As you know if you’ve been reading this blog my primary focus in unplugging fear and anxiety in our lives is to unplug the Chronic Anxiety Cycle I’ve mapped in this blog – the futile and life-sucking mistake of turning a problem into a crisis.  I’ve talked here about the primary means of doing that, practicing what I call the triad – facing into whatever is scaring/unnerving us, cresting through the emotions and sensations that accompany that fear/anxiety, and then unpacking what is making us afraid in the first place – deliberately changing the situation from a crisis to a problem.  This obviously won’t make everything better immediately, for the most part – it will require, like I’ve said in earlier posts, practice, time, and a little skill-building.  This is NOT how we’ve learned to manage our fears (again, for the most part.)

It is my experience and belief that almost anything that can pull our thinking out of crisis mode and into problem-solving is useful in this work.  Because by definition if you’re working the triad you have to some extent be in the present moment – you’re not fleeing into avoidance, you’re not lost in ruminations and scenarios about the future, you’re being in the here and now.  Two classic tools that can be useful in this direction are meditation and affirmations.

First, meditation.  I know for some of my readers this sounds like you have to find a reed mat, strip to a loincloth and spend hours chanting.  No.  That might be a kind of meditation, but I’m taking about meditation as a tool to focus thinking out of the future and into the present.  This topic is vast, much too big for one poor blog posting.  But I can say here that any meditation that requires focusing in the present, clearing your mind of the endless repetition of the what-if’s that can get cycling through our brain when we’re living in the fear of the Chronic Anxiety Cycle, will be useful to you.  There are a variety of meditation disciplines, and for the purposes of this work one will work as well as another, with the most important issue being whatever proves most comfortable and useful to you.  I think it is key for most of us who are not experts at meditation to give ourselves permission to start slowly, keep sessions brief and not worry about getting it right quickly, whatever that might mean in the context of that meditation discipline and our needs.  Simply the effort to move in that direction – slowing down, moving into the present moment, and clearing our thinking – can be quickly helpful and restorative to us.

Meditation also has the added benefit of calling our attention to our racing thoughts, making us conscious of the internal dialogue that is the fuel for all that problem-turned-crisis thinking.  In my meditation experience the goal of the practice is to simply take note of whatever we’re thinking and/or focusing on, internally or externally, and then let it go.  Beautiful practice, btw, for noticing but not being too concerned about anxiety and fearful thinking as we experience them.  There is a great deal of room right here for breathing space, calm and a reframing of our habits of thinking in the first place.  In a very real sense it is a kind of exercise for our brains, a sort of weight-lifting training (pardon the metaphor) that can help us become more disciplined and less reactive in our thinking. 

Again, I am not advocating any particular form of meditation.  A good beginning resource for the newbies in the audience is Meditation for Dummies by Stephen Bodian and Dean Ornish.  With that in mind please be clear that, for the purposes of this anxiety and fear work, meditation doesn’t have to be even, necessarily, a specific practice or technique.  It can be as simple (and if you’re anxious or panicky, hard initially to slow down to do) as sitting in a chair, becoming conscious of your breathing, and doing some time (even just a few minutes) working to slow down, calm down, and be where you are.  This is distinct work from doing the triad described here in this blog.  This is clearing the decks, quieting down the roar of our thoughts, so you can approach the triad work more effectively.

In a different way we can say that affirmations are also a kind of mental exercise.  Affirmations have been talked almost to death in the self-help and new age spirituality movements of the last few years.  It has in some quarters been dismissed as magical thinking.  I think this is a mistake, based on a mistaken view of the purpose and usefulness of affirmations.  I believe that Susan Jeffers (Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway), Peter McWilliams (Do It!) and Kody Bateman (Promptings) have the best perspectives on what affirmations are.  They are deliberate, directed efforts to focus our thinking on specific intentions, thought habits and belief development.  They serve to reframe our thinking, focus our thinking consciously in specific directions (and with specific goals in mind), which, again, can be very useful in combating and unplugging the habitual thinking (or avoidance of thinking, or both) that are some of the fruits of the Chronic Anxiety Cycle.

What should affirmations look like?  For more complete discussions let me direct you to the 3 books mentioned above, but in short affirmations should be action-oriented, positively-directed, and brief.  The positively-directed piece isn’t about making everything into sunshine and roses.  Positively-directed means that you state affirmations not by what you don’t want, buy by what you DO want (want to think about, and want to bring to pass.)  The entire framework of the Fear Mastery map is that your fears and anxieties are being generated by your thinking, and the responses your body makes in response to that thinking.  Affirmations are targeted, clean statements that can help you focus your thinking, drive your thinking in specific directions.  Think of them as push-ups – strengthening useful thinking, and giving you something to do with your brain besides spin off in visions of what could go wrong, and how awful it will be when it does.

So examples might look like these:

  • I am enjoying where I am right now
  • I am patient with myself while I learn to turn crises back into problems
  • I am a skillful handler of problems
  • I am finding reasons to laugh
  • I am skillful and capable at taking care of myself

There are literally millions of affirmations you could write and practice for yourself.  The point is the focusing of your thinking, which (as you surely know by now if you’re reading this blog) in turn drives the direction of your feelings, which pulls your focus out of the scary future and back into the present moment, where problems get solved and fears are quieted.

Meditation and affirmations are simply tools.  And like any useful tool it takes a little practice and time to become skillful with them.  But that little bit of practice and time yields movement out of the future and back into the present.  Don’t take my word for it – take these for a test drive yourself.  Because there is literally no time like the present to start to shake free of the needless, soul-draining worry and anxiety that living in the future brings.  You have nothing to lose but your fear…