Anxiety is hard-wired into our brain—and that’s not always a bad thing. This gnawing, persistent uneasy feeling is part of our fight-or-flight response and prompts us to take action in situations where we may not be safe. In situations where you haven’t already identified a source of imminent danger, your brain is likely scanning for potential threats.
And while that was an effective system for earlier humans, it’s not really conducive to modern life. That’s why Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist, meditation teacher and the author of books including Buddha’s Brain, recommends that we tune into something other than potential threats in an article on Ideas.Ted.Com. Here’s how to do that.
Notice when you’re feeling OK
Even if it feels as though you’re anxious all the time, Hanson says we should challenge that mindset. One way to do that is by periodically checking in with yourself to see if you’re OK. We’ll let Hanson walk you through it:
Take a close look at this moment, right now—probably, you are basically all right. No one is attacking you, you are not sick, there is no crisis where you sit.
Things may be far from perfect, but you’re OK.
By “right now,” I mean this moment. When our mind goes into the future, we worry and plan. When our mind goes into the past, we resent and regret. Threads of fear are woven into the mental tapestries of past and future.
Look again at this thin slice of time that is the present. In this moment, are you basically OK? Are you breathing? Is your heart beating? Is your mind working?
In daily life, it’s possible to access this fundamental sense of all-rightness even while you’re getting things done. You’re not ignoring real threats or issues or pretending that everything is perfect—it’s not.
But in the middle of everything, you can usually see that you’re actually all right, right now.
Keep it up
After going through those steps once and figuring out how to check in with yourself, Hanson recommends doing it several times a day. When you (hopefully) realize you are not in immediate danger, remind yourself that you’re OK. The point isn’t to sugarcoat the bad parts of your life, or tell other people that you’re fine if you’re really struggling. Instead, Hanson says it comes down to recognizing that in a particular moment, you are OK.
This technique is most useful for people who consider themselves anxious all (or at least most) of the time, and need a way to help them realize that’s not their only option. “The fear that bad things will happen if you let yourself feel OK is unfounded,” Hanson writes. “You do not need to fear feeling all right.”