One of my all-time favorite movies, Defending Your Life, features Albert Brooks in “Judgment City” after his untimely death, defending his behavior during his just-ended life. A central tenet of the film is that anxiety is a given in human beings which we must all struggle to overcome. In the film, Brooks’ character will either ‘move on’ to the next level or get sent back to tackle his anxiety one more time.
Examining my own life and watching the lives of others unfold has convinced me that this is an innate truth. Rick Hanson, author of Buddha’s Brain, who I heard speak in January, talked about how our brains are conditioned in this way for survival. A prehistoric human, obliviously waltzing through the meadow picking flowers, was likely to be the victim of a sabre-toothed tiger. Snap, crack, crunch–end of that lineage. Only those worriers who were constantly wary, watching for danger around every bush, survived to reproduce. This means most of us have the worry habit pretty well locked in, after eons of reinforcement.
Face it: this habit is no longer necessary for survival. Worriers often argue that point, feeling that the energy invested in worrying does somehow protect us. We think that if we relax our brains, and don’t tune into all the negative, we may miss a chance to protect ourselves, to react in time. Proponents of positive thinking insist the opposite is true. The more we invest in looking for negative, the more it’s what we see. This is what Hanson said, too: each time we fuel that habitual worry with attention, the related brain connections are strengthened.
Time to banish this energy-draining habit–or at least reduce it’s hold. Anxiety need not be the basic human condition. My favorite tools to reduce anxiety are:
1) labeling the anxiety as just that. “It’s anxiety–it’s not real.” This is powerful for me, leading to a deep breath and letting go. Just because the habit has kicked in and the brain circuits are activated, doesn’t mean that’s TRUTH.
2) Mantras: mind vehicles. These are phrases I repeat to make NEW brain connections that eventually will override the old habits. You may have your own; here’s the latest that’s really speaking to me:
Fear is a down payment on a debt you may not owe.
I detest paying good money for something I’ve not yet received and that may never even be delivered. These words have been a great reminder, as a way to activate the idea behind that little charm on my key ring to “free your mind from worries.”