Dan Harris is co-anchor of Nightline, reporter for the show 20/20, World News with David Muir, and author of 10% Happier. And on June 7th, 2004 he had a panic attack on Good Morning America for over 5 million people to watch at home.
Any public panic attack is put to shame with that behemoth of an audience.
In his book, 10% Happier, he recounts an interesting story:
He’s in the final hours of a meditation retreat. And the speaker tells the audience not to spend much thought about what they have to do when the event is over. They are simply thoughts and it’s a waste of time to worry about those things.
Dan fires back,
“How can you advise us not to worry about the
things we have to do when we reenter the world?
If I miss my plane, that’s a genuine problem.
There are not just irrelevant thoughts”
The speaker replies,
“Fair enough. But when you find yourself running
through your trip to the airport for the seventeeth time,
perhaps ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this useful’?”
Worry can be useful… up to a point.
This is pretty creative.
Oscar-Winning actress, Emma Stone, opened up to Rolling Stone about her childhood anxiety. She used to believe her house was burning to the ground. She'd feel her chest get heavy... struggling to breathe... almost like the world was ending... Her anxiety was on -and-off like that for years!
Until one day she tried something new and different. She wrote a book called I Am Bigger Than My Anxiety. In it, she sketched a little green monster propped up on her shoulder. This little monster whispers lies in her ear. The more she listens to it, the bigger the monster gets.
If it gets too big, it smashes her.
Or she can ignore it. She can keep working on what she's doing. The more she ignores the lies, the more it shrinks... until POOF - it vanishes completely!
Touche Emma Stone.
I've come across different shades of this powerful strategy over the years...
It's taking a feeling like anxiety and transforming it into something metaphorical. You see emotions can be very amorphous. It's tricky to grasp them. Let alone how to take control of them. So when you designate an image or metaphor to them, you're able to work with them a bit more. It makes them more concrete. The trick though is finding an image that empowers you.
Years ago, someone told me, their anxiety felt like a wrecking ball that was smashing and destroying their life. Yeesh! I can't blame them. But this was not a very empowering metaphor. And it was making them feel like they didn't have control over their current challenges. So you want to be careful with the metaphors you use. You want to grab ahold of metaphors that support you.
It doesn't mean you ignore the feeling. Or pretend it's not there. It simply means using the feeling in a different way like Emma Stone discovered.
Whether that's a little green monster perched on your shoulder... turning off the radio of mental chatter... Or watching your thoughts fly by like cars on the high-way... And there are endless ways to do so.
One of my favorites comes from the Buddhist tradition:
Imagine your mind is a waterfall. The water constantly crashing over the edge is your thoughts and emotions. Instead of being the cold current of water, you want to become the calm space behind the waterfall (they would call that mindfulness). Simply observe the constant torrent of thoughts flowing. Watching your thoughts from that distance. But keep that separation.
That's just one simple way. There are boatloads of them out there. You may stumble across others or create even better ones than these. So let your creativity swim wild with this one.
Experiment with it.
Make it your own.
And find the one that works for you.
This is strange…
A study done at Emory University and published in Nature Neuroscience exposed mice to the smell of cherry blossom. Then they zapped them with electrical shocks. These mice naturally grew an aversion to the scent (nothing “shocking” here).
But here’s where the plot thickens like chocolate pudding.
When the children AND grandchildren of these mice were exposed to the cherry blossom scent, they had the same stress response… even though they had never been exposed to it!
Plus, these offspring had more neurons that detected this scent than mice who had parents who were not exposed to the scent (or shocks).
Meaning: our irrational fears… phobias… and anxieties may have roots from our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. - as a way to pass down certain survival instincts.
Does this mean we are victims of our genetics?
Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief explains that you’re not controlled by your genes. Just because your genes predispose you to certain fears, how these genes express themselves is determined by…
Epigenetic (“above the genes”) influences.
So even if your bloodline has passed these stubborn fears down to you. You still can do something about them using the list above. And techniques that work for collapsing fear will still work despite where it came from.