Anxiety: Winning The Fight Yet Habit Loop Loopy

Estimated time to read: 6 minutesWe’re winning! We’re winning! The human species hasn’t gone out of existence. So, humans have been winning the survival fight. However, our minds have paid a price.

Barefoot scared boy

As Dan Harris likes to share, we’re “descendants of nervous monkeys.” We’re stressed out sentient beings. If something scary happens, we feel stressed. If we anticipate trouble, we also feel stressed.

We feel good stress and out of control stress. The good stress has kept enough of us excellent sources of protein from getting eaten by tigers. It’s the out of control stress that causes us anxious distress. So, let’s keep the good stress and even give it a name, eustress. The rest of this writing focuses on unhealthy out of control stress or anxiety.

Out of Control Stress

“My world is spinning. I can’t think straight. My mind is racing! My heart is pounding! I can’t focus.” are phrases that are familiar to those suffering from extreme stress. Sometimes such anxiety is chronic and interferes with your life. If anxiety is interfering with your life, you may want to see this APA article titled Beyond Worry: How Psychologists Help With Anxiety Disorders and seek professional help. There’s no shame in taking care of your mental health.

Procrastination as Opposed To Just Doing It

If you are suffering from great stress, it’s easy to fall into the trap of procrastination. There is the habit pattern of getting distracted from your source of stress as opposed to truly managing stress. If someone knowledgeable suggests a simple meditation technique, a mental health professional suggests a course of action, or a doctor recommends something like exercise, follow their advice.

It’s fine to seek a second opinion. Just don’t let that get out of hand either. It’s unfortunate that the shortest path to distraction is asking a million questions to a million people before taking the first or second step. That step may be to “Keep meditating as I have suggested.”

In other words, there’s the urge to over-analyze a situation. The Parable of the Poisoned Arrow covers this well. An excerpt:

He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

As James put it in our meditation community:

“Doctor I need help for XYZ.” “Ah, no worries my son, here is the medicine.”

“Doctor, I’m still suffering.” “Did you take the medicine?” “No.” “Take the medicine.” “Okay.”

“Doctor, I’m still suffering.” “Did you take the medicine?” “No.” “Take the medicine.” “Okay.”

“Doctor, I’m still suffering.” “Did you take the medicine?” “No.” “Take the medicine.” “Okay.”

“Doctor, I’m still suffering. Do you think this pillow will help?”

It’s understandable that the mind will fall into such a trap. The mind is prone to do that. We understand and love you as a fellow human being. ?

However, you’re going to keep suffering the same way unless you follow the advice of those who are experienced. As George Mumford jokingly put it in the 10% Happier app, “Don’t just do something, sit there [and meditate].” Otherwise, you’re trapped.

Habit Loop Pattern Generators

How do we fall into the trap of anxiety? Our minds are wonderful habit pattern generators. We create patterns of habit loops. For example:

  1. Something positive happens.
  2. We remember how we got that positive experience.
  3. We perform that behavior again whenever we crave that positive experience.

What about something bad?

  1. A problem comes up and we suffer.
  2. We do something to solve the problem and feel temporarily released from that suffering.
  3. We try to perform that same strategy whenever we detect a problem or even a potential problem. We fight fear itself.

Fighting fear is a sure way to form an unhealthy habit loop. Our minds are prone towards unhealthy rumination. The mind says “Do something!” Yet, sometimes you realize there’s nothing you can do, but worry. So, you worry even when it’s not useful.

That’s the catch. The repetitive rumination and worrying over a problem even though there’s nothing new to think about is not useful. Even trying to manage anxiety by solving all your problems in life is not doable. Those approaches are recipes for anxiety habit loops.

Dr. Judson Brewer MD, Ph.D explains in this video how anxiety is a learned habit:

(The program he refers to at the end is called Unwinding Anxiety® It has quite useful and free introductory parts.)

Step Out of the Anxiety Loop

You don’t have to solve whatever problems you are facing to make anxiety manageable. You can manage your anxiety even before solving the problems. That will enable you to solve your problems better. By recognizing the loop, you can break out of this spiral of doom and gloom. After you have taken that step back and mentally stepped out of the loop, you can reframe your problems as just challenges to overcome.

Meditate Your Way Into The Eye of the Hurricane

Stepping out of the loop through meditation is like finding the calm in the midst of the storm. As George Mumford puts it in George Mumford, The Sports World’s Mindfulness Whisperer, you can find peace and ease in the “eye of the hurricane” through meditation.

Once you step out of that anxiety habit loop through meditation, you can re-frame your problems as challenges. Reframing is a way to get into a positive mindset that allows for growth beyond the fight and flight anxious mindset. You can set yourself up to be zone-ready. You can get into the zone easier and solve your challenges easier when the time is right to solve them. It’s like rising above the storm clouds and seeing the blue sky.

How To Begin Towards Peace and Blue Sky? Meditate

So, how can you see the blue sky that is in the eye of the hurricane? How can you mentally separate yourself from the storm?

As shared in Anxiety? How Does One Start To Meditate?, apply the technique of Blue Sky. Your fears and suffering can be seen as just clouds in a blue sky. Your consciousness is the blue sky. Instead of thinking, “I am anxious.” You can say there is anxiousness in the mind. It’s like saying there’s a dark cloud in the sky. All emotions are like the weather. They come and go. We don’t have to mentally collapse into them. All the physical sensations of stress can also be seen as clouds in the sky. See this video called Underlying Calm by Headspace:

The blue sky is separate, free, and always there.

Don’t Fight Anxiety

As you are meditating, fighting the feelings and thoughts associated with anxiety just puts more energy into them. Don’t fight nor feed them. Just let them be.

From Headspace, here are thoughts from a famous meditation expert named Andy Puddicombe. He makes the distinction between meditating and just thinking about anxiety. He describes how to step out of the anxiety loop.

Stress and a certain amount of anxiety is a part of our lives. We need to understand how to manage it along with all our emotions. If you haven’t already started meditating, I recommend it.

Begin Meditating

I recommend you try Achieve Access Concentration in 28 Days that’s on this very website. As of this writing, it’s currently free. However, don’t mistake that for meaning it’s cheap. It’s a high quality course that sets you down the right path.

Summary

Through evolution, humans are set up to be stressed, form habit patterns, and sometimes easily fall into an unhealthy relationship with stress. If stress or anxiety are interfering with your ability to function in life, there’s no shame in seeking professional help. Do it.

We fall into these habit patterns aka habit loops by seeking relief through habitual patterns of behavior. The smart move is to step out of this two dimensional habit loop, mindfully observe it all by mentally taking a step back, and finding peace through meditation.

You can increase your mindfulness of the situation through meditation. There are different resources shared in this writing and on the website that can help.

By doing this, we can up our game in life. As George Mumford put it:

It’s only in changing your consciousness that you can solve problems and transform your game, wherever you’re playing it and whatever it is.

May you be safe, be happy, be healthy, and live with ease. Now, go meditate.

Photo by AM Renault

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