Getting To Know Anxiety

By Alberto Gonzalez Olmos
Tuesday, 17th April 2018
Filed under: ESRBlog

One of the best things could happen to you is that you develop a positive relationship with your work. I think many people struggle with work because their head is either planning the future or sighing about the past.

There is evidence from research in mindfulness practice that point out that being focus in the present, in just what you are doing now, relieves a lot of tension and worry. As Alan Watts puts it:

"The art of washing dishes is that you only have to wash one at a time. If you're doing it day after day, you have in your mind's eye an enormous stack of filthy dishes that you have washed up in years past and an enormous stack of filthy dishes which you will wash up in years future. But if you bring in your mind to the state of reality which just is - as I have pointed out to you - only Now. This is where we are. There is only Now. You only have to wash one dish! It's the only dish you ever have to wash! This one!"

I very much like what I do which, among other things, includes to understand the emotion that we identify as anxiety in the society where I live. When we worry about something or become aware that there is something we should be doing, we become anxious. Once that thing is done, we should feel relieved. If our mind is focused in stuff that will take very long to finish, or one anxious thing follows another and so on, we might make anxiety the predominant baseline of the sound track of our life, to put it in musical terms.

As part of the TEAM project we are encouraged to take care of our mental health. It makes a lot of sense, how would I develop something useful for people that suffer from anxiety if I don’t understand this emotion or I neglect taking care of my own anxiety ? Ideally, as I see it, society should encourage people to take care of their own mental health. The good thing is: it is becoming fashionable to take care of your mind !! about six million people are using a single app called “headspace”. In this app you find a series of texts and audio clips that you can read and listen to everyday. The information that you receive is about simple exercises that build up over time and that guide you to discover how you can become more aware of body sensations and importantly, the rhythm of your breath. I am doing the exercises myself for a month and I am rediscovering my relationship with the emotion of anxiety which, so far, it was something that came in the worst moment and would terrify me with thoughts of destruction and havoc. My mechanism to deal with it was to try to shut it up as best as I could. I didn’t consider that it could be useful. Not even after watching the movie “Inside Out”. But in the app there are a series of guided meditations that aim to change your perspective about anxiety. The instructor points out honestly that you can’t stop feeling anxious, you are built to feel this. If you think about it, evolution had a good reason to develop a mechanism that wouldn’t allow you to neglect your baby and go and have fun. What you can do about it is to learn what it means to be anxious, to start observing this emotion carefully, how this emotion feels in the body, to not get involved in endless cyclic thoughts, to detach from the secondary emotions that may arise when you feel anxious... this exercise reminds me of the fragment in the movie “another earth” where one character asks another:

"Have you heard the story of the Russian cosmonaut?

He was the first man in space, winning the space race against the United States.

He flew up in a large rocket, whose only liveable room was tiny. The cosmonaut sits in here, and gazes out though a tiny window, contemplating the earth's arch for the first time.

He's the first human to see our planet for what it is.

In this moment, he feels lost.

And suddenly, he hears a noise -  repetitive and alien.

It begins to drive him mad. He attacks the control panel, seizes his tools.

He will confront the noise. Restrain it.

But he can neither confront it, nor restrain it. And it continues...

{...}

Hours pass, he feels tortured.

Days trickle through the noise, and the cosmonaut knows he is losing his mind. It will lead him to insanity. What to do? He's out in space, alone. In a miniscule room in which he barely fits. Twenty-five more days are left until he returns. And with this noise..."

{...}

(And so,) The cosmonaut decides that the only way to stay intact is to fall in love with the noise.

Shutting his eyes, he withdraws in his imagination.

And when he opens them again, he no longer hears a noise.

It is music. And he passes the remaining time in absolute joy. And in peace.”

Anxiety is one of the many mechanisms that form what you are. 

Wouldn’t be wonderful to learn to love it?

Picture: Paco Pomet, "Pasado Onírico". ("Dreamlike Past").

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