What’s the real cause of anxiety and how can we overcome anxiety. Find out from the excerpt of a talk I gave at the Morse Institute Library.

Video Transcript and Relevant Links

So what causes anxiety? What causes anxiety? Being uncentered. Keep thinking about the future, right? Anxiety is always about the future. Anxiety is never about the past. It’s always …. there is an expectation that things have to go this way or there is worry that okay if it doesn’t go this way then – if I don’t meet the deadline – if I don’t get this done – that’s what causes anxiety.

We have some event that’s coming up and we have the fear of it not going the way we wanted it to go and that’s what causes anxiety.

[Audience: Being indecisive causes anxiety]. Being indecisive. That’s a good point. Yes. I didn’t think of it that way. Yeah. Indecisiveness – not able to pick – so many choices – and that can also cause anxiety.

So what do we do with anxiety? How can we handle anxiety? Is it the situation that causes anxiety or is it something else that causes anxiety? [Audience: It’s our thinking that causes anxiety.] It is our thinking about the situation that causes anxiety.

I’ll give you an example.Let’s say traffic, right. You’re stuck in traffic and you have to make it to work at 9:00 and or whatever time and you know you’re not going to make it because of traffic. What happens? Oh what will my boss say? What if I don’t make it on time one of my co-workers think about me? All that comes into our mind and that starts causing anxiety. It’s not the traffic in itself that’s causing anxiety.

It’s thoughts about what will happen because we get late is what’s causing anxiety. So it’s always about our thoughts that causes anxiety not the situation in itself. The situation itself can be … doesn’t matter what it is, but it is thoughts about it.

You might have also noticed that the days that you’re very well rested you’re very well … you have a good night’s sleep you’re not that anxious as much as if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep. You’re tired in the morning then the anxiety is more or the sense of … any emotional status is a little off if you’re not well rested. So the trick to handling anxiety or for that matter any emotional state is to have high energy levels. It is to keep energy levels high.

Four source of energy

1. Sleep

Sleep is one of those ways that we can increase our source of energy. If you don’t get a good night’s sleep what happens? How do you feel the next day morning? [Audience: miserable and grouchy]. Miserable and grouchy, right. But if you get a good night’s sleep most likely or you’re much more well rested you’re not anxious you’re not tense. It’s more comfortable, right? Our emotional state is more equanimous. Sleep is one of the sources of energy.

2. Food

The second source of energy is obviously food is an obvious source of energy. If we don’t eat for a while and you’re hungry. Have you noticed your emotional state? If you’re hungry I mean you haven’t eaten. [Audience: You get anger.] You get angry, right? Your emotional state also gets affected when we haven’t had food. So food is a second source of energy and also the right kind of food. If you eat a big buffet, how do you feel after that?

You just want to go to bed. It’s not really energizing but the right type of food and the right amount of food gives you energy. Too much or too little is not helpful. So that’s number two. The third and fourth source is … these are broadly classified. I mean water and all that comes into food.

3. Breath

The third source of energy is our breath. If you’d notice your emotional state let’s say you’re anxious.

How do you breathe when you’re anxious? [Audience: Short and shallow.] Short and shallow, fast. Short, shallow fast. How do you breathe when you’re in shock? Yeah and you literally hold your breath. You don’t breathe at all when you’re in shock. How do you breathe when you’re happy? It’s much fuller, right? It’s much fuller breaths. So, we can tell our emotional state by just observing the rhythm of our breath.

If the rhythm of our breath is choppy … it’s labored. Definitely there is stress. If it’s labored … unless you’re running and you know then of course your breath also gets affected. But if you’re not physically exercising then if your breath gets labored or choppy then that’s some anxiety or some stress in the system. We can tell our state of mind just by observing what’s happening with our breath.

But the beauty of it is it’s not a one way street. By actually changing the rhythm of the breath, you can increase your energy levels, you can handle the state of the mind. And that’s a much more powerful way to handle our mind rather than telling the mind not to think about something because that just doesn’t work. I don’t want to think about that situation. I don’t want to think about that person.

It doesn’t work because the more we tell that the more we are thinking about that situation, the more we are thinking about that person. So breath is a very effective way to handle the mind. And we’ll do a breathing technique over here to for you to see how it actually helps with the state of your mind.

4. Calm, meditate state of mind

The fourth source of energy is actually stillness … like you said stillness, right? Now this is … or you can call it a meditative state or transcendental state but it’s basically stillness of silence in the mind. To give you an example,

let’s say you have a list of things to do. And sometimes we go in our mind it, “Oh, I’ve got to get it done. I gotta get it done. I gotta get it done.” What happens after that when our mind goes like that? I gotta get it done I gotta get it done. We get exhausted even before we get things done, right? Even before we start doing it we are exhausted because our mind is like … I gotta get it done. I gotta get it done. So there is a lot of energy spent by thinking. Unnecessary thinking, right?

It’s the repetitive thinking. It’s a waste of energy. Actually the organ that uses most amount of energy in the body. Do you know what that is? It’s the brain. The brain uses the most amount of energy. And what happens in the brain? It’s mostly thinking. And thinking is not necessarily a bad thing, but the repetitive thinking is not required.

And if you can reduce the repetitive thinking you can save a whole lot of energy. You can be energized the whole day if you can reduce that unnecessary thinking and that stillness. And the more we meditate you can tap in to that, you know reduce the unnecessary thinking. You’re not forcing it. It’s not telling -ok stop thinking. It doesn’t work that way but with regular practice it just starts reducing because it is a habit.

The unnecessary thinking is a habit. We have developed this bad habit of constantly thinking. It’s like drinking coffee, right? We’re not born as coffee addicts. No one is born as a coffee addict. We start drinking one day, we drink it. The next day we drink it, and then after a few days when we don’t get it, it’s like something is … you know … you’re not comfortable. You want that coffee. Same thing is with thinking. We keep thinking about it, and worrying about things and it becomes a habit.

And to break the habit is all these techniques of meditation and breathing techniques helps to break it. Because in that meditative state those thinking habits are subsiding … subsiding. And the more you practice it, that becomes the habit where you’re not unnecessarily thinking. And that’s the beauty of meditation.