In an episode
of his podcast Waking Up
, neuroscientist and mindfulness expert Sam Harris recommends 2 ways of shifting your perspective of anxiety to help you better deal with it:
1. Reframe the problem:
For example, many people are afraid to fly, and even those of us who enjoy flying can feel anxious in significant turbulence.
But ask yourself: Is it rational to worry that your plane will crash if you’re experiencing turbulence?
Given how relatively rare plane crashes are, flying might be the safest part of your trip.
During your journey, you should be more worried as you’re getting into a taxi, or as you’re walking in a crosswalk while fixated on your smartphone. These are the moments “when sweat should be beading up on your forehead.”
Once you take this perspective, you can simply experience the turbulence, and cease to interpret it as a sign of actual danger.
2. Reframe anxiety itself:
The other perspective is to become mindful of the feeling of anxiety itself: What is it? What does it mean?
As Harris notes, anxiety is just “a pattern of energy and it actually doesn’t mean anything at the level of raw sensation.”
Your thoughts about that sensation might be negative, but the feeling itself is often indistinguishable from the feeling of excitement: How do you know the difference between being anxious about something and being excited?
For the most part, it’s your thoughts that frame how you feel about that same sensation.
Harris argues that the best way to respond to normal anxiety is to become willing to feel it, and to continue functioning even as it’s happening.
It will eventually pass: “Anxiety rises and falls like any other emotion, and if you’re not continually thinking the thoughts that make you anxious, it actually can’t stay around very long.”