October 14, 2016

Dealing with Health Anxiety: A Liberating Realization

I came across something not too long ago that really struck a chord with me. I was reading about how most people have lost confidence in their bodies. Reading that was like someone had flipped a switch in my head. It made me realize how much I didn't trust my body.

Everyone has their own "feeling baggage." Some people have anger in their feeling baggage, some people have sadness, some people anxiety. We all have that one feeling we tend to have a harder time with. I have anxiety in my feeling baggage. It's what I have to practice being present with. And that's all right. We all have something in our feeling baggage.

And I've realized that a lot of the time, anxiety comes out of my feeling baggage and attack me because I don't trust my body.

Meditation had two aspects. The first aspect is called Shamatha, which is stopping. It's when we step back, concentrate on our breathing, and bring our minds back to the present moment.

The second aspect is Vipashyana, and that is looking deeply. This is when we understand ourselves, how our minds work, and realize that we can let go of the thoughts in our heads. It is insight.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a common type of psychotherapy, one of the main goals is to help the patient fully believe that their fears are irrational. Most people who go into therapy know that their fears are irrational--that's why they seek help. But they don't know how they could let their fears go, because on some level, they still believe that they are reasonable thoughts to keep around. Knowing and believing are not the same. A good therapist helps their patient fully believe that their fears are irrational, so they can let them go.

And that is one of the most liberating feelings. That is insight. 

One does not necessarily need a therapist or meditation to achieve this. These aha moments can be triggered by reading something or hearing something that strikes a deep chord with us. This time, the following short Tumblr quote did it for me:
I've spent so much time being afraid of my own body. Fearing that it will somehow turn against me at the most inconvenient moment. If you are familiar with health anxiety, you know exactly what I'm talking about. This quote made me realize how ridiculous that was.

My body is not my enemy who wants to harm me--it is, and always has been, my most passionate ally.

Our bodies do everything for us--we don't even have to think about it. They work all the time to keep us safe. Our bodies are our guardians who always look out for us. And yet, we often look at them as if they were our worst enemies.

Isn't that so sad? It's the same kind of judgement that makes us fear other people. It's the same kind of fear that fuels hatred and prejudice. Only it's not directed outward--it's directed inward.

This realization blew my mind. I believe so strongly in being loving and kind toward others, and yet, I have been so judgmental and afraid of something so close to me--my own body.

Because of this, I didn't recognize my most loyal friend, the one who is tirelessly working for me like a loving parent. Instead of feeling at home and at ease in my own body, I often felt terrified of what it would do next.

And that's not only a stressful way to live, it is also not very smart, let's be honest. Neuroscientists have said that fear is the lowest level our brain can operate on. When we are afraid, we can't be creative, we can't solve problems, we can't think effectively. And being afraid of our bodies that are biologically designed to help us and take care of us is just nonsense.

So this is how I went from knowing that I don't need to be afraid, to fully believing it. This is an insight that is truly precious to me. Because, finally, where I saw an enemy who could cause me harm at any moment, now I see a faithful friend, who works tirelessly to keep me safe.

I'm at home in my own body. I can just relax. I am taken care of.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

"If we lose our faith and confidence in our bodies, we lose everything. Instead of panicking or giving ourselves up to despair, we practice mindful breathing and put our trust in the healing power of our bodies. 'Don't worry, I'll take care of you. Just rest.'" - Thich Nhat Hanh

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October 7, 2016

Why Is Everyone Happy But Me? Dealing with Unwanted Feelings

Why do we start working on ourselves? Why do we look up posts on the internet that help us deal with life and ourselves? Why do we go to therapy? Why do we do all these things?

Have you ever thought about it?

As for me, I started looking into self-development when I was going through a very difficult time with anxiety. It's pretty obvious that I started searching around for help because I wanted to get better. I wanted to feel better, because I was feeling horrible most of the time. My life was not very enjoyable, and I didn't like it. I wanted to be happy. Or at least happier.

Most people who are peaceful and happy didn't start out that way. They began improving themselves because they were unhappy and non-peaceful.

So what does that tell us? People want to better themselves because they want to feel better.

That's not a bad thing, of course. We should learn to enjoy our lives and understand ourselves. It's the most useful skill to have. But there are holes we can fall into unexpectedly. And that's what I want to talk about today.

As I said, I started practicing mindfulness when I was having a rough time. Meditation and mindfulness practices helped me immensely. Immensely. They helped me understand how my mind works and how I can practice responding to my own habitual patterns.

But I did make mistakes in the process. One of these mistakes was that I believed that if I practiced long enough, I could eliminate discomfort. That these practices would completely remove my fears. And there were times when meditation was a way for me to avoid unease. Because I wanted to be in that special, peaceful state of mind, always.

I thought that was possible. I thought that's what I was supposed to be doing. I thought that if I wasn't peaceful and comfortable all the time, I was doing something wrong. That feeling even a tiny bit uncomfortable was my fault.

I put myself down whenever I was not feeling great. I thought it was the sign of my own failure.

But like I always say, just because you think something does not make it true. And like a lot of my thoughts, these ones ended up being untrue as well.

It's easy to mistake meditation and mindfulness with feeling good and being at peace. But meditation is not about feeling good at all. Actually, if we think that, we just set ourselves up for failure, because let me tell you: Everyone experiences mental and physical discomfort. Everyone. Even the most experienced meditator or the wisest Zen master.

Meditation is not about fixing ourselves, it's about learning to relax with ourselves. With understanding and acceptance.

We can never avoid discomfort, no matter how many years we practice. You might look at Zen masters and think they never feel uncomfortable, but that's not true. They just learned how to relate to discomfort. They don't expect to feel perfect and comfortable all the time. They know that's just how human life is and accepted it with peace.

We might feel that peace can only come to us if we push discomfort away or try to fix ourselves. But peace happens when we are able to sit with our discomfort without trying to fix it, and instead of hardening, we let it soften us.

Nowadays, in the age of social media, everybody likes to present a false picture of their lives where they are constantly happy. This, of course, makes everybody feel like they are doing something wrong, since they are not that happy all the time. So we start to think that we are at fault. We want to run away from every uncomfortable feeling, because we think they only show our own incompetence and failure. But that's not true. All people feel discomfort. They are just trying to run away from it, too, like everybody else.

So, instead of trying to run away, here's another way to respond to uncomfortable feelings:

Step one: Acknowledge your thoughts as just thoughts.

Thoughts are only true if you believe them. See the stories in your head and question their validity. This is how you get to know your mind.

See your thoughts as just thoughts and let them go.

Step two: React peacefully.

Even when we let go of the stories in our heads, even when we see they are untrue, the uncomfortable feeling still remains. And that's okay. It's not a sign that we are doing something wrong. But how we react to this feeling is our choice. And that's where we can practice.

Usually, we react to these feelings out of habit. Maybe we watch TV or drink alcohol in order to repress it.

We might cry or scream or panic. That's acting on the feeling.

Instead of repressing it or acting on it, we can try something that is not our habitual reaction. This can be anything that is not our usual reaction. For example, when I get anxious I sit down and allow myself to feel it. I let go of the thoughts in my head, knowing that they are not reality, and I just let myself feel.

I used to watch TV or do anything that took my mind off of my feelings, but now I face them. Because I know there's nothing to fear. It's natural to feel uncomfortable. And only from the uncomfortable can we learn.

What we dislike most about our lives are what we can learn the most from. We can only learn to be peaceful in non-peace. We can only learn to be brave when we are afraid. We can only become smart if we face our own delusions.

So I encourage you to let yourself feel and accept yourself as you are. No person is more powerful, peaceful and wise than the one who has completely accepted themselves.

A guided meditation on the topic can be listened to here.

“A further sign of health is that we don't become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us. ” 
― Pema Chödrön, The Places that Scare You

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September 30, 2016

How to Live in the Present Moment: Our Thoughts Are Stupid (And Pretty Funny)

We often hear that we should be living in the present moment. That the now is the answer to all our problems. It might seem like an exaggeration, and maybe it is, but practicing being mindful of the present moment can definitely solve a lot of our problems.

You know why? Because most of our problems don't exist outside of the present moment.

I don't know about you, but my anxieties never stem from the present moment. I never worry because the way things are right now are, I worry about what will happen soon.

But the most important question is: How can we implement this into our lives? We worry, we think, that's what humans do. And all the wisdom sounds really good, but saying and doing are two different things. So how do we do it? How?

It takes work. I'm not going to sit here and say it doesn't. It takes practice and determination. Because worry is a habit of the mind. And habits need time to change.


What we do with our attention is what matters the most. Most of the time, we don't focus our attention on what is, but what will be or what was

If we love our work, we might be completely immersed in it whilst we do it. When I'm working, I'm working, and there is nothing else. I have no worries, no fears. Because my mind is focused on what I am doing.

But what happens when we stop working? The mind has to focus on something--so it tends to fall into its habit of worrying, grabbing onto thoughts that can occupy our attention.

This is where our focus comes in. If we see what is happening, we can put a stop to it. We can stop engaging with these thoughts and move our attention elsewhere. This elsewhere can be anything, like our own breathing, our steps as we are walking or the person we are with. Just don't engage with the thoughts in your head--don't let them take you away.

The point is to stop getting sucked into our minds and get our attention to rest on something else. With practice, it becomes easier.

This is it.

One of the calligraphy pieces zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has made says simply: This is it.

I wondered for a long time what that meant exactly. And now I get it. I get it completely.

This present moment is it. Where our thoughts pull us will never come. Because the present is all that we will ever have to live. Unlike our minds like to tell us, it will never get worse. This is it.

It's all pretty funny, actually.

I've had horrible moments with anxiety. Times when I thought I was dying and acted like a fool. I don't regret those moments though. I bring them to mind often. It helps me see how stupid worries are. How delusional we can get when we believe our thoughts.

It makes me laugh now. And isn't that a wonderful thing? To see through the mind's worries and realize that they are not real and never will be. They are just delusions. There's nothing else to do but laugh at ourselves--we humans are funny little creatures. No other being can scare themselves to death with a thought.

My mind tends to lean toward anxious thoughts regarding my health. I remember, many years ago, I got the idea that something was wrong with my bowels. I had the tiniest bit of sensation down there, and I hunched over, saying "Aw, my bowels." And in that moment, it all became so ridiculous that I couldn't stop laughing. Needless to say, I didn't worry about my bowels after that.

The Riddikulus charm in Harry Potter is one of my favorites for a reason--once you can see your fears as funny, they will never be able to scare you again, because you see how ridiculous they are.

It's just a thought, yay!

Nothing in life is more liberating, calming and freeing that recognizing your thoughts are just thoughts. Not reality, not the future--thoughts inside your head that are not real. It's the best thing in the world, really.

That is sanity, clarity and enlightenment.

Don't waste life lost between thoughts.

I have wasted a lot of my life being lost in my own head, believing my thoughts. The truth is, we miss out on life if we get sucked into our minds. Because thinking is not living--it's the opposite.

That's why it's so healthy and important to practice emptying the mind, not concentrating on our thoughts, not believing that that's where we need to be. Where we need to be is in our lives, living--in the present moment.

In the now there is no need for worry. Thoughts are just thoughts. And they can be pretty funny sometimes. So allow yourself to laugh. Life awaits.

"As soon as you have made a thought, laugh at it." — Lao Tsu

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September 22, 2016

Don't Let Anxiety Control You: You're Fine

I used to decide everything I did based on how I was feeling.

      I feel a little off?
      Then it's only natural I cancel every plan I had for today. It might be a sign of some sort of doom.

I might be exaggerating a bit (not really), but you get the idea.

I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Listen to your body: We hear this all the time. But listening to your body and being controlled by your feelings are not the same. They are not the same at all.

This is a common problem for people with anxiety. Because when we have anxiety, we tend to be hypersensitive to every little feeling inside our bodies. Especially if we have health anxiety.

      Uh, my forehead feels weird . . .
      I better lie down until it gets better.

I was like this for so many years. And the urge to be like this still comes. But it's important to know better. To replace this unhealthy habit of the mind with a healthy one.

I've never met anyone who tortured themselves with these thoughts and actually had a real problem. There is no problem. The problem is that we fear that there will be one in the next moment. And we try our hardest to avoid it.

So we constantly turn our attention inward, always keeping a watchful eye on every little sensation in our bodies. But if you search for a problem, you will find one.

Hypersensitivity amplifies everything. It creates problems where there are none. People who are hypersensitive to their own feelings make a huge deal out of sensations others would not even notice.

And once we notice, we become anxious. We might even panic. And so the feeling amplifies. It grows into a huge monster when it was only a harmless little feeling we weren't even supposed to notice.

Now, I know that we do this because we think it keeps us safe. We constantly keep checking ourselves, that can't be bad, right? We are just keeping ourselves safe. That's what our minds say. But it couldn't be farther from the truth.

What we actually do is miss out on our lives because of an imaginary threat in our heads. It's like spending your life in a hospital, getting checkups every single day when there is nothing wrong with you. Let me repeat that again: There is nothing wrong with you. Let that sink in. 

When we don't feel perfect, the urge might come to just lie down. Take time off. Wait until it goes away. That is absolutely the worst we can do.

We are just reinforcing the idea that we should let our feelings control our lives if we react this way.

We let ourselves believe that there is an actual problem when there's none. And imaginary problems won't just suddenly disappear. We will keep making them up until we make an effort to stop.

Because let me tell you something that has changed my life: We can choose how we react to our own feelings.

We don't have to let them control us. We can be the masters of our minds instead of letting our minds control us. If we have these thoughts, these feelings, we can know that they are not important. We can choose to go on with our lives, not giving them attention and especially not giving them our time.

We are not our feelings--we are who we choose to be despite of them.

I can't tell you how many times I've looked up my symptoms only to find out that they were caused by anxiety. You can believe your lips are swollen when they are not. You can actually feel the feeling. You can believe you're dizzy, nauseous, choking, basically anything. Because we can become so focused on certain things that we actually start to feel the feelings. But nothing is really happening. Your lips are not swollen. Your throat is not closing up. You are not going to faint or get sick. You are fine. You need to stop looking inward and start looking outward. You can allow yourself to live your life.

This is a habit of the mind. You have believed that constantly keeping an eye on yourself keeps you safe, so your mind made a habit out of it. The good news is, you can replace that habit with a better one. Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind if you want to unlearn the hypersensitivity habit:

1. Don't make decisions based on how you're feeling.

Even if you feel anxious, who cares? Just go about your day. It's not a sin to be anxious. It's not a contagious disease. It's not the sign of a real problem. So just go about your day, and do what you want to do. Soon, your mind will follow in your footsteps and understand that there is no problem. And it will stop searching for one.

2. You don't need to feel perfect in order to enjoy life.

On the contrary to how we might have thought, we don't have to feel perfect in order to live life. I know I missed out on so many things because I felt like I shouldn't do them when I didn't feel totally fine.

But we don't need to wait until everything is perfect to live life. You're not feeling so hot, so what? You can still do whatever you want. I wrote a little note to myself that always makes me smile. It says, "Never forget how good it feels to dance in the rain."

3. You are fine, always remember that. Even if your feelings tell you otherwise.

This whole issue feeds on the belief that there is possibility that we are not fine. There is a possibility that some kind of doom is near. But just because we think it does not make it true. In fact, if we think it, it's probably untrue.

How many times were your anxious thoughts right? Mine were right zero times, and I've had hundreds of anxious days, so I've given them plenty of chances to be right.

When something did happen, I was never anxious! Because our bodies know how to calm us down when stuff actually goes down. My anxious thoughts were correct zero times. I think your number is the same. So let's draw the conclusion shall we? Once and for all: We are fine. Repeat as often and as many times as necessary.

4. Turn your attention outward instead of inward. Live your life.

It's good to understand our thoughts. To know our minds' habits. But understanding our heads and living inside of them are two different things. If we constantly turn our attention inward, we miss out on life in favor of something that is not even real.

So stop checking yourself, and turn your attention outward. Instead of listening to your thoughts, admire a flower or a tall tree or a beautiful bird. Instead of scanning your body for problems, hug your loved one, feel their warmth against yours and smile.

Because life is good, my friends, if we don't live it inside of our heads. There are people to love, things to create, adventures to live. We cannot think life. We cannot think love. We just have to allow ourselves to let everything go and feel it.

“Don’t move the way fear makes you move. Move the way love makes you move.” - Osho

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September 16, 2016

Why Is It So Hard to Just Relax?

I have bad days. I'm not going to say that I don't.

Almost four years ago, right before I started this site, I went through the hardest period of my life. I was crippled by anxiety every single day, so much so that I could barely eat or get out of bed.

I've come a long way since then.

But I'm not going to say that anxiety is something that I never experience anymore. I don't let it control my life now, and I like to think that I'm more peaceful nowadays than anxious.

But there are times when I wonder: Why is it so hard to just relax?

My main priority is being peaceful. I try not to care about much else, like how I look or how others see me or what would happen if . . . 

And yes, that's extremely easy to write down or even to say. Just be peaceful, just relax and don't care about anything else! Life solved.

As you all know, living life peacefully is not that easy. Zen monks follow strict lifestyles for a reason. So, the question is: Can we live a peaceful life without giving up everything and moving in with the monks?

My goal since I started my recovery has always been to be peaceful. To be a person who is calm and at peace. Sounds easy enough, right? Who wouldn't want inner peace?

Almost four years have passed, and I have to admit, I am not always peaceful. And I think I can say that no human being on this Earth is.

Sometimes, I just sit in the middle of my emotions and thoughts, getting fed up with it all, and with my last calm brain cell, I wonder: Why is it so hard to just relax?

The answer is just as simple as the question itself: Because we are human. Even if we don't want to be, we are.

We have feelings and emotions and thoughts, which are hard to deal with sometimes. But we will never not have them. And that's okay. It's okay.

Because we are not our feelings and thoughts. We are who we choose to be despite of them.

We are the parents who use their sick days when their kids are sick, not when they are. We are the kids who go to school even when it's the last place they want to be. We are the women who do their thing even when the world objectifies them. We are the men who are strong enough to cry. We are the people who get up, even when their own thoughts tell them they can't.

The people who react with peace, even to chaos.

It is hard. But easy was never the goal. So if you are not peaceful, or if you find it hard to relax, don't sweat it. Be at peace with your non-peace. You are doing your best. And it's enough. I guarantee that. It's enough.
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