This is the 5th installment in my series on building emotional resiliency.
In my last post of this series, I introduced the four demon emotions which, when left unchecked, can drown us with negativity, frying our psychological circuitry and effectively shutting us down. The first demon is anger.
Before discussing the second demon, anxiety, I would like to quickly address a question from a reader who wondered if anger could be a good and appropriate emotion, especially when people do bad things to us (to wit he referenced the 9.11.01 attack and our reaction as individuals, and collectively as a nation, to the atrocity that murdered thousands).
The keys to emotional health are emotional awareness and emotional management, both at an individual level (how we handle emotions within our inner space) and social level (how we handle emotions when interacting with others). I pointed out that anger is a natural response to many different types of fear, and is influenced by our belief systems and stage of development as a person. We can approach the emotional awareness and management of fear by examining and mitigating the underlying fear, and then constructing healthier responses. Using this awareness and management process to redirect unbridled anger into a positive emotional response – such as intense resolve and commitment – is what I mean by this.
Or we can approach it by first developing a habit of a healthier response to anger, and then work backward toward understanding and mitigating the underlying fear. In truth, both approaches are best worked in tandem in a “psycho-social” or “inner-outer” development process. In the case of the WTC bombing, it was good to be mad as hell, as long as we acknowledged and channeled awareness to the underlying fears that were triggered. Underlying fears in this case might be a loss of control, or loss of precious life or a fear that comes from sensing our own impermanence. We all lived with the anger for a bit, but then healthy folks redirected that anger before it became debilitating in the manner discussed in the last blog. Through this anger/grief process we can find great insights and can grow from painful situations completely out of our control. Rather than allow an unmanaged flow of anger to drive us into dysfunctional states of mind and being, we ultimately want to translate an initial rage into a deeper self-awareness. We also want to recycle such into a fuel for positive action.
Indeed, it is possible to get stuck in ruts of anger for long periods of time, which negatively impact everything and everyone we touch in our lives, especially when personally affected by evil acts. Can this play out at a cultural and institutional level? Sure thing. Our reaction as a country to the 9/11 attack is an example. But reacting with anger and force against angry acts typically perpetuates the cycle of negativity and violence. The results of the last thirteen years of war validate this assertion, though some of my brothers-in-arms may not agree. I honor all of the sacrifices our warriors have endured, and served my part, but I believe that a more integrated and world-centric reaction to the threat would have been prudent. Imagine if, after dislodging the Taliban, we had laid fiber optics and brought mobile devices and entrepreneurial training to Afghani citizens, laying a foundation for self-empowerment and wholesale economic opportunity, actively supplanting the pervasive sense of despair and hopelessness that can be fertile soil for extremism. Combined with security assistance and other integrated solutions, it is plausible we could have taken the angry wind out of the sail of the small number of radical terrorists behind the WTC attack.
Don’t get me wrong: Self-defense, defense of a country against aggression and holding perpetrators of evil deeds accountable is necessary and desirable. Yet a subtle, soft power approach to asymmetrical warfare, with a smart, objective understanding of human nature, is often the way to go, similar to how the Israeli Mossad patiently hunted down every last Munich bombing terrorist. On a personal level it is just not very effective to lash out at every person, organization or country that wrongs you…it would be a full time job that quickly saps you of energy. That is not the true Warriors’ Way. I expect these comments may spark a political discussion (which I try to shy away from) but maybe some new understanding and good will come from it. So let’s move on.
Your Skin is Crawling
Anxiety. Anxiety is the second demon we must cast out into the desert to die a certain death. Anxiety stems from a nervous system rattled with a never-ending stream of subconscious fear. This fear is different than the fear that sparks anger. Anxiety can be even more insidious than anger. Whereas anger is typically focused on an easily identified target, anxiety acts covertly, like poison, just below the radar, often without a target to lock onto. It slowly and surely erodes confidence, energy and performance. Anxiety can linger for a long time, since the underlying causes are hard to pin down, and denial often blocks access.
What does anxiety feel like? We experience it as a tension in our stomach, a constriction in our heart and the feeling that we are crawling out of our skin. We are overwrought with dread and nervousness, often accompanied by sweaty palms, elevated heart rate, hyperventilation, and problems with digestion and sleep. The behavioral responses to anxiety are procrastination, impatience, erratic behavior, easily triggered frustration, quitting on projects and people, a lack of intimacy and a defeatist, pessimistic attitude. Every one of these is an ingredient of unhappiness, but combined they are a recipe for catastrophic failure.
So how do we deal with anxiety? The answer is to train and work it out of you through a variety of proven techniques. The process is likely to be slower and subtler than dealing with anger, and is best supported by a trained professional. Here are some guidance and training tips:
Take control of your breathing: Learn the subtle art of breath control to re-wire your nervous system. Our Unbeatable Mind online academy includes breath control training and has helped many overcome anxiety. Try starting with the simple 1-2 breath. Inhale through your nose using a 4 or 5 count, then with a pronounced relaxation of your face, shoulders and body, exhale through your mouth to a 8 or 10 count. Do this for five minutes a day, consistently for 90 days, and you will likely heal your anxiety. Keeping your eyes closed and meditating on the source of the anxiety while you practice will also lead to insights as to the source of the trouble.
Feed the courage wolf: Set your mobile timer to ring every hour during the day for 30 days. When it goes off, pause, take five to ten deep breaths through your nose, and upon each inhale recite a positive statement such as “day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better,” or “I am good, confident and worthy, I am no longer anxious.” The positive self-talk combined with the deep breathing will burn away the tension and eventually override the negative energy lurking within (especially when combined with the other drills).
Know your why: Keep your mind focused on your purpose in life, align your purpose with your passion, and develop a stand to guide your actions. Connecting with self-awareness at this level, and re-connecting with it every day, is extremely empowering and allows you to move forward with confidence in life. Anxiety will slowly wilt against this positive pressure.
Somatic counseling: This one is an accelerant, like adding rocket fuel to the above practices. Somatic counseling can come in the form of Yoga Therapy, Psycho-Massage Therapy (that is my term for someone who is trained to counsel while massaging the body), Emotional Focused Therapy and EMDR. These and other similar therapeutic processes are integrative in their approaches and extremely effective.
Ok, enough on emotional development for today. We will continue this important discussion next week by looking at the third demon, arrogance. For those of you who wince at the notion of emotional awareness and development, thanks for hanging with me. I am confident that eventually you will come to understand the criticality of developing the emotional mountain for effective, authentic leadership and relationships. Developing a warrior’s spirit requires that we can merge our hearts and minds into our actions. Absent the positive energy of the heart and spirit, the mind veers toward negativity and materialism – and will eventually burn itself out.
Until next time, stay focused, train hard and lose the anxiety.
–Commander Mark Divine