If you want to truly live, imagine yourself dead.
It sounds like a bizarre concept, but it actually makes a lot of sense.
Jesuit priest, writer, and psychotherapist Anthony De Mello taught folks this concept prior to his own death in 1987. In an excerpt from his book Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, he writes:
The passport to living is to imagine yourself in your grave.
Imagine that you're lying flat in your coffin and you're dead. See the body decomposing, then the bones, then it all turning to dust.
Now look at your problems from that viewpoint. Changes everything, doesn't it?
Do this for a minute or so every day and you'll come alive. It's unbelievable how alive you'll feel. But most people don't live; they're just keeping the body alive.
That's not life.
De Mello's notion of impermanence is not new to humans. Around 2,000 years ago, Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself in his journal, saying:
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.
Let's face it... We can't really predict the future except to say that one day, we will die. That's a guarantee. Otherwise, uncertainty is the only certainty.
Removing that anxiety about the uncertain future is one of the quickest ways to actually get to enjoying your life.
Anxiety is the most common mental-health issue in the U.S., but it's highly treatable... However, only a third of folks suffering from anxiety ever seek out treatment.
Anxiety is a blend of genetic and environmental factors. So some people who experience anxiety may be "programmed" in a way that makes them more likely to develop it than others.
Last month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force drafted a new recommendation for anxiety screening to be included for the first time in the primary-care practice of all adults aged 18 years and older.
But knowing whether or not you're suffering from anxiety can be hard to determine. So, allow me to clarify two important points...
First, anxiety and fear are not the same thing. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, anxiety is a reaction to our emotions, whereas fear is a reaction to danger in the environment.
Anxiety often produces a stop-reaction to our emotions, whereas fear mobilizes us. For instance, many folks are afraid of public speaking. Anxiety might cause a person to avoid public speaking at all costs – even if that means jeopardizing their reputation or career. Fear, however, might simply flood a person with adrenaline so that they're able to power through the obligation.
Anxiety is confusing because we can experience it from an upsetting scenario in the present, as well as the memory of an upsetting scenario from the past.
And that brings me to my second point, which is to say that not all anxiety is bad. Anxiety acts like an internal alarm system. It alerts you to a perceived threat that requires your attention.
Anxiety becomes unhealthy when that internal alarm doesn't match up to the scenario. So with an unhealthy degree of anxiety, the threat is believed to be much more threatening than it actually is.
Using the public-speaking example from before, a healthy dose of anxiety might help you realize your fear of public speaking stems from an old memory. You're able to realize the situation is not as threatening as you originally thought, and you can move on.
An unhealthy dose of anxiety in this situation might cause you so much distress that you aren't able to stop thinking about public speaking, and your thoughts keep you awake all night worrying.
Luckily, there's an easy way to calm anxiety that doesn't require you spending any money or learning a new skill... breathing.
Deep, slow breathing uses your diaphragm muscles to help calm you down. That's because your diaphragm connects to a part of your brain that influences anxiety – the amygdala.
Here are two breathing exercises that will help you with your anxiety:
- Resonant breathing: Inhale for a count of five seconds and then exhale for a count of five seconds. Continue this breathing pattern for five to 10 minutes. This technique can be done anywhere, in any position, and every day.
- The 4-7-8 method: Inhale through your nose for a count of four seconds. Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds. Then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight seconds. Do this cycle four times.
Do what I do and spend time every day being intentional with your breath. I like to practice my breathing exercises while reading or during the first few minutes of my day, before I even get out of bed.
What We're Reading...
- What's the difference between anxiety and fear?
- Something different: Why are we conscious?
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
October 25, 2022