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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September 9, 2016

7 Mind Hacks for a Peaceful Life

When I was younger, I had no idea how my own mind worked. I wasn't even aware of all the thoughts I was thinking and how said thoughts affected everything in my life. My life would have been completely different if someone had taught me about my mind.

But no one did, so I had to learn by myself, through my own mistakes and hardships. And I'm not going to keep it to myself. I'm sharing them with you, so I can be that somebody who tells them to you, so you can avoid learning them the hard way.

1. Feelings are natural.

In today's world, people tend to be scared to death of their own feelings. We all want to be happy and comfortable all the time. But the thing is, life is uncomfortable sometimes. And that's okay.

Feelings are just like everything else in life--what determines them is the way we look at them. If we fear them and want to push them away, they will become strong and scary. But if we accept them with peace like visitors in the hotel that is our body, they will be kind to us and leave when it's time for them to go.

2. Everything is neutral.

We put labels on everything. Scary, bad, ugly, weird are just a couple of them. We plaster them on all the things we see, hear or experience. There's nothing wrong with that, because, again, it is natural to label, to judge.

Regarding our judgments as facts is the problem. Because nothing can be scary, bad, ugly or weird on its own. Everything in the world is neutral. Only in our eyes do they turn into something else.

What also illustrates this point is that we all see the world with different eyes. Some people have medical phobias or anxieties related to medical issues, but then there are people with medical fetishes. So which one is it, really? Is it scary or . . . sexy?

The same goes for beauty. Let's take a woman who a lot of people see as beautiful. There will be a lot of other people who see her as ugly. So which one is she, really?

We tend to take our judgments as facts instead of realizing that we see the world with subjective eyes. Beyond the distortion of our perceptions, the world is neutral.

3. Thoughts are just thoughts.

Judgments are specific types of thoughts. And we tend to take all kinds of thoughts too seriously. We don't recognize them as thoughts, we see them as truths.

For example, when we think about the future, we can easily make ourselves anxious. Something bad might happen, is what we think. We unconditionally believe our thoughts, so we start to fear. We fear and fear until the possibility of this danger passes. Then we are relieved without ever recognizing that our thoughts were not true. Next time, this cycle will be exactly the same.

It's an enormous help in life if we learn to recognize our thoughts as just thoughts, seeing that they are not truths. It allows us to be understanding, calm and smart, just to name a few.

4. The future never comes.

As a person who has spent most of her life with anxiety, I know what it's like to be crippled by the fear of the future. To be followed by that unstoppable cloud of doom that might strike down at any moment. Nothing happened until now, but this next moment . . . man, I feel like this next moment will be the moment when that horrible thing finally happens.

Yes, well, let me tell you a secret: The next moment will never come. The always manageable now is all that will ever be. That horrible next moment will always remain in our heads. Because you know what it truly is. That's right, it's just a thought.

5. Change is constant.

Things will never change. What I'm feeling right now is how I'll always feel. How ridiculous is this thought? Yet, we feel like this so often.

A lot of times in life, we'll feel uncomfortable (which we now know is natural). We might not be in the mood for certain things. But that doesn't mean that's how we'll always feel.

When we are happy and enjoying ourselves, we never think, Oh, no, this will never change, I am doomed to be this happy forever. But when it comes to emotions, states of mind, feelings we don't want to be feeling, we fear it will last forever.

No feeling lasts forever. That's why you don't need to push it away. Relax, accept it with peace, and it will soon pass. Change is always in motion.

6. What you fight, you strengthen.

This was a big realization for me. I spent so much energy resisting all the things I didn't want. Now I see that it only made those things worse.

What you resist can be anything: your feelings, your circumstances, other people's behavior. But fighting them will not only get you nowhere, it will only worsen the problem.

Instead of fighting what you don't want, build up what you do want. You don't want to be anxious? Then react with peace. You don't want to be where you are in life? Then build yourself the life you do want. As for all the things we cannot change: Acceptance will transform it all into something peaceful.

7. Control lies in our reactions.

Last, but not least, maybe my most important realization. I've spent a lot of my life afraid. Fearing what might happen, wanting to control it all. I wanted to avoid everything that scared me.

But then I realized what happens is not what matters. How I react to it does.

I can react to everything with peace. Being scared or sad is not a requirement some experiences must bring with them. I can choose my own reactions.

I can be in control not by avoiding life, but by mastering my reactions to it. If I want to be peaceful, I can practice reacting with peace to everything that happens to me. And that includes my own feelings and thoughts as well.

I hope that you will be able to take something away from these seven pieces of advice I've gathered. They have helped me greatly, and I hope they can do the same for you. Even if I had to learn them all the hard way, they were definitely worth it in the end.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

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September 2, 2016

4 Reminders For When You Feel Anxious and Panicky

Anxiety is a complex feeling, and when it hits, it's not easy to have a clear mind. It's useful to have a couple of short reminders that you can bring to mind whenever you find yourself in the chaos of anxiety.

I've had to deal with feeling anxious all my life. Correction: when I was younger, I couldn't deal with it at all. I just suffered and let my feelings control me, because I thought I didn't have a choice.

Now I know what you can learn to live with your issues rather than through them. I always bring these reminders to mind, so I can go on with my life without letting my feelings control me.

I know it's easy to feel defeated whenever we experience anxiety, even if we didn't let it control our actions. But after all, anxiety is just a feeling. It happens to all of us. So don't be mad at yourself for feeling it. Be proud that you were strong enough to live through it. Anxious people are one of the biggest badasses in the world. Seriously. So be proud of yourself.

And for a little extra boost, here are my reminders that help me calm myself whenever I'm feeling anxious, maybe even a little panicky. 

1. You're fine.

Feeling anxious is basically the opposite of feeling fine. But we are fine. What we fear will not happen, What we fear, actually cannot happen. The whole point of anxiety is to make you believe that you are not fine when you actually are. You are fine. So let yourself believe that. Soon enough, the feeling will fade as well.

I even made a guided meditation based on this reminder, so if it's hard for you to believe it yourself, you can believe me.

2. Relax.

When we feel anxious, we have this almost uncontrollable urge to do something. It's the fight or flight response activating, because we think we are in danger. In order to gain back control, we have to resist this urge. By resisting it, we send the signal to our bodies that everything is not, in fact, crumbling around us, but all is well.

Yes, relaxing is, again, the opposite of being anxious. But what helps with this is knowing that we were never in control anyway. What will happen, will happen. So why not relax? I, for one, am fed up with feeling anxious. I'd rather relax, whatever might come. Nothing's as bad as we picture it in our minds anyway. And nothing can be worse than anxiety. So let's choose to relax. Even while feeling anxious.

3. Empty your mind.

Our minds are filled with thoughts when we are anxious, so much so that we can't think straight. No one needs all that clutter in their heads. It feels like you need to keep on thinking, but you don't. Let your mind empty.

Refusing to stop thinking is part of the reason we are anxious. The problem is our thoughts. So when we let our minds empty, the problem will disappear.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling anxious, I just repeat "empty your mind," "empty your mind" in my head over and over so no other thought can get in there. Soon enough, the anxious feeling fades, and I know that the problem was just in my mind.

4. You're worthy. 

This advice feels incongruous, doesn't it? It's actually not. The feeling of anxiety can often stem from a place of low self-worth. When we feel like we can't deal with certain situations and are a burden to others, it's no wonder we become anxious.

But the truth is that we all have the same right to walk on this Earth. You can go wherever you want to go, and you can feel however you're feeling. No one needs to hide. So, like the Buddha said: Come out from behind the clouds, and let yourself shine.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” - Amit Ray

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August 26, 2016

How to Relax: Your Mind Is Conning You

I remember reading an interview with the then oldest person in the world. She was asked what her secret was, and I still remember her answer today. I often think about it, actually. Her answer was:

You have to learn how to relax.

As one might expect from the world's oldest person, this is great advice. One of the best, really. It encompasses many great pieces of advice into one simple sentence.

Learning to relax and being able to relax instead of allowing stress to fester inside of us is basically the only skill we need. It's what I would ask for, that's for sure. Why? Let's see.

1. The mind is a con artist.

Our minds are like con artists. They scam us into thinking we are in danger only to sell us their services. These services being thoughts, worries and "what if" scenarios. Keeping these in our minds gives us the illusion of safety. Nothing bad can happen as long as we're prepared, right?

What we failed to realize in this process was that the threat was made up by our minds in the first place. Our heads can sure scam us easily.

2. Life happens, whether we stress or not.

The mind tricks us into feeling that if we stress then we are actually doing something productive. How can anything bad happen if we keep thinking about it over and over and over . . . and over? From every possible angle? For as long as we fall asleep? (If we can fall asleep with all these thoughts partying in our heads.)

But the funny thing (which might not be funny at all, but if you can laugh at yourself then you are on the right track) is that whatever will happen, will happen. Regardless of how much we think and stress and worry.

Stressing changes nothing. The only thing it does is ruin our time. The time that we could be spending relaxed. It's painful, really, how true it is. We could be relaxed if we made an effort, but instead, we choose to feed the constant mental noise. The good news is, we can always start to practice peace.

3. An empty mind is the best medicine.

A mind full of thoughts only makes everything harder. It makes pain worse, feelings more uncomfortable and experiences tiring.

My brain tends to produce anxious thoughts. For example, when I'm going somewhere, my mind might want me to think about all the things that could go wrong. Just to be prepared, of course. Engaging with these thoughts, believing them and following them would cause me to feel anxious. It can even cause me to panic and want to run back home.

But I'm wiser than my mind. I know it's trying to con me. So whenever I notice it trying to offer me these thoughts, I just say "no, thank you" and carry on with an empty mind. Just like you do when someone tries to sell you something on a street corner, you know?

Being without constant chatter in our heads opens up space in our minds for other, more useful things. We become smarter, kinder and more compassionate and patient. (Did you know that fear is the lowest state our minds can be in? An actual neuroscientist said this, not me.) It's not only good for us, but for everybody else as well. Practicing relaxation is good for the whole planet. Maybe even the Universe. Who knows?

A guided meditation talkdown to an empty mind can be listened to here.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. ” - Shunryu Suzuki

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