This is still me! Can you relate? I used to wake up with chest pains, because as soon as my eyes opened, a thread of fears, issues, and anxieties, ran through my mind. I ground my teeth so hard in my sleep I cracked my molar. I was stressed out. The stress become so intense, I ended up in the hospital with a life threatening illness.
If we are stuck in past thought patterns it raises our anxiety level. For example, if we are constantly worried about money, we may even have a moment of panic when the thought “how am I going to pay for this?” pops into our minds.
Studies show our thoughts trigger a hormonal response in our bodies. “When frightened, your body floods with the hormone adrenaline. This skyrockets your heart rate and blood pressure, according to Scientific American.” (source below)
So that means our thoughts control the chemicals in our brain, and start a reaction that raises our heart rate, and blood pressure. So having thoughts that cause us anxiety impact our health in a negative way. For me the stress attacked my digestive system.
The neuroscience behind this chemical reaction to our thoughts can help explain why we would recall something we know causes us to be anxious. Think about it, why on earth would any sane person recall thoughts that suck? Why recall a painful event when we know it will hurt? Why remember a time that scared us to our core and then recall it over and over and over like some form of torture? Do we think to stop and ask ourselves “OH Yeah, this makes no sense, so why the hell am I doing this to myself?”
Here is one explanation.
“Our fears can also depend on personal childhood experience. For example, a child who has been attacked by a dog at a young age may continue to be afraid of dogs later in life. When our emotions run high, the chemicals released by our brain can work to build stronger memories of the situation, like vivid snapshots of our surroundings at the time.” (source below)
We used to live in the wild just a few hundred years ago. It would make sense when scared or threatened, by say a bear protecting her cubs, we remember exactly where we were. By building strong memories, we can avoid being eaten!
In our modern world, this also makes sense to build strong memories, so we can learn how to modify our behavior. If we twist our ankle on a root, then we remember exactly where that root is, and can avoid future twists. For this reason, it’s important for us to simply note our thoughts and not judge our thoughts. In this way, we can start to be aware of our thoughts without giving them power to cause us suffering.
For example, we may become anxious each time we think of money. The thought “how can I pay for this” may pop into our mind. If our chest goes tight, our hands begin to shake and we are in a high state of fear, then we are clearly having a past thought reaction.
So by reliving these thoughts, or experiences, we could actually take our anxiousness to a level of causing panic attacks, post traumatic stress, total break downs or even the inability to address other fears without being overwhelmed.
The cure is quit simple and yet may take a lifetime of practice. Here are simple steps:
1.Be aware of our thoughts. Thought: How am I going to pay this bill?
2. Once aware of our thoughts notice patterns. Thought: When I think of money, my mind goes back to that one memory where I suffered. Even when I have enough money, that memory plays over in my mind and I start to feel anxious.
3. Once we’ve identified patterns, then make a conscious choice to switch the thought. Example: When I was a teenager, I was afraid to get sick, because I did not have the money to pay for a doctor. One time someone left their checkbook under the seat of my car. Back then (for those of us too young to know this) people would write their balances in the ledger of their checkbook. He wrote $14,000. I just could not imagine how someone could have that much money, as I was living paycheck to paycheck on $12,000 per year.
Fast forward, I earned $60k on just one transaction I closed. Still my chest went tight when I thought of money. Instead of how will I pay for the doctor, it became do I have enough for their college fund, for retirement, umbrella coverage if somethings happens? So at the pinnacle of my success I had the greatest financial insecurity and suffered the most over obsessive thoughts of how to make it, keep it, protect it, insure it, grow it so that THEN I could relax!
Fast forward again, I was $2 million in debt because I personally guaranteed some personal loans and could not pay them. With three children, and my life work and savings gone, as a result of those signatures, I was devastated for a time. Every time money came up, my mind went back to being worried that if anyone got sick how would we pay for it.
In the middle of total financial devastation, I learned how to shift my thinking and let go of my fears. I thought no matter what we have family and friends who will never allow us to go hungry or be homeless. Hey bright side FU%K the extra insurance coverage, the car is a piece of crap who cares about scratches, nothing to worry about stealing now so no alarm service, sold all the jewelry so no fears of being attacked for the Cartier! I asked for life to be more simple and guess what? Psst. Be careful what you ask for
The irony is that with all this loss that is when I actually learned to feel financially secure. It opened my mind to the idea I could do this in other areas of my life. Now that we have a bank slate it opened up a world of possibilities.
4. Practice over and over and over – sometimes 1,000 times a day. Thought: So every time I felt my heart race thinking about how to pay the next bill, I took a deep breath and used this mantra. If we lose everything, we will still be able to eat and have a place to live. The reason for my suffering is my attachment to stuff. What is more important? Keeping this stuff or being alive?
So for me the stress had caused a life threatening situation. Of course my logical mind realized that worrying over things outside my control made no sense. After being in the hospital, it took almost two years to recover, and even now I struggle with my health, if I push too hard. The condition I have is something I have to manage for the rest of my life.
It’s a good thing I learned how to retrain my thinking mind about past thought reactions.
Sometimes those old thoughts pop up. Instead of beating myself my up, or allowing them to linger for too long, I just accept they will pass. I remember all the wonderful things in my life. No matter how dire our situation, there are things we can be thankful for. It may be as simple as fresh air to breath. Just breath. Just inhale and exhale and feel the air.