Thought loops and anxiety

Minds think. Sometimes minds think a little too much. Sometimes minds think a lot too much. The mind can get lost in a loop which affects our behavior and our relationships. One potential path leads to anxiety. Anxiety differs from fear in that is tends to be generalized. Fear is fear of something. Anxiety is more diffuse in focus but can become quite intense. This week’s sangha was led by Jeff H on this subject. Jeff’s notes are below:

I had a recent experience of anxiety which led me to choose it as our topic this morning. After I received my vaccination and was cleared to travel I started making trips to see family members. Three weeks ago I drove to Connecticut to see my Mom, then down to southern New Jersey for the beach and over to Delaware to see my nephew. My return trip brought me back through New Jersey and New York City on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The drive was long and stressful, with unpredictable drivers, heavy truck traffic and a very high level of stress. The following day I returned to Vermont in my electric car in a poorly planned trip that took over 7 hours instead of the usual 4 hours. At one stop in my trip I found myself in a situation in which my “fight, flight, freeze” response was triggered. The situation resolved itself within 30 minutes, but I could not lose the “amped up” feeling for the rest of the trip.

The following morning I still felt overwhelmed and realized that I was in a state of high anxiety. I wear a fitbit and noticed that my resting heart rate has risen by about 10% for the previous few days. Looking back, I realized that I had been eating mindlessly, including lots of sugar. I had also been stressed by lots of driving in places with constant traffic and very aggressive drivers. The “fight, fight, freeze” incident had finished the job. I needed to focus on self-care and regain my peace of mind. It took several days of healthy eating, sitting meditation and exercise to calm the body and mind. I was reminded that mental states have a big impact on physical states, and vice versa.

The following talk was given by Amita Schmidt at Cloud Mountain as part one of at two-part program on dealing with anxiety and other afflictive emotions. I found Amita’s guidance to be beneficial and hope that you will, too.

The talk that I shared:
Amita Schmidt, “Practices for Depression and Anxiety: Part 1

The second session which I did not play:
Emptiness Practices for Depression and Anxiety: Part 2

Elements of Amita’s talk which resonated with me include:

  • Believing a thought is the root cause of depression and anxiety
  • Unhook from thoughts
  • Go to the body
  • Return to our buddha nature

Labeling thoughts is a foundational tool for dealing with anxiety.  Many vipassana practitioners use labeling as a skillful means. Benefits of labeling include:
• Shifts the part of the mind dealing with stimulus, so that we can work with it skillfully
• Enables the possibility of not believing a thought, and not taking it personally
• Breaks the cycle of thought loops

Twisted thinking
• All or nothing thinking
• Overgeneralization
• Always and never
• Jumping to conclusions
• Mind reading
• Catastrophic thinking (worst-case scenario)
• Emotional reasoning (I think i am a failure, therefore I am a failure)
• Linking things together that really are not linked

Feelings are not facts

Look at whose business you are in
• Your business
• Other people’s business
• The world’s business

2/3 of business is not our own business

Making Stuff Up (MSU)
• Notice when you are creating a story
• Ask “Can I absolutely know that this is true?”
• If not, let go. It’s not working thinking or not worth solving

Middle of the night thinking

HALT can trigger anxiety

The mind lies:
“I can’t stand another minute of this!”
And then you stand another minute of it.

Ditch perfectionism
• Is anyone going to die from this?
• We are not in the Emergency Room
• How much is this going to matter 5 years from now?
• 1 month from now?
• Just be good enough
• Can you live with this version of you? It’s OK as it is.

It is THE life, not MY life
• Anxiety is always trying to control THE life
• It is hopeless to try to maintain control
• Worry does not keep us safe
• Enjoy the ride, be a passenger
• It is not hard, it is not easy, it is just THE life
• Anything after “I think…” is not worth it
• There is no truth to be found in the mind
• Keep going until all beliefs are gone

Come to your senses
• The body doe not lie
• Rest in an unaffected part of the body (hair, nails)

Return to your buddha nature