Human beings today experience a constant deluge of stimuli in their lives, between 24 hour news networks, instant updates and notifications on phone screens, and laptops and tablets always within arm’s reach. This excess of stimulation is a breeding ground for anxieties, fueling their formation within our minds as we respond to situations and news about our world in a manner based in fear. How can we avoid accumulating fears in our life so that our anxiety does not overwhelm and paralyze us?
One of the key concepts you should learn and understand is the fact that our beliefs impact our perspective and influence the meaning we assign everything we encounter in our lives. The screens assaulting us with information do not assign that information meaning. We encounter the stimulus, we respond to it, and we react based on that emotional response. In order to manage anxiety in your life you must first ask yourself: what are my core beliefs? Am I a Warrior who views life as a challenge to be met, or a Worrier who views life as a threat to be avoided? We cannot possibly change that of which we are not aware, so the first step must be to determine whether you are presently a Warrior or Worrier. If you find yourself plagued with anxiety much of the time, you are likely a Worrier. How can you alter your beliefs and transform yourself into a Warrior? The answer is, as is usually the case, to place your trust in your Creator.
Trust is the opposite of fear - when we trust our Creator to provide a path of health and well-being for us, we proceed confidently in our daily lives free from fear and anxiety. This trust is born of a strong relationship with our Creator, a relationship made possible by prayer, meditation, and Torah. As Rabbi Nachman’s teachings declare, “those people of little faith correspond to a shortness of spirit.” A lack of trust in your Creator results in a weakened life force, complicating everyday activities and making life far more difficult than it need be. Fear leads us astray from trusting our Creator, and an accumulation of fear causes our Creator to turn his back on us, leaving our fate entirely to chance, devoid of his protection and divine guidance. Fears take root within us as a result of our avoiding an emotion. The purpose of an emotion is a signal for us to change our beliefs or behavior. When we are resistant to this need for change, we avoid and suppress the emotion, adding another of fear. These layers of built up fears must be peeled away one at a time, and we can accomplish this only through spiritual work. A habit of daily prayer and meditation allows us to restore our trust in our Creator, eliminating the fears which have taken root in our hearts and blocked out our faith.
Simply restoring our trust in our Creator and working to eliminate fear from our spirit is not a “magic bullet” which completely cures us of anxiety. There is no quick fix, as we all encounter stressful stimuli in our lives which causes us anxiety. The key is to manage these anxieties so they do not build up and overwhelm us, paralyzing our decision making processes and rendering us ineffective in life. Daily habits are required for us to manage anxiety, habits like prayer, meditation, healthy eating, and exercise. Just as fear accumulates in us over time, the benefits of these daily practices build up in our system, inoculating us against the damaging effects of anxiety. When we find ourselves faced with a stressful situation and feel an extreme emotional response welling up inside of us, we must interrupt this instinctive fight or flight response. The easiest and most effective way to accomplish this is through breath control. In Hebrew breath and spirit are one and the same, so healthy breathing translates to a healthy spirit. Anxious breathing is through the mouth and from the chest, increasing our heart rate and depriving our brains of oxygen. Calm, controlled breathing is in through the nose, out through the mouth, and comes from our stomach, promoting healthy oxygen levels to our brains. If anxiety is surfacing in your life, pause and practice this calming, controlled breathing technique in order to ground yourself in the present moment and interrupt the fight or flight response gripping your psyche.
There are three common sources of anxiety in our lives: an obsession with outcome, social comparisons, and self absorption. The antidotes to these detrimental thought patterns are simple ideas you should hold in your mind every day: trust the process, stay in the moment, stay in your lane, and not everything is about you! Anxiety can be a positive motivating force in your life - when you are faced with a particularly difficult challenge, your natural inclination to worry about your performance will motivate you to better prepare to face the tasks at hand. Remember - we are not on this earth to control everything around us. In fact, it is impossible to have control over your life while also having your Creator in your life. A desire for control breeds fear, which leads to anger, depression, and isolation, a terrible spiral to find yourself in. Let go of this belief that you are in control and place your trust in your Creator! Only then will you be able to dissolve the fears which are causing you excess anxiety so you can proceed in your daily life confidently and effectively.