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Getting out of the Anxiety Trap: Make it RAIN!

Anxiety, evolution, the savannah and Nirvana

January 31, 2012

Our brains were built for the savannah. We had to be constantly on the lookout for threats. We had to constantly worry about what went wrong and what could go wrong. If we didn't, we were lunch for the next predator that came along. All we had going for us was our big noggins and our opposable thumbs - no armor, no toxins, a smile-but-no-real-bite, and no claws to speak of. So what's a primate to do all day? Worry. Plan. Etc.

We also worried about where we were in the pecking order. If you weren't on top, you were left without a mate. So this was a survival worry also.

Nowadays, we don't stress about actual predators, but we worry about status, losing face, making the grade, angry bosses, partners and social contacts, our next paycheck, our next meal - all of them in one way or another, existential, survival threats.

What's the way out? Understand your anxiety and the personality traits (perfectionism, excessive need for control and approval, and a tendency to ignore physical symptoms of anxiety) that propagate anxiety. Take up some kind of relaxation exercise. Practice lovingkindness meditation or some other spiritual practice. Schedule vacations and rest breaks. Self-care is key.

All of the wisdom traditions teach us ways to overcome the self-centered ego to see a bigger picture. The self-centered, discontent, survival based ego is at the core of suffering, according to Buddhism. Mindful awareness helps us work with whatever difficult thoughts and emotions are arising. Practice the RAIN method regularly, and it will help you in difficult times:

R - Recognize what is happening
A - Allow life to be just as it is, and accept the present moment
I - Investigate inner experience (with kindness and compassion) by examining your own bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions
N - Non-identification. You can observe your experiences, thoughts and emotions without identifying with them.

Of course, anxiety is giving you a message that something requires your attention. But if you're overwhelmed by anxiety, it's likely you won't be able to cope with the challenge. There are advantages to anxiety, such as creativity, drive and problem-solving energy, but also a downside. At the very least, it's a call to action - something's got to give. Perhaps you can make your anxiety work for you. At some points, and in some moments, though, you'll want to find healthy ways to soothe and relieve your anxiety.

Best wishes on your journey from the savannah to Nirvana!

© 2012 Ravi Chandra, M.D. All rights reserved.

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