The most commonly prescribed drug for anxiety is Xanax (a Benzodiazepine). Unfortunately it only helps anxiety for a very short period of time and the person has to take another one. This poses a great risk for becoming dependent or even addicted to them. There are other medications for anxiety like Buspar or Zoloft, none of which are as effective as Xanax. Lucky for you, I will give you the one thing you can do that is the MOST effective treatment for Anxiety, and it’s free!!
First of all, what is anxiety?
In your brain is a part called the Default Mode Network. It is located inside your forehead behind your eyes. It has several functions but is very active when you are thinking about the past or the future and other people, also when you are daydreaming or doing nothing. It is less active in goal-oriented activities.
So what does it have to do with Anxiety?
For many people, Anxiety is triggered by remembering issues from the past or when they have concerns over the future. Usually they have regrets of what they have done in the past, people they have wronged or problems from the past. They may have worries about future events like money, work, an upcoming test or potential illness or other misfortunes etc.
When you are constantly thinking about the past and the future you spend less time in the present. People who are more present appear to have less anxiety. They are the ones who forgive and forget the past problems and focus on doing something productively in the moment that will serve to make the future better.
This happens to also be part of the solution to anxiety, which is trying to live in the present.
So how do we shut off the Default Mode Network and relieve our anxiety. The first and best method is not via Medication but through Meditation. I was a long time non believer in this stuff until I read the book by Dan Harris called 10% Happier. In this book he approaches Meditation from a skeptical standpoint and eventually becomes a believer in the power of it. He also explains how to do it and what to expect. This was the most enlightening to me.
The Basics of Meditation
The quick and dirty, how-to-guide on meditation:
Step 1: Sit comfortably, anywhere
Step 2: Close your eyes
Step 3: Focus on your breathing (not so much thinking about breathing, but simply feel the air going in and out).
Step 4: As soon as your mind drifts to something else, recognize that it wandered and bring it back to breathing.
Step 5: Repeat step 4, as many times as your mind wanders off. It’s okay if it happens very often at first.
Step 6: After about a minute or two or even 5, your anxiety [insert any other negative emotion] will fizzle away.
I’m telling you, I didn’t believe it either at first but here I am writing a whole article on it. You got to give it an honest try…
So how does it work? This process apposes the Default Mode Network. It calms it down by focusing on the present moment. As the calming effect takes place the anxiety from the past and future concerns also dissipate.
Magic right? I had to try it to believe it. I do about a minute of this several times a day now. It really helps when I have that momentary feeling of depression or anxiety. The other time it is very helpful is when I get a craving for Alcohol. Just a few minutes of this will make the craving dissolve.
Another approach to Anxiety
Step 1: Get busy.
Step 2: Repeat step one.
We mentioned that the Default Mode Network shuts up when you engage in goal-oriented activity. This is the sort of activity that has a goal in the end, for example, building something, cooking a recipe, learning a new guitar song, writing your thoughts on paper, cleaning the yard, painting the house or building a business. (The last is particularly exciting as it helps your future in many ways).
Flow is a state of mind in which you engage in an activity that challenges you exactly at your skill level. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian-American Psychologist who coined this term. He explained that flow is an activity which engages the mind so much that it gives the person intrinsic pleasure. As apposed to extrinsic pleasure which is obtained from eating food or taking a drug, this provides a natural dopamine release in the brain.
People who use drugs often report that the drug causes them the sensation of living in the moment. This makes sense as people use drugs to escape their problems, either from the past or the future.
So what can you do to achieve flow in order to shut off the Default Mode Network?
Challenge yourself. Learn something new, specifically something that puts your brain to the test. I experience this after I learn a new song on the guitar and over time get better and better to the point when I feel an absolute joy. Another time I experience this is while mountain biking. I have to concentrate so hard in order not to go off the trail that the entire world and all concerns disappear.
The best form of flow requires a task that is either dangerous or if not done well with full concentration can result in a bad outcome. This makes sense for a musician who has to concentrate at every second to hit the right notes. If they do not they will instantly hear a false note. The same holds true for mountain biking, it requires second to second concentration with the potential of disaster if not done well. In his book he talks about mountain climbers who go through the same process as well as surgeons. He explains that this is the reason many surgeons can stand and perform surgery for more than 10 hours. It is incredibly engaging and rewarding and challenging all at the same time.
I can’t tell you what activity to choose, but start by doing that one thing you always wanted to do before or that one thing you’ve done once and somewhat enjoyed. Just be safe…
Thanks for reading.