Our natural desire is to be happy, and when we move away from it, we experience fear. This fear is truly millions of years old, for it comes from the biological programming of our species. While we may not need to deal with a sabre-toothed tiger on any given day, we still use those very reactions to cope with events looming ahead. We think, “Will I be fired for making that mistake at work,” or “Will I be able to meet the mortgage after I fix the car,” or “Will my health go on to decline,” or “Will my relationship break apart after that argument we just fell into,”
Running questions with this kind of urgency and helplessness teaches our brains to prepare now for future threat by loading our bodies up with the stress hormone cortisol. Anxiety is our anticipation of a dangerous future. We imagine having even less of the little that we have today. This anxiety does not help us in any way to meet the future any better. In fact, it weakens and exhausts us. We generally worry most about things that we cannot even control. Worrying about your dental visit, for instance, will not make the visit better.
Anxiety, in fact, is a silent killer. It’s enervating, and it drains you of purpose and hope, faith and initiative. It fogs up your thinking. And it makes the body susceptible to sickness. When anxiety-a fear of an event in the future-is high enough then you feel a deep sense of helplessness. This, consequently, converts into depression. You even start to view the past as disappointing.
Caught between an unhappy past and a terrifying future, you create a structure of emotions that can result in a range of mood disorders, including manic-depression. How do we escape from this vicious cycle,
Here is what I did 20 years ago and I have never since suffered from any significant mood disorder. I began to cultivate my awareness of my mood swings-from elation to black despair.
I did this by essentially watching myself when I was manic, and watching myself when I was depressed, and watching what I did to turn on these states. For example to get depressed, I used my love of literature to focus on dark, morbid, and unhappy stories regarding life. And to get elated, I would talk a lot, move very quickly, and do things in a dramatic way. A fascinating thing occurred when I made my unconscious behavior conscious. I couldn’t take my mood shifts seriously. This is what I learned from that experience: when you’re able to watch yourself over the course of a couple of weeks, you develop a curious detachment. A paradoxical situation developed for me: I found it challenging to remain anxious and depressed when I was observing myself feeling anxious and depressed. Ultimately, anxiety and depression are culturally-induced patterns of thinking that can be conquered via a strategic cultivation of awareness. When you become your own observer, you weed out the unconscious habits that affect you. In spite of the billions of dollars spent to heal anxiety and depression, and all of the mood disorders and behavioral anomalies that come up from them, the cure is simple, quick, and free.
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