I know I have written on anxiety earlier too, but as we keep growing in our mental health, therapeutic understanding or personal insights, it’s perhaps natural to revisit old topics and re-decode the already decoded issues.
Very recently, both in context of therapy and by my therapist in one hand, and in context of more all pervasive life situations by Life Itself, I was gently but wonderfully guided and/or pushed to go from incessant mental What-ifs to more freely embracing What Is. And during this process, while on one hand I was allowed to incessantly face myriads of uncertainty further fuelling my mind’s what-ifs, same time I was slowly nudged and made to open up more to accepting the idea of shifting my focus from worrisome what-ifs to more freeing What Is.
And this gradual inner insight and this very shift is perhaps, for any mind, one of the biggest, if not the final, breakthrough in coping with such a nagging and painful mental health issue such as Anxiety or even GAD (General Anxiety Disorder).
The entirety of the concept, context and potential of such a shift from, either wishful or worrisome, both kinds of What-ifs, towards more focus and able acceptance of What Is, much intesretingly is not the least limited to dealing with anxiety or bettering mental health, and such a stance almost encompasses a widest possible range starting from psychology and mental health, to (so called) spiritual disciplines and inner peace, to some of the most complex inner mastery of metaphysical or philosophical or existential appropriations of life. But, needless to say, it is perhaps impossible to cover this concept in such a vast spectrum of its significance and application in this puny post. So I shall try to only keep it within the present context of mental health and more specifically with regard to Anxiety for now.
Fuel and Fodder for Anxiety :
Whoever has suffered even one hour of rabid anxiety, knows very well the foremost fodder for it. The infamous “What if?”
What if I fail in my exams?
What if I lose my job tomorrow?
What if I go bankrupt?
What if I lose that significant relationship?
What if my car breaks down during the trip?
What if I can’t find the right fit?
What if they laugh at my performance?
What if I die?
What if I… What if they.. What if life..
Anxiety is a nasty emotion but the cognition or thought pattern behind it is really a simple one – constant fear based questioning about all probable perception of threat or apparently unpleasant life events. Endless questions and perceptions strung into a single line – What if.
And from here, anxiety further gives rise to another texture of severely dysfunctional What ifs. The more wishful and illusory type of What ifs.
What if I tried control such scary possibilities tooth and nail?
What if I tried nerve-janglingly harder to avoid such situations?
What if I ran away?
What if I (fill in every wise or unwise “strategy of survival” sentence you can think of here)
But the more we listen to our mental What-ifs, either worrisome or wishful, we soon realize it’s a simple downward spiral to more mental torture and dysfunctional lifestyle.
I don’t know about others but in my three and half decades of lifespan I have never found one functional fruitful result of either category of What ifs when given much energy and acted upon.
Obsessive fear of future What ifs have more than often infallibly led me towards more self sabotage and paradoxically self-fulfilling the exact What if that was once just a fearful imagination or at its best a chance possibility. Or, the other range of more controlling, desperately strategizing avoidance tactic based What ifs have inevitably perpetrated age old dysfunctional patterns, both mentally and externally. Anyone who has seriously toyed (an amusing oxymoron?) with What ifs at any point of their life can tell that it is not only a nerve-wreaking, futile, self sabotaging exercise but also one of the biggest phrases fueling our illusion of control.
Besides these, another very crucial psychological layer of our mind that often hinders working optimally at any of our old familiar mental health issues and is often seen as a layered self sabotage to any therapeutic process too is this Same, yet more Subtle “What ifs” around facing our deepest core issues, without feeling afraid or threatened and the need to control and stay stuck. Just a layer of such a What-if-based avoidance stance I have covered in a previous and related blogpost, yet such potent and subconscious What ifs in therapeutic contexts, and with regard to the willingness to genuinely and openly work on our own mental health issues perhaps demands a more detailed post, which I shall hopefully post sometime in near future.
In short, in any and every context, these What ifs are no good and no help.
If we could perhaps take the mind off from What if (and it’s not an easy overnight process I know!) towards a more grounded mental focus and inner embrace of What Is (things as they Are at the current moment, real, in the Now) then anxiety could lose much footing.
How to focus on What Is :
Again, the context and spectrum of application are widest possible fields. But to keep it within our present subject – To train the mind to keep focussing on What Is – that is, What Is really happening in the here and Now. Without judgements. Without knee jerks. Without going fanciful and fearful future mode. Or control mode.
To first understand and become aware that the simplest linguistic logic behind an anxiety ridden “What if…?” is that it Has Not Yet Happened. For, had it have already happened, you would no more linguistically too frame it as “What if it happened?” Every ‘What if’ is then a simple question about some future. Not “What Is” happening right now. And if that is true, then look around and find out “then What Is happening in the Now?” Obviously, something different from that imagined or probable threat. Something else that you can focus on currently, also work on, nurture, enjoy, be grateful about. If so, then if we could only turn our mental energy and focus in being ‘Here’ doing ‘This’ and enjoying ‘What Is’ then not only the mind gets not much empty room to catastrophize the future, and in turn turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, but also me gain a more calm, balanced perspective and space to optimally give our best to the Now, which highly likely could lessen such probable risks too.
If we constantly with awareness can train our mind to focus on, nature and enjoy What Is, then –
A.. High chances we will be able to help ourselves not create such a probable unpleasant situation/danger in near future. (Study with full attention when you still can. Enjoy your job fully, hence perform better. Invest more energy in more systematic wealth building, hence more future savings. Nurture that relationship more, so that it thrives in a healthy manner. Take care if your car, so it serves you better. Prepare your public speech more confidently, and see the results.) Giving every What Is our optimum attention.
B.. Also, IF your What Is seems not really that pleasant, rather already to some degree unpleasantly similar to the expected future threat, then to train the mind to be able to accept What Is still loosens the grip of excessive control mode and resistance and fight or flight mode, which again are most common roots and off shoots of Anxiety and stress.
Without even getting into any so called spiritual or metaphysical benefits of practising an inner stance of embracing What Is, this mental strategy is healthy and functional even purely from a psychological and existential point. For, it is given that we can better our inner and/or outer potentials only when we are not investing our obsessive anxious nerve wrecking mental energy and attention to fight or flight mode, rather having acknowledged our current reality or life situations can fully focus on more accepting, calm and balanced resolution of it.
No fear-based, fretful What if ever allows any such calm and poised mental and/or physical presence to any situation. No fanciful, knee jerking, control freak What if ever allows our mental perspectives to be balanced or our physical health to be ‘not too stressed’ and optimally available.
That is precisely why certain closely related psychological therapeutic tools such as Acknowledgement of our real issues honestly, Without Self-judgment, with Loving Self-acceptance, acceptance of externals without hidden Blame Games, Taking Responsibility, as well as several other “seemingly” (but actually not!) more of the so called spiritual tools, such as Mindfulness, Gratitude exercise, Present Moment Awareness are all part of the same vital mind training.
So, the biggest battle against anxiety could be won considerably it we tried – albeit painstakingly and consistently, over time, for its not an overnight feat – to train our mental focus to disengage from holding conference with myriads of What ifs inside our head, and habitually focus on being fully present, and more so appreciative of our What Is, our here and Now, helping us to be more aware, grateful, and thus optimally available to the Present, which in turn, most often than not on its own creates more room for a stable, saner, secure, more pleasant and peaceful future.
Love and Light to every mind,
Author and © : Nivedita Dey, 2017
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