Why acceptance of anxiety is your best foot forward

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

Anxiety is a part of life and a part of being human.

Life is by its nature uncertain. We try lots of different ways to feel secure and increase certainty in our lives but ultimately we really cannot control everything.

This creates anxiety for everyone to some degree.

According to ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), there are three fundamentally different ways we can choose to approach anxiety: fusion, avoidance and acceptance.

Fusion

We can choose to allow anxiety to control us and dictate how we live our lives. We can choose to follow its demands and try to control things as much as we can to reduce it. Ultimately however this strategy does not work very well as there are more and more things that we find we can’t control and it’s hard to keep up with all the things anxiety tells us we need to do to feel ‘safe’. An example of this is agoraphobia. In the end, a person with this condition cannot leave home at all and their house becomes a prison. Anxiety can push us to do all kinds of silly things that seem to make perfect sense at the time, like calling that friend over and over again when they are 10 minutes late, or going back to check you’ve locked the door 20 times, just in case. Anxiety thrives on what ifs and the more we listen to its shrill, insistent call the less we allow ourselves to really live.

Avoidance

We can choose to try and rid ourselves of our anxious thoughts and feelings by avoiding them. This often takes the form of distraction or numbing. We can choose to distract ourselves from anxiety by a number of ways. Some distractions are healthier than others, for example, going to the gym or reading. However all distractions can become problematic if we engage in them too much or too often. Some distractions are pretty unhealthy from the get go, such as alcohol or other drugs. Some can be o.k. in small doses but can cause problems if we allow ourselves to get ‘hooked’ by the distraction – I am thinking of things like eating, gambling, surfing the net, watching a movie or even having sex. These are all potentially unhealthy distractions. In the end however, avoidance only works for a short time to relieve our anxiety, and we often find that when we come back to reality after spending time with our distractions, things have gotten much worse in our absence!

Acceptance

The third way we can choose to relate to our anxiety is to accept it for what it is. That is, make room for anxiety in your life. Expect anxiety as part of life and that it will come up at different times. In-fact, if we didn’t have any anxiety at all, we would get in trouble real quick! Acceptance doesn’t mean you want or like the feeling but simply that you are willing to allow it. Respect anxiety as a part of your humanity and in some ways, anxiety can sometimes even be helpful. I know it sounds crazy but learning to tune in to your anxiety and really listen to what it is trying to tell you can be really beneficial. Some people might call this level of attunement to our inner world intuition. Learning to tune into your anxiety can help you to distinguish what kind of anxiety you are experiencing. That is because anxiety is not a blanket, one size fits all emotion. There are different types of anxiety. For example, there is the anxiety that comes with staying stuck and the anxiety that comes with moving forward. Both generate anxiety but one is more of an excited type of feeling and the other, the former, is more of a sluggish, mucky type of anxiety. I know which anxiety I’d prefer to feel!

So there you have it. Three different ways to interact with anxiety. Which will you choose?

 

 

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7 simple life hacks to commit to in 2018.

Forget New Years resolutions. The news is out! We are not victims of circumstance or biology. No matter what your past history entails, the good news is change is possible. Our brains are flexible and wired for change and adaptability. It’s called neuroplasticity. The more we practice a behaviour, whatever that behaviour is, the stronger that part of our brain becomes. In other words, we become what we do most.

So, becoming more conscious of what we do on a daily, hourly and moment to moment basis is the key to change. Whatever it is you want to start or stop doing, there is no time like the present to take a step in the right direction.

Here are seven ways that you can change your mind, and life, for the better with the help of mindfulness practices.

1. Live mindfully

…that is, consciously, with awareness and conscious choice. Living mindfully means bringing conscious awareness to everything you do. It doesn’t mean you have to spend hours a day meditating but even a few moments of pausing, breathing and noticing what you are experiencing without overthinking can help improve mood and manage daily stress.

2. Relate to experience directly

Try using your senses rather than through thinking, analyzing or judging all of the time. Take a moment to stop, notice and check in with your self. A simple mindfulness exercise is the 5×5 pause. Going through your five senses and noticing the first 5 things you see, hear, feel, smell and taste. (Taste is sometimes a difficult one, unless you are seated at a sushi train…yum!) However, by the time you get to taste, you will have mindfully checked in with yourself.

3. Stay in the present

Resist the urge to dwell on past events or worry about future “what ifs”. Staying present involves noticing and accepting your day to day, moment to moment experience as real and valuable. Whenever you find yourself time travelling in your mind try a simple 5×5 meditation or simply stop and notice your breathing for a few moments, to bring you back to now. You can also take a moment to look around you and notice the small details of your immediate environment. It’s amazing what you see when you stop to look.

4. Avoid avoiding all unpleasant feelings at any cost

Try to welcome all feelings and emotions as temporary messengers who have something important to tell you. Feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are and they do pass. Emotions are our body’s way of communicating our truest needs, desires and wants. We don’t have to follow our emotions or do what they tell us to every time, however, acknowledging your feelings is the first step towards honoring our truth. Knowledge is power after all.

5. Accept things as they now are and go from there

…instead of how you would like them to be. Don’t waste energy or time on struggling with discontent. The more you struggle with feelings of frustration, unfairness and anger regarding those things (or people) that you cannot change, the less energy you have to put into changing those things you can. Take a deep breath, and take control of the only things you can control, your own mouth, arms and legs!

6. Learn to see your thoughts as just thoughts, not facts or reality

Some thoughts are factual, some may have elements of truth and some may be completely incorrect – learn to choose which thoughts are most helpful to you rather than focusing on whether they are true or real. Our thoughts have the ability to influence our emotions and actions. But, thoughts are really just words, symbols and images floating in and out of your conscious mind. They are not who you are. Your thoughts do not define you. One of the core mindfulness processes is taking a step back from your thoughts and watching them come and go. Like clouds in the sky, or sushi on a sushi train! You can choose your thoughts just as you can choose your sushi. Focusing on thoughts gives them undue power  however so, choose your thoughts wisely.

7. Practice self-compassion daily.

Be kind to yourself. Learn and practice how to be your own best friend and treat yourself with the kindness, compassion and respect you really want. Watch what you say, do and how you treat you. If you find yourself saying, doing or treating yourself in a way that you would never treat a friend then that is a sign that you need to be more loving to you. Take some time every day to say a kind word to yourself or give yourself some praise or encouragement. It might be useful to practice daily affirmations like, I am doin the best I can with what I have or Every day I get a little better at being me.

There you go. Seven super simple New Year strategies to practice daily to improve your mind, reduce anxiety and stress without having to start a new exercise class or join anything.

Wishing you all a safe and enjoyable end of 2017!

 

The parable of the shower-head. A reflection on acceptance.

I am doing my very best with what I have

A while ago I wrote a post on my old blog titled, Am I Futurizing?  In which I reflected on the term as it related to my relationship. Basically, futurizing in a relationship context involves wanting to fast track a future without fully appreciating things as they are in the present. It’s like you have this idea of a happy ever after in your head and you are impatient to get there. Understandable, but so much so that you negate the present and are constantly feeling ripped off or anxious. It’s like there’s a kid in the back seat of your mind constantly asking, “Are we there yet? Are wee therree yettt?? Yes, it is annoying.

Since I wrote that post however, I have read a lot more about things like mindfulness and existential therapy and the relationship between Buddhist philosophy and the ability to be more in the here and now. And, so I have since found an answer to my question. Yes, I was futurizing…. oops!

So, where does the shower-head fit in to all this? Well, thing is, I don’t really love my apartment. It’s a bit of a dump really. The kitchen cupboards don’t all close properly. Someone has done a shoddy job of painting the place. All the light fittings have paint on them, and the bathroom has a hole in the ceiling. The water used to trickle out of the shower and to get your whole body wet you had to do this weird kinda twist like dance step. At the time, however, I was desperate to find a place and was running out of time, so I took it. I remember crying the day I moved in to this shoe box which looked worse than I remembered it from the time that lapsed between the inspection and my moving in. Still, I told myself, it’s only temporary…So confident was I of that fact that I only signed a six month lease. I thought by the end of that year my boyfriend and I would be moving in together for sure. Well, here we are more that a year later and I’m still here. We are still together, and yes there have been vague discussions about a future cohabitation occurring at some point in the future but no concrete plans yet.

For over a year I put up with that shitty shower. My boyfriend and I would attempt to shower together and we would have to take turns getting wet and invariably, one of us would be standing shivering while the other rinsed off. He kept saying, Why don’t you get the real estate to look at it? I’d say, Yeah I’ll do it today. But I kept putting it off or forgetting about it. Until the next morning when I’d be standing in the shower recess feeling resentful about how displeased I was with my shower and what it represented. I allowed the bitter semi hot water to dribble over me and I’d feel annoyed every morning. Not a great way to start your day…

This went on until last week, when I finally asked myself, So what is the meaning of my resistance to getting a new shower-head? And then the realisation dawned on me. I was still futurizing. I was unwilling to change my shower-head because it represented my suffering in the present moment and for some reason, I had become attached to that suffering. Like, there was something noble in it? What was noble about having a shit shower every day? Nothing. I was just resisting accepting how things were for me in the present because I was still living in the future somewhat in which everything would be perfect, supposedly.

Well, past experience has taught me this: The future and the past are many things, but they are rarely ever perfect. Why suffer anymore than you have to in the present. Why play the victim? That day I emailed my real estate agent and the next day I had a shiny new shower-head which covered my whole body in a steady, hot and steamy stream of heavenly water.  I stood there in my new luxurious shower, in my shitty bathroom thinking…FFS why did I wait so long??

So, the moral of this story is. Don’t wait too long to change your shitty shower-head! Live in the present and enjoy it as best you can. I’m sure most of us have a shitty shower-head in their life. What’s yours?