Kjersti Ane Østvik
On anxiety and some universal principles
I’m guessing you have your own thoughts and ideas about what anxiety is, and perhaps you think that your anxiety is somehow different or that you have lived with it for so long that there is no way it’s going to change by trying yet another approach. I’m guessing that if you are struggling with anxiety and/or panic attacks, you have tried a lot of different approaches already to try to change your experience of it up until now. Perhaps you are even avoiding certain situations, people or places because you think that is where your anxiety is coming from. And I totally get you. I did that too. Living with anxiety is no walk in the park when it feels as if it’s running your life and that there’s no way escaping it. Of course we want to get rid of it if we can, and so we try and we try and we try. However, most other approaches I know of and have tried myself, are ways to try to manage anxiety or fix ourselves, which is one hell of a job, to be honest. It’s hard to do in the long run, it’s time and energy consuming, and more often than not, we are left with having to manage it all the time, often more instead of less. It can easily turn into a full-time job.
Did you know that anxiety doesn’t come from other people, places or situations, even if that is what most of us have been led to believe? It does not even come from spiders or snakes. Anxiety comes from anxious thinking about those people, places and situations, spiders and snakes. Nothing can give you any feeling, except your own thinking. Most of us have, however, innocently been led to believe that feelings somehow come from other people, from situations we find ourselves in, from spiders and snakes, or from places, such as elevators or aeroplanes. Not true. You always feel your own thinking one hundred percent of the time, whether you’re aware of it or not. That is empowering, because then you can learn to see your thoughts and feelings differently.
Did you know that you don’t have to manage anything to do with your thoughts and feelings? Did you know that understanding how the system works can give you a different experience of anxiety, and of thoughts and feelings in general without doing anything? Did you know there are universal principles behind the way our psychology works, just like there are principles behind how your blood flows through your veins, how your digestion works and how your breathing functions? Did you know that, just like gravity, there are forces at work within you, within all of us, all the time, quietly working in the background to get you back into a state of balance, whether you are aware of it or not? Isn’t that something! Everything else in our bodies is taken care of, for the most part, most of the time, without us having to interfere in any way. Consider the way a wound heals. Is there anything you must do to make that wound heal? Except perhaps keep it clean and cover it with a band aid? If you interfere and try to fix it, it will still heal, but it may take longer. Or consider your digestion? Anything you must do to make the right enzymes come in and break food down into nutrients for your body to absorb? The system, life itself, takes care of that all on its own without you having to lift a finger. Why wouldn’t your psychology work like that too, why should you have to manage that when all the rest is taken care of? It makes a lot more sense that it does work like that. Your psychology, your mind, your thoughts and feelings system, work without you having to interfere. There are principles behind the way we work, psychologically as well as physically. There is much less to do than you think there is.
We feel our own thinking all the time. Perhaps you have experienced that to be true for yourself. So, when we’re experiencing feelings that we generally don’t want to be experiencing, like anxiety, what should we do about it? Could we just substitute the anxious, unpleasant thoughts with happier more joyful thoughts to experience a different feeling? I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s possible to just change our thoughts to have better ones. Perhaps sometimes that seems to work, but in the long run it doesn’t, or everybody would be walking around with happy thoughts and feelings most of the time, and most people aren’t. I know you have probably tried doing that for yourself, and when we’re in the middle of a panic attack or an anxious thought storm, it’s not possible to change anything we think or feel just because we want to. In fact, the more we try to get rid of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, the longer they will stay. It’s like trying to add another ingredient to a cake that is already baked. The cake is done, there is nothing you can do about it. Just like a wound will take longer to heal if we’re in there trying to fix it instead of leaving it alone to let the system handle it the way it’s designed to, thoughts and feelings will stay longer if we try to change them. I would suggest that understanding what thoughts and feelings are and how the system works is a much better approach. Understanding that thoughts, anxious or joyful or of any other flavour, will pass through your mind like blips of energy, one by one by one, or sometimes in heaps at a time, and the feelings accompanying them will do the same if you don’t give them your attention. Did you know thoughts and feelings are transient and made by energy? Did you know they are not meaningful or important most of the time? Did you know that your anxious thoughts are not telling you the truth of you or your circumstances or of the people around you? They are made of the same energy stuff that your dreams at night are. Dreams at night are so easily dismissed as that, most of the time, whereas the dreams we experience during the day seem to have different beliefs attached to them. What if they are really the same? What if all thoughts are made of the same energy, and are inherently neutral before we add meaning to them?
In my experience the accompanying feeling in your body will let you know when not to listen to your thinking, when not to give your attention to the thoughts running through your mind, when not to take your thoughts seriously and believe them. It hurts to believe thoughts that aren’t true! It hurts because your kind design wants to alert your attention away from your thoughts and towards what’s true and never changing, towards who you really are. Underneath your thinking mind, you are the energy of life itself. You are awareness. You are love, wisdom, clarity, peace of mind, kindness. I know it may seem hard to believe, but at the same time I also know that deep down you know this to be true. You know that you are not your thoughts. You know or sense that you are something more, you are what’s before thought. How can we be what is constantly changing? Are you an anxious person or a care-free person? Are you a confident person or are you insecure? I’m guessing that depends on what thoughts are flowing through your mind, consciously or not. When we’re in a low mood, a low state of mind, it is easy to believe we are what our thoughts are telling us we are. But when our mood changes, when our state of mind rises, we see things more clearly and we see that perhaps we are not insecure or anxious after all. When we’re no longer in the thick of it, we can see that we had some insecure or anxious thinking that may have led us to believe we were insecure or anxious, but that is all. None of us are born insecure or anxious. We are all born resilient with everything we need inside of us. Consider that. You have everything you need inside of you. When you feel in balance and at peace, you are touching this space of who you really are. When you are feeling anxious or scared or alone, it’s your kind design calling you back home, calling you to see that you are not what you think you are and that your thoughts are not telling the truth. Truth doesn’t feel like that. Truth is always kind and the feeling accompanying it is different. Truth is an inner knowing, an inner wisdom guiding you through life. I encourage you to be curious and explore this for yourself, and if you want to drop me an email or have a chat, I would be happy to hear your reflections.
With love, Kjersti