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As someone who has anxiety and is not calm 80% of the time, I can tell you that it is really important to try and stay calm throughout the day and throughout any stressful situations. This may seem obvious to you, but I often find myself in situations where I have a problem and I am stressing about it, but I realise that if I just calmed down, it would not be a problem anymore.
If I feel overwhelmed with work, then I actually end up being even less productive or find ways to distract myself or numb myself from the stress. It is during these times when I start to pick my skin, bite my nails, and overeat.
There have been quite a few times when I have been faced with a difficult task, started stressing about it, and then before actually starting to do the task, I rush to the kitchen to find some way to get relief from the new stress.
Most of my bad habits only show up when my anxiety takes over. Do not let my calm exterior fool you. Internally, my anxiety takes over a lot.
This is the root cause of most of my suffering. My anxiety drives me to eat more. It makes me resort to anxiety related behaviours like picking my skin or biting my nails.
For years, I tried to focus on changing my bad habits instead of the reasons behind them.
In moments of self-loathing and emotional darkness due to the frustration of not being able (for some reason) to stop picking my skin or overeating completely, I find myself asking questions like: “why can’t I stop?” or “why am I doing this?”
Most of the time, the answer is: because I am anxious.
Maybe the initial focus should not be changing the bad habits, but training myself to stay calmer in general, and to not let my anxious thoughts take over as much. If I can become less anxious, then it will be a lot easier to not fall back on my bad habits.
When I looked at all the areas in my life that I would like to improve, I realised that the one thing that I needed to do in order to help me reach all of my goals is to train myself to be calmer and focused.
Meditation and Mindfulness for a Calm Mind
The one habit that I have been putting off the most in terms of incorporating it in my life is meditating. Simply just practising mindfulness is already a big task to undertake.
After three months of not picking my skin or biting my nails, a few stressful days sent me spiralling back down to my old habits, and it took a few weeks for me to stop once again.
Starting to meditate once again and trying to do breathing exercises as much as possible have been crucial in helping me to stay calm enough, so that the voice of reason can tell me not to bite my nails and I would actually listen.
Blame Your Subconscious
It sounds odd to say that I have to try and get myself to listen to myself, but have you ever tried to change a bad habit? Even though you might want to quit desperately, you could and will probably end up falling back on your bad habits at some point.
There are few people who seem to have a lot more control over their minds, but even then, the subconscious often takes over. I call mine Ed.
Creating the distinction between my prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of my clear thinking and is where most of the important decisions should be made, and my subconscious mind (Ed), makes it easier to understand that these thoughts and anxious behaviours do not necessarily come from me, but from programmed behaviour. It comes from your subconscious mind trying to protect you.
Perceived Dangers Trigger Anxiety
Anxiety increases because we become aware of the dangers around us. When I say dangers, I am even including email. We have invented a lot of things to stress about and that make anxiety come up, which we did not really need, because there were already enough things that we needed to stress about in terms of illnesses, protecting your family from predators, etc.
The body cannot tell the difference between an email that was sent five minutes late or a lion that is trying to kill you. If you can become aware that, in times where you do struggle to stay calm, your body is just in a fight or flight response mode and that it is a perceived danger. You can tell your mind that it is not a lion, but just a silly email that, in the greater scheme of things, will not even matter.
Will it Even Matter in the Future?
A great tip that I learned when I was younger was that whenever you feel stressed or anxious about something, ask yourself: “will this still matter in five years?” If it is not going to have an impact, or if you are not going to remember it in five years, it is probably not worth stressing about.
A few days ago, the idea of feeling calm for twenty uninterrupted minutes seemed like a blissful dream, but after a week of just following a guided meditation by Vishen Lakhiani every morning called the “six-phase meditation” (which I found on YouTube), I am starting to see it as more of a dream.