The Buddha famously said that “All life is suffering”. Specifically, he was referring to the type of suffering related to the ‘unsatisfactoriness’ of living, or as we often call it today, stress. We tend to develop ideas about what life should be like, and then compare them with what life is like, and often we find actual life wanting. It doesn’t live up to our aspirations, our desires, or it doesn’t live up to what our consumerist society tells us we should be like.
This way of thinking becomes, in a very real sense, automatic; we spend our time increasingly focused on comparing ourselves against some form of benchmark (youth, virility, glamour, wealth, clothes, success) and the fact that we haven’t achieved it. Understandably, this type of thinking leads to increases in stress hormone levels, especially Adrenalin and Cortisol. Adrenalin is connected with our psychological drive mechanisms; the drive to achieve the artefacts of success (a car, a new car, a big new car, a Bentley … two Bentley's), while Cortisol is connected to both our drive mechanism and our disgust mechanism (old age, disease, mortality, not to mention our disgust that we haven’t even achieved the sort of lifestyle we deserve).
And so, our thinking, supported by our hormones, pushes us into a cycle of asking ourselves, “Am I good enough?” We focus on the unsatisfactoriness of what we have, of who we are, and what we need to be better, and the answer comes back again and again, “No, I’m not good enough!” The focus of our anxiety, for that’s what it is, doesn’t matter. Whether it’s how clever we are, how rich we are, how popular, even how well we are; we are making the same comparison between the ideal and the actual. So … is it something to worry about? No!
Think about it; if we worry about our anxiety all we are doing is adding to our anxiety. Anxiety is just another benchmark, “I shouldn’t be anxious”, “I’d be better if I were less anxious”, “I hate being anxious”; and like all comparisons it can feed our anxiety. So, what can I do when I’m feeling anxious? STOP! Whatever it is you’re doing, stop it (it’s making you anxious). Trying, as best we can, to ‘let-go-of’ the ideal, and to accept the actual, is the first step to overcoming anxiety and worry. So, whatever sort of thinking we’re having about what we should be like, or how we’re not like that; stop it. Of course, that’s not easy; so, rather than thinking those usual thoughts, try to bring your mind to noticing rather than thinking.
Notice how you feel; what physical sensations are you experiencing, where, how would you describe it?
Notice your emotions; what are you feeling emotionally, how would you describe it, is it wanted/unwanted, is it positive/negative?
Notice your thinking (you can do this); what are you thinking, how would you describe these thoughts, give them a name.
Notice your breathing; follow each breath in to your body on the in-breath, and follow each breath out of your body on the out-breath. Don’t worry that you don’t feel any different, that’s just benchmarking again. Just notice the actual that’s happening around you. Try it for a couple of minutes and then carry on as normal, until you need to do it again.
And remember, anxiety isn’t something to worry about!