anxiety

Short Circuit Your Reflexive Tendency to React

Short Circuit Your Reflexive Tendency to React

“If we don't become aware of our own reactions so that we can short-circuit precisely the kind of addictive and reflexive response that we have to these things, and if we're unwilling to turn them off, we will participate in the continuing debasement of our democracy.”

~ Brooke Gladstone

Practicing Factfulness

Practicing Factfulness

"Stories about gradual improvements rarely make the front page even when they occur on a dramatic scale and affect millions of people. And thanks to increasing press freedom and improving technology, we hear about more disasters than ever before. This improved reporting is itself a sign of human progress, but it creates the impression of the exact opposite." 

~ Hans Rosling

Release

“What led me to mindfulness was my own relationship to anxiety. So for this particular film, I felt it was important for the viewer to be able to experience the transformation a mindful meditation practice can have on an individual’s state of mind.”

~ Julie Bayer

Focus on Emotionally Neutral Spots

Focus on Emotionally Neutral Spots

"Although emotional sensations can arise anywhere in the body, they are much more likely to arise in the belly, chest, throat, or face. These are the emotional hotspots in the body, the regions where emotional sensations can get huge. That means that other areas are much less likely to host gigantic emotional sensations, which turns out to be a useful and convenient thing."

~ Michael Taft

Exercise for Your Brain

Exercise for Your Brain

"Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem, largely because its most prominent proponents talk as if they have a perpetual pan flute accompaniment. If you can get past the cultural baggage, though, what you'll find is that meditation is simply exercise for your brain. It's a proven technique for preventing the voice in your head from leading you around by the nose. To be clear, it's not a miracle cure. It won't make you taller or better-looking, nor will it magically solve all of your problems. You should disregard the fancy books and the famous gurus promising immediate enlightenment. In my experience, meditation makes you 10% happier. That's an absurdly unscientific estimate, of course. But still, not a bad return on investment."

~ Dan Harris

Battling Zombies

Excerpt from "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead," by Chuck Klosterman, The New York Times, December 3, 2010:

World War ZWhen we think critically about monsters, we tend to classify them as personifications of what we fear. Frankenstein’s monster illustrated our trepidation about untethered science; Godzilla was spawned from the fear of the atomic age; werewolves feed into an instinctual panic over predation and man’s detachment from nature. Vampires and zombies share an imbedded anxiety about disease. It’s easy to project a symbolic relationship between zombies and rabies (or zombies and the pitfalls of consumerism), just as it’s easy to project a symbolic relationship between vampirism and AIDS (or vampirism and the loss of purity). From a creative standpoint these fear projections are narrative linchpins; they turn creatures into ideas, and that’s the point.

But what if the audience infers an entirely different metaphor?

What if contemporary people are less interested in seeing depictions of their unconscious fears and more attracted to allegories of how their day-to-day existence feels? That would explain why so many people watched that first episode of “The Walking Dead”: They knew they would be able to relate to it.

A lot of modern life is exactly like slaughtering zombies...

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do.

The Internet reminds of us this every day...

This is our collective fear projection: that we will be consumed. Zombies are like the Internet and the media and every conversation we don’t want to have. All of it comes at us endlessly (and thoughtlessly), and — if we surrender — we will be overtaken and absorbed. Yet this war is manageable, if not necessarily winnable. As long we keep deleting whatever’s directly in front of us, we survive. We live to eliminate the zombies of tomorrow. We are able to remain human, at least for the time being. Our enemy is relentless and colossal, but also uncreative and stupid.

Battling zombies is like battling anything...or everything.

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Decreased Symptoms of Stress in Students

Excerpt from "Mindfulness Programs In Schools Reduce Symptoms Of Depression Among Adolescents: Study," by Carolyn Gregoire, The Huffington Post, March 15, 2013:

University of Leuven study looked at the experiences of 408 students from five different schools in Flanders, Belgium, all between the ages of 13 and 20. At the beginning of the study, the students answered a questionnaire designed to reveal symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, and were then divided into a test group and a control group. The test group followed an in-class mindfulness training program which consisted of instruction in mindful breathing and body scan exercises, sharing experiences of these exercises, group reflection, inspiring stories, and education on stress, depression and self-care. The control group, meanwhile, received no training. All students filled out the questionnaire after the training, and again six months later.

The researchers found that students who adhered to the mindfulness program exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program. Whereas before the training, 21 percent of the test group and 24 percent of the control group reported symptoms of depression, after the mindfulness training, 15 percent of the test group versus 27 percent of the control group had depression symptoms. Six months later, 16 percent of the test group and 31 percent of the control group showed signs of depression.

The study is the first to examine the effects of mindfulness on depression among adolescents in a classroom setting, but previous research has found that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of depression and chronic pain in adult patients...

This month, the first international conference for mindfulness in schools will take place in London. And in the U.S., the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program, supported by Congressman Tim Ryan, is bringing mindfulness training into schools as a way to boost students' emotional resilience and help improve academic performance.

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No One Could Do Nothing But Let It Happen

HOARDERS, Raven Series, (raven, bird, coins, crow) etching on paper, 5 inch x 7 inch, by Larry Vienneau, 2012

Grief
by Mary Ruefle, from Indeed I Was Pleased with the World

First, it will comfort you to know there are crows.
And calipers for measuring the amount of sunshine
that can escape from under the shadows
of thought. Far out at sea ships go down
in a crippled light, and bunches of black iris
are sent to the remaining crew.
You, too, shall have lived and died
a jot, with the queer feeling you were vast and
ageless, with a good education in sleep, prepared
to die with one regret, that you could not devote
more years in vain. And no one could do nothing
but let it happen. Whatever was tied to the mast
the waves have come here they are:
after anxiety turns into pain and pain
turns into rain and the rain
into a doorbell on the face,
the forehead splits open.
Crows come for that speck of gold
you were saving for you eyelids at the point of death
and turn away, wildly happy.

Very Anxious People

From "The Maniac in Me," by Daniel Smith, The New York Times Magazine, April 20, 2012:

Monkey Mind : A Memoir of AnxietyContrary to popular belief, Buddhists can actually be very anxious people. That’s often why they become Buddhists in the first place. Buddhism was made for the anxious the same way Christianity was made for the downtrodden or A.A. for the addicted.

Its purpose is to foster equanimity, to tame excesses of thought and emotion. The Buddhists have a great term for the mental state these excesses produce. They refer to it as "monkey mind." A person in the throes of monkey mind suffers from a consciousness whose constituent parts will not stop bouncing from skull-side to skull-side, flipping and jumping and flinging feces at the walls and swinging from loose neurons like howlers from vines.

Buddhist practices are designed to collar these monkeys of the mind — to pacify them. Is it any wonder that Buddhism has had such tremendous success in the bastions of American nervousness on the West Coast and in the New York metro area?

Breaking through the Illusion of Transparency

Breaking through the Illusion of Transparency

"You're sort of in this three-dimensional landscape of sound and that's where I really like to be with my music. Like when I'm on stage, that's where I am. I'm not on stage in front of you, I'm in this landscape of sound. I can almost see the way the music happens, but that's not seeing people playing and it's not seeing somebody conducting.

It's not seeing an audience watching it. It's very much like this feeling of, What does the sound look like?  The sweep of the sound, the way it moves up and down, or rushing forward." 

~ Zoë Keating

To Experience the World Directly As It Really Is

Excerpt from The Open-Focus Brain by Les Fehmi:

The physicist Werner Heisenberg once said that what scientists observe "is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." When it comes to trying to understand the brain, researchers start with a strongly biased question: "What is wrong with the brain?" We need to abandon the biased view of the human central nervous system as somehow genetically and chemically flawed and the belief that a growing number of powerful drugs, whose mechanisms and long-term effects remain disturbingly unknown, will fix us. Instead we need to ask what is right with the nervous system and how we can enhance it by reducing operator errors. The best treatment tool for many, in my view, is attention training. The misuse and rigidity of attention get most of us into the chronic problems of anxiety, depression, and pain, and the effective use of attention skills can get us out. Flexible attention may not fix everything, but it can do far more than most imagine.

Humans were never meant to see the world through a lens of chronic fear or other negative emotions. We were meant to experience the world directly as it really is. We were meant to form deep connections to other human beings. With attention training at work, school, or home, we can open our hearts, experience the fullness of our senses, and reconnect with forgotten parts of ourselves. We can experience moments of unity and transcendence and find the world has been reenchanted. It will be a watershed moment in human evolution when we are able to pay attention to how we pay attention, control our attention, and take personal responsibility for the creation of our own realities. This is a truly profound realization, a revelation. It's time to learn to use the way we pay attention to create a more vibrant reality.

Loosening the Grip of Emotions

From “Anxiety? Banish the Thought,” The Week Magazine: Health & Science, Jan. 20, 2011:

So many Americans suffer from anxiety and depression that antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft have become household terms. But new research suggests that mindfulness therapy—a sittingmeditation-based treatment with roots in Buddhism and yoga—can help people with mood disorders feel better without drugs.

“I was skeptical at first,” Stefan Hofmann, a psychology professor at Boston University, tells the Los Angeles Times. “I wondered, ‘Why on earth should this work?’”

Yet after reviewing 39 studies on the practice involving 1,140 patients, Hofmann’s team concluded that mindfulness therapy relieved anxiety and improved mood; another study published  last month found the treatment is as effective as antidepressants at preventing relapses of depression.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but experts have found that training patients to observe their own immediate thoughts can often loosen the grip emotions have on their minds—MRI scans of patients’ brains display shifts in mental activity.

Jordan Elliott, a 26-year-old marketer, began mindfulness therapy for debilitating anxiety four years ago; he now meditates for 10 minutes each morning and has stopped taking Prozac. “When a negative thought pops off in my head,” he says, “I say to myself, ‘There’s a thought. And feelings aren’t facts.’”

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Capturing the Patient’s Attention

Dr. Richard Fratianne, from “Art and Medicine,” produced by Kerrie Hillman, Studio 360, December  10, 2010:

The problem is music therapy is not compensated by either governmental programs or private insurance policies, because there just isn't very much science in music therapy — yet. And so, I thought that it might be interesting to see if we could prove the value of music therapy in the burn center where pain and anxiety are really very, very high.

A burn injury is so profound that it effects every part of the person. It's not only physical and emotional, but it's an intellectual challenge and there's a spiritual threat because patients don't recognize who they are anymore. They don't feel the same. They don't look the same. Oftentimes they feel ashamed of how they look and they're so afraid. We chose burn patients because the pain is so severe and the anxiety is so high that we thought if we can prove that music therapy can actually have a positive effect in these patients, then we can rest assured that it's going to work in every patient.

Obviously, we can give pain medication, we can give sedatives and tranquilizers, but if it's a really painful dressing change there's no way you can relieve all of the pain except under anesthesia and you can't anesthetize a patient two or three times a day. The body won't tolerate it.

Music requires and integration of many parts of the brain. There's the motor part that's the physical response to playing or tapping to the rhythm of music. Then there's the limbic system, the emotional response to hearing music that brings forth feelings and thoughts and ideas. But also there's rhythm, there's tempo, there's melody — all of these things have to be integrated at the same time to appreciate music. It's amazing how the brain can do this.

The reason we need a professional music therapist to intervene in these painful procedures is that by their training they're able to capture the patient's attention. We call that entrainment. It is actively involving the patient in the musical experience. Because when their mind is diverted to participating in the therapy, they cannot think about the pain.

The earlier research just asked the patient before and after a musical experience, “Do you feel better yet?” That doesn’t really prove anything. It’s only when you’re dealing with patients like we’re dealing with in the burn unit that you can clearly identify changes in their response with music therapy. And we have done that.

One of our latest studies is utilizing the measurements of a stress hormone which is one of the products of the adrenal gland in response to stress. We know when patients are highly stressed these levels go up. And we’re measuring to see whether music therapy can actually depress those levels of the hormone. And our initial studies have shown that.

What we’re doing is new. We know that. And that’s why it’s exciting, because it is new. But the music can have a calming effect on people. How it works is still being discovered.

Dealing with Distress

barack_obama

Here is a excellent four-step plan for dealing with distress from Google’s Jolly Good Fellow, Chade-Meng Tan.

1. Know when you're not in pain.

2. Do not feel bad about feeling bad.

3. Do not feed the monsters.

4. Start every thought with kindness and humor.

Read more about these steps on the Huffington Post.

Meng was one of Google’s earliest software engineers and now serves as Head of the School of Personal Growth for Google University. One of his projects is the Search Inside Yourself program which is based on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Norman Fischer has taught for the program and I just read a tweet from Meng indicating that my mindfulness teacher, Shinzen Young, is visiting Google today.

Don’t Quit

Excerpt from “Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious,” by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, November 22, 2009:

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”

The stress-reducing changes wrought by exercise on the brain don’t happen overnight, however, as virtually every researcher agrees. In the University of Colorado experiments, for instance, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress-induced anxiety, but those that ran for at least six weeks did.

“Something happened between three and six weeks,” says Benjamin Greenwood, a research associate in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, who helped conduct the experiments. Dr. Greenwood added that it was “not clear how that translates” into an exercise prescription for humans. We may require more weeks of working out, or maybe less. And no one has yet studied how intense the exercise needs to be.

But the lesson, Dr. Greenwood says, is “don’t quit.” Keep running or cycling or swimming. (Animal experiments have focused exclusively on aerobic, endurance-type activities.) You may not feel a magical reduction of stress after your first jog, if you haven’t been exercising. But the molecular biochemical changes will begin, Dr. Greenwood says. And eventually, he says, they become “profound.”

 

Autonomy Support

“…according to an impressive collection of data by Dr. Edward L. Deci and others, unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by ‘autonomy support’: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view.

The last of these features is important with respect to unconditional parenting itself. Most of us would protest that of course we love our children without any strings attached. But what counts is how things look from the perspective of the children — whether they feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.”

Alfie Kohn, from “When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’,” New York Times (September 14, 2009)

Secrecy

He had two lives: an open one, seen and known by all who needed to know it, full of conventional truth and conventional falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life that went on in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, combination of circumstances, everything that was of interest and importance to him, everything that was essential to him, everything about which he felt sincerely and did not deceive himself, everything that constituted the core of his life, was going on concealed from others; while all that was false, the shell in which he hid to cover the truth—his work at the bank, for instance, his discussions at the club, his references to the "inferior race," his appearances at anniversary celebrations with his wife—all that went on in the open. Judging others by himself, he did not believe what he saw, and always fancied that every man led his real, most interesting life under cover of secrecy as under cover of night. The personal life of every individual is based on secrecy, and perhaps it is partly for that reason that civilized man is so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.

~ Anton Chekhov, from The Lady with the Dog