Anxiety is often productive. It makes us hyper. It makes us worried. It pushes us to work. To be careful. It’s a necessary chemistry in our brain that keeps us alert.
In the age of the caveman, it helped the species to survive. Anxiety is a part of our survival instinct.
Anxiety was not always the bad guy.
However, we do not live in the wilderness anymore. There are no wild animals waiting around the corridor, no monsters hiding under our bed, and no imminent crisis of food and water as far as most of us are concerned.
Our fear of the dark is not just fear of the lack of light, but what larked in those dark forests, where we do not live any more.
Those days are behind us. We live in a drastically sanitised, safe environment. Still, we are anxious just like when we lived in a cave, because our brain has not evolved as fast as our situation has.
And therefore, anxiety leads to bad decisions, untold suffering, and mental paralysis all the time. We are anxious about a large number of things at any given time, and often we mess up because of that anxiety. Anxiety can hold us hostage and prevent us from taking the bold steps that we must take.
We have social anxiety, we have financial anxiety, we have performance anxiety, we have anxiety about our very survival. This anxiety can be debilitating. Sometimes the level of anxiety in our brain is so high that it becomes impossible to focus on anything complex. Anxiety can make us run around like headless chickens, make us take wrong decisions one after another.
But the worst is fear of failure, which is a kind of anxiety. It prevents us from going for the gold. It stops us from growing. It keeps us small. It prevents action because you are paralyzed with anxiety.
“If the anxiety is not managed well by the individual, the person will expect failure; regardless of the effort, will become a prisoner of anxiety and finally will achieve less of what he/she actually can.” (Scovel, 1978)
How do you beat or manage anxiety? I have known 3 ways to do this.
A lot of the who’s who in the world will tell you how meditation is a big deal and how practicing meditation was a turning point in their lives.
From Steve Jobs to Bill Gates, they all swore by meditation. Why?
Number one factor is anxiety management. Much of our anxiety is generated by the part of our brain called the amygdala. It’s the fear centre.
People who are repeatedly stressed tend to grow a larger amygdala. The larger it is, the bigger it’s influence. Those with big amygdala would have higher levels of crippling anxiety.
Over time, as we face more and more stress in life, the amygdala keeps becoming more powerful and bigger. Scientific studies on meditators show that doing regular meditation causes the amygdala to shrink in size!
Also, people who meditate tend to have younger brains and retain grey matter despite aging!
Meditation is one way I fight my own anxiety. When I feel too much anxiety rising in me, I resort to morning meditation. I even do it right in the middle of the day if I feel the need.
I use the free version of Insight Timer for meditation, and it’s amazing.
My favourite meditations are sleep meditations, which are aimed at reprogramming our subconscious minds as we reach the theta state as we fall asleep. You can find these on YouTube easily.
Activating the frontal cortex
What is the most developed and advanced part of the human brain? It is the frontal cortex. This part is responsible for all reasoning. This is where complex thoughts generate. If you think someone is highly intelligent, you mean that this part of the brain is very active for them.
Let’s just say for simplicity that this is the analytical part of the brain. The nerd in the class.
Anxiety does not come from here. It comes from more ancient parts of the brain. Amygdala and basal ganglia. This is at the centre of our brain, and very influential in the entire ecosystem of our brain. The neocortex or frontal cortex does not have so much clout.
However, if we can consciously shift our thoughts and activate the frontal cortex, it takes over and basal ganglia, which holds our habit patterns, gets interrupted and sidelined.
The best example of this for me is smoking. Smoking is a habit. I learned a technique to quit it, which has worked so far.
It works against laziness too, and even to counter anxiety.
Here is what I do when I get an urge to smoke these days. I count backwards from 5 to 1.
This counting interrupts the habit and activates the frontal cortex. Then I remind myself of all the reasons why I must not smoke.
So far, it has worked. Everytime I interrupted my smoking urges with counting, the urge disappeared.
I do the same when I don’t feel like working out. Or getting out of bed.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and jump out of bed. Or start the action I have been postponing.
The other way I activate my higher brain is by playing brain games on my phone like Peek or Memrise. Language learning is also amazing. Anxiety disappears after playing such a game or two. My mind becomes fresh and ready to take on complex tasks. It’s amazing. Please try at home!
Learning and development
This is the other powerful thing that keeps anxiety at bay. Nothing works better really. The days on which I learn something challenging and useful, my brain is on fire. I have infinite patience, energy and strength of will. Anxiety can’t even come close to me on those days.
Why does that happen? I investigated. The normal wisdom is that anxiety has a debilitating effect on learning abilities. Highly anxious people fail to be good learners. This I intuitively agree with, because when I am very anxious, it gets harder to learn or study or do any work that requires intelligence and concentration.
But is it possible that it works in reverse also? That learning can preempt anxiety and work as a preventative measure?
Research threw up an interesting answer. It was found that the joy of learning a foreign language totally counters the anxiety generated in a classroom where people are trying to learn a foreign language.
Wow. Our brain is hardwired to feel great and accomplishment when we learn something worthwhile, which takes some effort and concentration.
The joy of learning, of course! It’s very powerful. Have you experienced it?
Chances are that you have.
There you go, one more reason to invest at least an hour engaging in learning and development activities. Exactly what we at LawSikho want you to commit to.
Learning and development is an important self care habit, like going to the gym and meditation. It will keep your mind young, fresh and crackling!
Our courses are designed in a way that busy lawyers and professionals can taken them without any difficulty, as classes happen after work hours, and you just need to invest 8-10 hours in a week, whenever you can find time.
Even in a cab or a flight. Take out your phone and read, or watch a video.
All the best!
Here are some courses you should consider:
Executive Certificate Courses