoughts are often self-limiting, denigrating or simply wrong-minded and keep you from living the life you deserve. Habitual thoughts confine you to being a character in your script, rather than being the author of your life narrative. Think of these limiting old thoughts as a straitjacket. Ask yourself what the central theme of your thoughts tells you. They may sound like “I’m not smart enough” or “People don’t respect me,” or “I always make the wrong choices.”


Stuck in a Groove

For those of us old enough to remember vinyl records, we might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle would sometimes get stuck in the groove. The same sound or lyrics would keep repeating. In the groove, the tone arm couldn’t find its way into the next groove. This is exactly what happens with our thoughts. They tend to keep reiterating the same messages, time and again. When they do so, they summon old memories and old feelings and thwart our ability to change.

The replay of old thoughts and feelings preclude us from being present. We are simply replicating the past. This is such a wasteful way to live our lives as we move from moment to moment—wanting for change—but not understanding how to achieve it. The continuous repetition of old thoughts and feelings robs us of new experience. As well, it deprives us of bringing new possibilities into our lives. This groove is where fear reigns supreme. Mind detox helps free you from being trapped in the groove.

If I can’t see the thought, I won’t be having a thought  the thought will be having me!

I have been looking at this problem for some time now and have developed a method to help people detox their minds. This process helps us to illuminate the habitual thoughts that trick us into false realities. Learning to observe thought, rather than attaching to and becoming the thought, is where our change process begins. When you are able to see your thought, you are actually thinking! This is where you access your inner wisdom.

The difficulty we encounter in disengaging the thought is due to its automatic nature. Before we have an opportunity to take notice of the thought, we’ve already become the thought. You can learn to train your mind to become more alert and slow down the process, so that we may see the thought more clearly. It’s almost like seeing it coming in slow motion, as if you were a watching sports replay. When you learn to see the thought clamoring for your attention, imagine placing your forefinger vertically in front of your lips and say shhhh to the thought.


Slowing it Down

For an analogy let’s look at tennis. Let’s metaphorically equate thought with being the tennis ball. Becoming aware of the thought is like anticipating the arrival of the ball on your side of the net. You see our opponent’s positioning and footwork, their racquet movement and the position of the ball as it advances toward you. By the time your opponent hits the ball and it approaches the net, you’re fully engaged and anticipating its arrival. You’d hardly wait until the ball was inches from you before you began to react. Anticipation and awareness are fundamental in tennis or any sport. And so we train ourselves in this awareness and time slows in a relative sense as we come into this zone of awareness.

The very same thing can be accomplished with thought as we learn to see it in advance of becoming it. In the nanosecond before you merge with your next thought you exist in a pure state of potential. Everything is possible. You don’t need to be confined by your life history but can break free to create the life you choose. But you need to learn to think differently. Detoxing your mind is altogether achievable once you set your intention to do so.


Mel’s method for detoxing your mind will be discussed in detail and at length in his new book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.   

Detoxing The Mind Programs

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Rethinking Anxiety

rethinking anxietyWhen a dysfunction such as anxiety – or depression, for that matter – becomes so commonplace, we must turn to our culture, which is our aggregate way of living, and examine how and why it’s producing such distress. Those suffering from anxiety are often simply mirroring an overwrought, anxiety-laden way of living. Turning the victim into the problem makes no sense at all. Such a preponderance of people suffering in this way must be a reflection of the effects of enduring an incongruous, if not insane, way of living, fostered by our prevailing worldview. In effect, the way that we are living produces this tragic result.

It is essential to address the underlying causes and not simply suppress the symptoms. The difficulty is that in our quick fix mentality, we believe that if we can quiet the symptoms, all is well. This may benefit the pharmaceutical-psychiatry industry, but not those so afflicted. We must come to see anxiety not as the enemy but as an expression of our struggle in adapting to a way of living that actually imperils us. From this vantage, anxiety is paradoxically sensible as we are reacting to conditions that are toxic. The anxiety can be seem similarly to a fever, which is simply a call to attention that all is not well. So the irony is that by medicating our symptoms away, we ensure continued suffering, for the struggle is never resolved toward a breakthrough; it is merely placated.

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Is Our Society Manufacturing Depressed People?

An Epidemic of Depression

Our society is in the throes of a virtual epidemic of depression. The numbers are quite staggering. More than twenty percent of the American population will experience at least one episode of what we refer to as clinical depression. We need to look deeper into this phenomenon to understand it and overcome it. My contention is, firstly, that our cultural values and memes induce us to live in ways that are, indeed, depressing. Secondly, much of what we refer to as clinical depression is inaccurate. Most depression is situational. The symptoms of depression are often due to depressing circumstances, not disease. In other words, under certain circumstances, it makes sense to be depressed.

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The pathologizing of a culture

A young woman in her mid-twenties recently came in for her first visit with me.  Three months earlier she had experienced her first bout of anxiety and it had become more acute thereafter. She went on to explain that she had been seeing a psychiatrist who had prescribed four different psychotropic medications, simultaneously. Complaining of a blurred and disconnected feeling, she offered that she was uncertain as to whether the cause was physical, emotional and psychological—or a symptom of the gross invasion of this massive drugging.

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Do not measure thyself!

In my work as a psychotherapist I often see individuals who are plagued by a relentless measuring of themselves. These people carry on an internal dialogue whereby their critical voice is enslaving; judging and measuring most aspects of their lives. In such circumstances, these people rarely get to be present. Even when in conversation with others, they are only partly there; for a more private aspect is carrying on a self-critique at the same time.

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