How to Overcome Anxiety

I want to talk about pain. Yewww! I’ll try to make it fun. But if I don’t, a painful email is a great opportunity to practice these new approaches to discomfort.

"Pain" is a loaded word. In this post, think of it on a spectrum from discomfort to agony. We’re all on the scale somewhere.

The whole point of this email is to say discomfort is an opportunity. We use pain to defend, harden and increase our ego. But we could use it to realize how connected and free we are.

I've been trying some new practices for handling pain and they're working for me!

I want to share them with you, now.

The past couple weeks I've been trying to walk towards my pain points.

It’s a Buddhist concept based on the idea that discomfort can control us or liberate us.

When I shut a relative down for having a different opinion or avert my eyes when a person living on the street asks for change—I’m trying to lessen my discomfort.

There's a practice that has rewritten my relationship to pain.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who really does know suffering, teaches a breathing practice: breathe in discomfort and breathe out comfort.

It sounds counterintuitive but that’s the point. On autopilot, we are always trying to breathe out our pain. This is how we end up controlled.

The practice of breathing pain in shows us that we can handle it. 

We have space inside for our shame, anxiety, and anger. We don’t have to try to expel it from our consciousness the moment it touches us.

Before a difficult conversation, I breathe in fear and breathe out trust.
Scrolling instagram, I breathe in judgment and breathe out acceptance.
When I zone out while working, I breathe in boredom and breathe out interest.

Tara Brach, psychologist and meditation teacher, says that we assume pain means something is wrong. If my friend makes a comment that hurts, I wonder why I can’t be cool with everything or why she has to be insensitive.

Pain feels like a problem to solve.

This breathing practice teaches us to breathe in discomfort because it is not a problem. It is an aspect of being alive. We can welcome it.

When we breathe out comfort, we show ourselves that we have an endless amount of comfort inside of us.

There is trust, acceptance, and peace to spare.

We do not create our pain. We don’t choose what goes on in our bodies. Thoughts and feelings and painful sensations just come.

Knowing that pain isn't my fault is freeing. If I have a headache, I used to think I should be taking better care of myself and I'd feel too ashamed to tell anyone I felt bad. If I see that pain comes and goes, I don't take it out on myself and amplify the bad experience.

I've been noticing where I feel emotional pain in my body.

Tara Brach says to focus specifically on the throat, chest, and stomach.

Noticing physical pain reminds me that I'm not creating the whole physiological experience of pain—it’s a waterfall flowing through me that I can freak out about or notice as part of being alive.

So in the moment of noticing discomfort, Tara Brach suggests speaking to that experience.  I have said to my anxious self, “Tight throat and heavy stomach, what do you want me to notice?”

The answer: “That I might be wrong and vulnerable.”

Then I breathe in, “Being wrong and vulnerable” and breathe out, “Being right and safe.”

You really have to try it to feel the power of it.

You could even do it in this moment. If you’re bummed that it is Monday, breathe in, “Resisting” and breathe out, “Embracing.”

Let me know what happens.

Here's to finding a new relationship with pain,

Johannah

Are You Sure You Need a Morning Routine?

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I've been seeing downloadable morning routine guides, nightly journals, and habit-forming planners all over the internet. It's made me anxious to form my own routine -- until I realized I've always had one. Routines are billed as something we have to go after and create. But they're not out there in the world - they're innate to who we are.

I lived in an old volcano crater in Panama for two weeks. It was a weird time. I did yoga each morning and journaled about abundance each night. When I left Panama, I thought I'd found the perfect ritual to center me. Nope. The next time I had a routine was three weeks later - I walked to the beach in Costa Rica each night and swam during sunset. A bus-ride later, I was running in Costa Rica's capital every afternoon.

I thought routine shapes me. It turns out I shape the routine. I do not have to force a habit into being - no one does. We are creatures of habit! Routine is our birth right!

 

 routine in Oaxaca: night surfing in that bay with these women

routine in Oaxaca: night surfing in that bay with these women

Instead of willing myself to continue a yoga habit that made sense while living in the woods, my routine adapted itself to another environment. And another. And another.

Yorckh and I noticed that we have different traditions in each country. We played card games at every bar in Laos. We went running on the beach each evening in Malaysia. We took extravagant lunch breaks everyday in Indonesia. We took long walks in Japan. We tried to bring our old routines with us into new countries - they never stuck.

 

 Card games in Laos

Card games in Laos

Anyone who has gone on a week-long vacation knows how quickly a new routine is built and fostered; you find your favorite taco spot or beach or nightly bar and stick to it. Embedded in each of us is the desire for something both familiar and inspiring. This is what routine gives us. I don't have to create it or force it -- I can just acknowledge what I am already doing and value it.

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What I Didn't Know About Self-Care

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I landed in New York City after my first year of solo travel. It was a direct flight from Nicaragua's tropical airport to the Brooklyn subway. I was overwhelmed. I stepped onto the wrong train, realized it, and said to myself outloud, “I love you, girl.”

Talking to myself isn’t new. 

But the content of the talk changed while I was alone in Latin America.

Getting mad at myself didn’t change me. Worst-case scenarios did not chill me out. Tactics for handling discomfort on my own—partying, evading, dating—had diminishing returns. 

One day in the midst of resenting a Tinder match, I admitted to myself that I just needed a friend. So I became that friend. I stopped telling myself I wasn’t as good at traveling as people I met and instead said I was crushing it. I gave myself pep talks, hugs (literally wrapping my arms around myself while looking in the mirror), and permission to leave wherever I was (bar, town, country) whenever I wanted. The more I told myself these things, the more I realized that there was someone doing the telling and someone doing the listening. There is the me who knows I can handle it and the me who would really appreciate hearing that.  

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We are all two people inside one body. Hear me out. When we are embarrassed by our own tears, get mad at ourselves for hitting the snooze, make deals with ourselves at the gym, there are two beings: the attacker and the victim. But it doesn’t have to be two equally harried voices. Conversations with myself have developed so that there is the Johannah overwhelmed on the train and the Johannah that knows how to calm her down. You could say it is the ego and the observer, devil and angel, best friend and worst enemy, whatever you want. I don't need a peer-reviewed reason for it to be. I just know that my life is better when I acknowledge that I am two people.

All emotions are a positive and negative in one bundle. I’m never nervous without being excited, scared without being curious, or sad without being grateful. 

My mind (which creates the thoughts that lead to the emotions) has two states at all times. It is tempting for me to say there is a higher state and a lower state. I don’t want to put that judgment on the lower state, who really is doing the best she can. But this knowledge that each emotion is dual can be extrapolated so that even when you think you are ruining your life, there is a part of you that maintains that you're a small dot in the Universe doing just fine. That part of you could even take it a step further and say you are the Universe and the Universe just is.

 

 

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My relationship with myself has evolved with this partnership. 

I feel into my observer self, which feels like an energetic cloud of strength in my belly, whenever I want. She doesn’t clear out feelings, she just broadens my perspective to the point that there is plenty of space around the feelings. When I want to be scooped out of a dark thought, I visualize a white place in my mind where my confused self sits on the floor with her head on the lap of my knowing self. And that image is a complete picture of Me: a reactionary girl and a wise old woman, a baby soul on her first reincarnation and a guru on her last.

To be clear, I am not saying that my two selves actually have two separate physical bodies. I'm just saying the mind can do very cool, cathartic things.

Instead of texting friends my anxious rants or closing off from my boyfriend, I take my reactive self to get a pep talk from my chill self, who is just fine all the time. This means that even when I am sad and anxious, I know there is a part of me who is completely well, safe, and content. That knowledge in itself can lessen the intensity of my emotions.

 

This knowledge also means I have a responsibility to take care of myself. It isn’t “self-care” as I used to think—part of me is always okay and doesn’t need the care. It is more like checking in on my travel buddy. I am not making sure I am good, which has always seemed weirdly redundant to me, I am making sure my lowest, most easily exhausted self is good. And I’m using my best self to do it.

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