Why Worry Is a Choice
If you are an anxious person, you need to stop making the leap into fear. But how do you do that? It requires a new way of approaching uncertainty. Life is always uncertain, and until you can embrace this fact, you will imagine risks, dangers, and threats that never materialize. Yet, suffering in your imagination is just as painful—perhaps more painful—since dealing with a crisis is always easier than waiting for one in a state of dread.
The Anxious Self
Many spiritual traditions speak of separation as the real cause of human misery. Separation can mean being apart from God, your soul, or the higher self. But the terminology isn’t important; even the word "spiritual" isn't crucial. What is crucial is that people are divided inside. One part of the self opposes another part. With guilt, the good fights against the bad. With anxiety, the strong part of the self is at war with the weak part.
When a situation arises that can be handled well, the strong part feels confident, competent, in charge and in control. When uncertainty crops up, the weak part feels afraid, helpless, and hopeless. Anxious people never settle this inner conflict. They are so divided that when they feel afraid, the weak part is "the real me." When they are not afraid, the strong part is "the real me." In fact, neither is the real self. The real self is beyond conflict; it is whole and at peace. So the long-term approach to anxiety is to rise above the inner war to find a self that is more whole.
Next: What self-judgment really sounds like
"You can't handle it. Remember the last time you fell apart? This time will be the same."
"You're too weak. Inside you're still a helpless child. Other people stand on their own, but not you."
"You aren't smart enough. Other people can find the right solution, but not you. You just stand there looking blank."
"You aren't good enough. All these fearful things are a punishment. You deserve what you get."
As you can see, to live with a divided self is misery and anxious people dread themselves more than their imaginary dangers. The main thing they dread is anxiety, of course, but anxiety is more than a bad sensation. It is rooted in the weak self that quickly jumps to conclusions. The first part of healing is to realize what is going on. The second part is to identify with the real you; then the war inside will be irrelevant.
Your real self is always present, but it's masked by the trappings of everyday existence. Whether you recognize it or not, everyone lives in a state of separation, which means the divided self is the one you identify with. People with anxiety have a tougher time than others, but even the healthiest and most secure person is divided. If you weren't, you would be in contact with God, the soul, or the higher self twenty-four hours a day. I mention this only to emphasize that moving out of the divided state doesn't happen overnight. Any anxious person needs to learn how to deal with fear and panic on a day-to-day basis while at the same time never losing sight of the long-range goal: finding the real self.
How to Move Towards Healing
You can't find something if you are looking in the wrong place. This holds especially true for the real self, because we all look for solutions from our divided self, and then we trust its answers. For anxious people, fear is actually a kind of solution. It provides a shortcut. It keeps the person vigilant. It gives the feeling of being concerned, engaged, and busy. And since fear is unwelcome, it drives people into all kinds of escapist activities. Every distraction from alcohol and drugs to television and movies is constantly available. It's no surprise that millions of people would rather accommodate their lives to being afraid rather than seeking authentic healing.
Yet real healing does exist. Because anxious people are insecure, they need to pursue a path to healing that reinforces itself. Outside help is valuable, of course, but anxious people tend to use stronger people as crutches. The trick here is to accept that self-healing is the only way. Once you can accept this truth, which is quite painful to anyone in a state of insecurity and fear. The next part is to keep reinforcing the process. Every day needs to be seen objectively as a step in the right direction.
Next: The daily checklist to end anxiety
I stood up for myself, I spoke my mind.
I felt strong.
I had a moment of being real with someone.
I dealt with a panicky moment.
I started to feel anxious but it didn't progress.
I felt optimistic about myself.
I had hope for the future.
I felt some peace and calm.
I survived a difficult situation.
I appreciated myself; I congratulated myself.
I felt worthy; my esteem was high.
I didn't fall into my usual reaction.
I had a bright idea.
The world seemed like a safe place to be.
I felt accepted.
I didn't cling to anyone or use them as a crutch.
I faced a difficult choice.
I didn't stand up for myself; I wanted to speak my mind but didn't.
I felt weakness.
I didn't get real with anyone.
I suffered through one or more panic attacks.
I had a lot of low-level anxiety that didn't go away.
I felt pessimistic about myself.
The future looked hopeless.
I felt no peace and calm.
I caved in to a difficult situation.
I criticized myself and fell into self-judgment.
I felt unworthy; my esteem was low.
I related to people who made me feel bad about myself.
I gave in to someone else's negative views.
I didn't feel safe.
I felt rejected.
I was clingy.
I procrastinated and put off a difficult choice.
I wanted someone to rescue me.
I kept wishing that things would get better on their own.
Next: The key to breaking the cycle of anxiety
It's key to have more positive events than negative ones. Happiness is built up by having good days, not by reaching for an unattainable ideal in the future. The same is true for being non-anxious. You must find it today, as best you can. By paying attention to your anxiety one day at a time, the hidden healing processes in your mind and your body can begin to work, because you are giving them a real opening here and now.
In the end, however, the best healer is the real self. It is found by walking your own path, call it the path to self-awareness, God, or higher consciousness. The methods for discovery have been outlined in all the world's wisdom traditions. First and foremost, you need to make a real connection with the level of peace, silence, and security that lies beneath the turbulence of daily stress and strain. The most reliable method is meditation. If that seems unworkable, then sit for fifteen minutes twice a day in a quiet place, close your eyes and breathe. Place your attention on your heart and simply be. If you notice that your thoughts have distracted you, breathe again and once more place your attention on your heart.
This technique will accustom you to being with yourself. Anxious people misjudge being alone. They identify it with fear, loneliness, and insecurity. That's perfectly understandable given their history of fear. But being alone is your ground state, the basis of your existence. It's not your enemy. It's not a danger zone. So take some time to undo the mistaken judgment that alone and lonely are the same. They aren't. The doorway to a lifetime of safety, security, and self-worth lies at the level of the real self, and you were born to open it.
Deepak Chopra is the author of more than 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality, including his current best-seller, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, and The Ultimate Happiness Prescription,which are available now. You can listen to his show on Saturdays every week on SiriusXM Channels 102 and 155.
Keep Reading from Deepak Chopra:
Breaking the cycle of anxiety
Your body is speaking to you—are you listening?
How to deal with difficult (even impossible) people
Learn more about Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Meditation Experience Series.