It is a beautiful October day in Moab, Utah. As the sun sets towards the horizon, my Four-Legged Friend and I explore the ridge of the magnificent canyons in Dead Horse Point State Park. The views are incredible! I marvel at the ridges and rings that longitudinally encompass the red rock formations. I look beyond the never-ending landscape of mountains, sand and rock that lay ahead. Dried rivulets left behind from past rains that streak through the land like veins in our body. The winding Colorado River glistens in the sun. The terrain is rigid and red, and the views are breathtaking. Yet, my mind is elsewhere.
Even though I am surrounded by one of the most amazing vistas that I have seen to this day, I cannot shake this panicking feeling. I realize that I had felt this feeling before; not to the extent that I feel in this moment, but it is a familiar one, nonetheless. My heart is beating rapidly, my mind is racing, and all that I am able to think about is, “What if I am to fall 1900 feet from the top of this canyon and hit the earth below?” Then it hit me. This is Anxiety. I have Anxiety.
My Anxiety and Me
We all do it: overthink, overanalyze and overreact. It could be for a number of reasons; something we said in the past, someone who we hurt, or maybe even worries for what tomorrow may bring. But to me it was ironic, because up until my hike at Dead Horse Point State Park, I had never come to terms with the fact that I too suffered from Anxiety. At that moment, it was all too real and apparent for me to deny.
Growing up, I recall frequently worrying about different components of my life. How will I do on my exams? Do I want to go to football practice and risk injury? What will my classmates say about me today? What do they think of me? I am sure that many of my readers recall searching their mind to find the answers to questions similar to mine. Sometimes these worries were enough to make me sick.
As time progressed, so too did my anxiety. In college, I remember frequently worrying about my social status and what people thought of me. I recall worrying about grades, about work and about what evening shenanigans I would get into later that day. After graduating, I worried about my work, my dissatisfaction for my job and what management thought of me (read “A Leap of Faith…” and “Will You Be the Shepherd or the Sheep?” to better understand my struggles during this time). However, it was not until I was atop those canyons that I understood my worries to be in the form of ‘Anxiety’.
What Causes Anxiety?
In order to fully understand Anxiety and the act of overthinking, we need to look at the causes. Healthline outlines the following eleven terms as triggers for anxiety in this article: Health Issues, Medications, Caffeine, Skipping Meals, Negative Thinking, Financial Concerns, Parties/Social Events, Conflict, Stress, Public Performance and Personal Triggers. That is a lot of potential causes for anxiety! Over the course of these last couple of years, I now understand my triggers to be in the form of Caffeine, Negative Thinking, Social Events, Conflict, Stress and sometimes Public Performance. Furthermore, it is important to understand that one trigger may lead to another trigger. This will cause a snowball effect of anxiety that leaves your mental health bracing for impact at the bottom of the slope. My experience is a testament to this. For example, too much Caffeine, for me, would lead to Stress, which may lead to Negative Thinking, ultimately resulting in Conflict.
Reflecting on my past, I am better able to comprehend my own personal triggers. Up until recent, I drank too much coffee, I had low self-esteem and I partied much more than I care to admit (especially in college). Funnily enough, I do usually enjoy speaking in public, but I recall one instance where I suffered from a panic attack caused by Anxiety, during a public skit in high school. On stage, I was inexplicably and uncontrollably shaking as I blurted out my lines. I could not get ahold of myself!
Of the eleven triggers for anxiety that are outlined above, only the first four deal with issues at the physical level (i.e. your body). The remaining seven are explicitly concerned with issues at the emotional level (i.e. your brain). Even triggers at the physical level have a mental component to them. When you are effected at the physical level, you start to think about your circumstance, right? I may be wrong, but it seems that there is a common theme here: thinking.
How Do I Gain Control of My Anxiety?
Mindfulness is the answer to solving the problem of Anxiety. Mindfulness is defined as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us” (mindful.org). “Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind” (WebMD), meaning that the mind is concerned for what is to come, instead of accepting what currently is. Through mindfulness, we accept what currently is, and ignore thoughts pertaining to what is to come and what already occurred. Speaking from experience, this leads to a clear state of mind and a heightened feeling of gratitude and love.
The question remains, “how do I achieve mindfulness?” Mindfulness may be achieved via meditation, yoga, walking in a meditative state, or simply by observing your thoughts. It is the act of siphoning through the information that goes through your head, and ignoring that of which is unproductive. It is the art of not thinking.
Advice: Sit with your thoughts. Notice how they make you feel. Observe them. Relinquish the power of your thoughts. Once you do this, you will notice the sense of clarity that ensues. Don’t judge your thoughts, for that leads to further thinking. Simply observe.
Certain acts of life require thinking, of course: work, child care, planning, etc. However, the thoughts that are not necessary, should not be left to rule your mind. It is a waste of energy.
My Personal Experience with Mindfulness
Mindfulness changed my life. I notice that my head is clearer and my anxiety is slowly dissipating. I am in control of my mind, more so now than I previously expected. It is a refreshing feeling that I hope to claim forever. In my search for mindfulness, I began a regular meditation practice about a year ago. Sitting in one place, legs folded and arms spread out to my knees, I initially thought the position to be uncomfortable and my thoughts rampant and uncontrollable. However, I noticed that with time, the position became more natural and my mind began to settle. Practice makes perfect.
One book in particular that I recently finished, made a major impact on my mindset: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle may be considered a spiritual master. In the Introduction, he recalls a time when his mind was nothing but chaos. It led him down some dark places mentally. At the brink of despair, he surrendered to the present moment and noticed an immediate change. He awakened thusly. One of my favorite quotes from his book is as follows:
“Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
This is one of my favorites because it is directly applicable to my experience in Dead Horse Point State Park. For much of my hike, I was focused on the future possibility of falling into the canyon, instead of the beauty that surrounded me in that present moment. I almost missed “the Now”. Through identifying my Anxiety and observing my thoughts, I was able to refocus on the present and enjoy the amazing views that I am including below, for your pleasure.
If you seek mindfulness and wish to end your Anxieties, I highly suggest reading Tolle’s transformative work. Even while reading his book, I felt a sense of calm and clarity engulf me. Here is another Tolle quote, in case you are not convinced:
“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry - all forms of fear - are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”
In other words, focusing on the past and future leads to mental health concerns. Focusing on the present moment and accepting what currently is, leads to ‘contentness’.
I do not claim to be a spiritual or mindful master. My practice is ongoing and although I still experience issues, I find myself to be in a general heightened state of ‘contentness’. My thoughts are clearer. My actions are more deliberate. My Anxiety slowly dissipates. Anytime I find myself to be troubled mentally, I am always able to attribute it to the fact that I am worried for the future or upset about the past, rather than accepting the present moment. When I recognize this, I am able to observe my thoughts and return to the present moment.
If you are interested to learn more about my Mindfulness practice, please feel free to contact me via my website, or any of my socials.
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© 2021 Ian Shepardson