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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Quantum Relationship: Keeping Your Love Connected

quantum-relationship2The experience of falling in love is altogether reminiscent of what in quantum physics is known as entanglement. In the microscopic realm once two particles experience a shared state, they are no longer separate entities but exist as one. This remains true even when they are separated by a great distance. The falling part of the falling in love process requires a falling away of many individual boundaries as the two people merge significant parts of themselves. The coupling moves the two individuals into an entangled sense of oneness.

 

All living beings are energy fields manifesting through their physical form. Mere physical attraction to another is based on sensory stimulation, but being in lust is not quite the same as being in love. Falling in love requires that our energies coalesce with one another. When this occurs, our energy field resonates with our partner’s energy field, and our vibrations harmonize with each other’s, so that two individuals are no longer distinctly separate. This energetic interchange happens simultaneously on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels, and it is what makes falling in love—and staying in love—potentially the most fulfilling experience in life.

 

Over the course of time, however, many people indicate that although they may still love the other, they no longer feel in love. There’s a common belief that as the years pass, falling out of love is natural and to be expected. I’d suggest that it may be ordinary, but that doesn’t make it natural. Falling in love and sustaining it requires maintaining a sense of oneness.

 

In the turmoil we experience when a relationship becomes adversarial, we need to acknowledge or change something to shift the energy away from separation and back toward entangled wholeness. Making that shift may mean changing our beliefs, our perceptions, or our behaviors or possibly all of these. You might ask yourself, “What is my partner seeing in me that I don’t see in myself?”

 

If you set out to reenter the energy field of the initial romantic entanglement or the caring friendship, you can selflessly try to get in the other’s shoes. This is an exercise in empathy. Doing this doesn’t mean you are abandoning your position; it simply means loving and validating your partner. If I try to appreciate and care about my upset partner’s point of view, I’m invoking a shift of energy. Connecting empathetically with our partner is the most powerful thing we can do in such troubled moments. It can turn the tide from a competitive, maybe even emotionally and verbally abusive, exchange back into a loving energy field once again entangled with caring. (If you try this approach consistently and with genuine affection, but your partner doesn’t reciprocate over time, you might well consider whether the relationship is right for you.)

 

Another way of shifting the energy of a relationship is to express positive feelings or appreciation for your partner. Once a couple’s energy has drifted into separatism and conflict, they may default to unloading critical thoughts and feelings with each other. Negativity then fills the divide they have structured. Yet there are times in therapy when individuals may share with me positive or appreciative feelings they experienced about their partner. When I ask, “Did you share that with your partner?” I rarely hear a yes. Why would we become acclimatized to sharing the negative, yet feel awkward or reluctant to express approving or positive feelings? It’s because we’ve gotten stuck in the groove of negativity, which only widens that gap between us. We may be holding back an expression of approval so as not to give the other a stronger hand—a sign that we have set up separate battle stations. So set your intention: when you feel good about the other person, articulate it to him or her.

 

In trying to reset the downward spiral of the relationship cycle, it may be helpful to pause and not be reactive. Take a moment before criticizing or defending and ask yourself, “Does this really matter?” If it doesn’t, you can choose to let it go and create a very different reality. Again, this is an energy shifter.

 

The common expression “You can’t change the other person” appears sensible when a relationship is in turmoil. But from the quantum view of inseparability, if you change some aspect of yourself, it will necessarily affect your partner, because you’re both as connected as our quantum particles.

 

This post was excerpted from Mel’s forthcoming book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love Sep. 2017 (Sounds True).

 

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Be the Change You Seek in the Other

quantum entanglement

Few things are as common to our relationships as our asking for, if not demanding, change from one another. These may begin as requests and over time descend into full-blown demands as frustrations arise and hostility grows. The ensuing adversarial energy then often pits each party into a defensive posture whereby conciliation and cooperation retreat and the impasse is fortified. What begins as an earnest request for change devolves into a mindless tit-for-tat exchange. Picture each person with their arms folded in front of them saying, “Why should I go first, when you have done such and such to me?” This leads to stagnation, if not an outright death knell for the relationship. Read more

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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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Low Self-Esteem: A Missed Diagnosis

low self esteem

According to the National Institute of Health, one in every two Americans will ultimately be diagnosed with some form of mental illness. What’s behind this staggering rate of malaise? Aside from the psychiatric/pharmaceutical collusion that tends to overly pathologize normal life challenges and transmute them into mental illness, I’d offer that the primary culprit is low self-esteem. Yet the DSM – the psychiatric bible for diagnosis – offers no diagnosis of self-esteem. My experience informs me that marginal self-worth manifests through an array of dysfunction, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, ADHD, codependence, failed relationships and, even more tragically, lives lived out in mediocrity.

We focus on the more specific diagnosable illnesses that result from marginal self-worth because we have medications that treat them, notwithstanding their questionable results. But there is no pill to offer someone with low self-worth, so there’s no revenue to be generated. Moreover, as a culture, our intellectual proclivity is to focus on the symptom and disregard the underlying and perhaps complex circumstances that contribute to the devolving of a human life. This is due to our drive to over simplify and seek quick solutions to the very complex tapestry of a human life.

 

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Diagnosis Disorder

ADHDdrugsideeffects2I would like to propose a new disorder for the American Psychiatric Association to consider in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: that of confusing a diagnosis with being a real thing unto itself. A recent New York Times article from April 1, 2013, reported that one in every five high school boys and 11% of all children are diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

My contention is that nobody has ADHD, because it doesn’t exist. The acronym ADHD simply describes behaviors and conditions that may correspond with a diagnosis, which we created. As with all diagnoses, when we confuse the description with being an actual entity, we trick ourselves and exacerbate the problem.

A psychiatric diagnosis should be descriptive rather than a statement of an objective reality. It should therefore delineate tendencies of behavior and personality as well as emotional and psychological patterns that a clinician observes, which should thereby facilitate our understanding and treatment. The concept of reification refers to taking an abstract idea and turning it into a real thing. This is precisely what occurs with diagnoses. They take on a life of their own. Referred to as the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, mind creates something – in this case, ADHD – and then denies its own participation in having done so.

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A Radical Reality

To this day, quite possibly the most provocative, if not astounding, discovery of modern science remains relatively obscure to the general public. This is, perhaps, due to how greatly it shatters our myth of reality – and, subsequently, our understanding of how we picture reality operating. This startling new worldview has been too radical for us to feel comfortable truly considering. For if we did, it would compel us to drastically reframe our thinking and our lives. Yet, by doing so, our lives would likely become unburdened and flourish.

For the most part, we have envisioned reality based upon the themes that Sir Isaac Newton postulated back in the seventeenth century. Newton constructed a machine-like model of the world, which is comprised of separate and distinct objects, disconnected from one other, interacting only through cause and effect. This picture of reality, operating as a giant machine, shackles our lives like little else. The depiction is absent any scintilla of meaning or purpose, as we become the cogs in the machine, detached from one other and the universe at large. This image is also devoid of any sense of relatedness, as separation becomes the essence of the Newtonian worldview. This paradigm leaves us humans as strangers in a mechanical universe, whereby isolation is the primary motif. Epidemics of depression are the inevitable result of this scenario. From this filter we experience a vast array of struggle and malaise. Many of our ensuing challenges and conflicts can be derived from this misunderstanding of reality. Yet there is now ample evidence to drastically reconsider how we look at the bigger picture. Read more

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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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Collapsing The Wave: Creating New Realities

Some of the remarkable discoveries from quantum physics can be adapted to help us break free from the groove of our past and unleash real change in our lives. The quantum world reveals that light has a somewhat schizophrenic nature. It has the dual capacity to exist either as a wave or a particle. This tendency is referred to as the wave/particle duality. This seemingly illogical notion is naturally counterintuitive and rubs against our common sense of logic. Ordinarily, we believe that things either are or are not. This is not the case here, however.

It appears that when the light photon is not being observed it exists in waveform, but at the moment of observation, the wave collapses and becomes a particle. The act of observing actually collapses the wave. Prior to making the observation the wave represents a state of pure potentiality. That potential only becomes manifest into a fixed state when we look at it. I have come to see that a very similar phenomenon occurs in our lives.

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