“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sometimes, life can seem to be racing along at warp speed – with all of the daily to-dos and myriad stresses, it can be difficult to remember to pause and feel grateful for the people, places, objects and moments that enrich our lives. The thanksgiving holiday is a wonderful opportunity to do just that, yet it only comes around once a year. Imagine how it would feel if you could carve out a few moments every single day to feel and express gratitude.
Dr. Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, and the founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Thinking, has conducted several studies over the last decade about the profound impact gratefulness can have on physical, psychological and social health. Emmons has found, after studying thousands of people of all ages, that the benefits of giving thanks are many, including stronger immune systems, less pain, lower blood pressure, more positive emotions, better sleep, fewer feelings of isolation and loneliness, more compassion and healthier relationships.1
Keeping a gratitude journal is one simple way that you can express the things you are grateful for every day (or every other day, even!) Emmons and other psychologists in the field recommend the use of these journals as healthy ritual to give thanks. And all you need is a notebook, a pen, and a few moments each day to reflect on what you are thankful for. Emmons says that “setting aside time on a daily basis to recall moments of gratitude associated with ordinary events, your personal attributes, or valued people in your life gives you the potential to interweave a sustainable life theme of gratefulness.” 2
If you don’t know where to begin, check of this link with some more information about gratitude journaling and some prompts to help you recognize the things you are most grateful for. Happy writing!
After writing Got Anxiety? and Anxiety and Traditional Chinese Medicine, I decided the last post in this series should list some ways to begin dealing with anxiety, starting with some suggestions from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) standpoint, and then moving on to some other cool stuff. Please note: These posts are not meant to be exclusionary in regards to using conventional medicine, including medication and all schools of psychotherapy, to help alleviate your anxiety. If it works for you, you have my full support.
Treating Anxiety with Traditional Chinese Medicine
1. It’s super basic, and super easy. Apply pressure to Kidney 1 (see link for picture). This point will help ground out the frenetic energy in your head. It can also clear heat and calm the Shen/Mind.
2. Start your day with prayer or meditation. In TCM, prayer and meditation are cooling, and since anxiety most often involves an element of heat, this is a great way to ground yourself and cool the hot thoughts.
3. Get some acupuncture. We’ll figure out what kind of anxiety you’re experiencing, and treat accordingly. In TCM, it’s acknowledged that some constitutional types are more prone to anxiety than others. There are lots of great herbal formulas to treat the root of what you are dealing with (the energetic “origins” of your anxiety). Once we assess your constitution and your energetic imbalances, we can also suggest more individualized dietary advice.
4. Read about the Spleen, since the “emotion” associated with the Spleen is anxiety/worry/pensiveness/rumination.
Other (Hopefully) Helpful Suggestions
1. See a therapist. A friend of mine, a psychologist with a big brain and a great sense of humor (and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), has told me lots about how effective CBT can be in treating anxiety. Call a licensed CBT therapist for a free consult and see if their style jives with you. Please know that there are many different approaches in the world of psychotherapy in regards to treating anxiety, and if you’re interested in seeing a therapist, don’t stop until you find the right one – you’ll know when you’ve found her.
2. Be nicer to yourself, dudes and dudettes! Negative self-talk? It happens. A lot. A constant berating voice telling you that you’re not good enough? Consider patting it on it’s negative little head, then kindly shhh it. If that doesn’t work, sometimes getting up from where you are to engage in another activity is helpful in regards to stopping that little punk from spouting it’s self-deprecating lies. Think of that voice as a pre-verbal baby. Since babies can’t rationalize, it’s sometimes helpful to just distract them away from playing with the toilet paper roll rather than screaming “NO! BAD GIRL! STOP THAT!”
In other words, consider doing an activity that might take you out of your head and help connect you with your physical body or imagination.
3. Be honest. Spend time seeing people with whom you can feel happy around, and take some time when they ask “How are you?” to tell them the truth. But whatever you do, don’t spend the whole day talking about what’s wrong, and promise yourself to take some time to do what brings you pleasure.
4. Know that all families are flappin’ crazy! Family, simply by being family, can create a strange, especially chaotic species of anxiety. Family dynamics are complex and deep-seated. Know you’re not alone, and know this doesn’t mean your family sucks and that Penelope’s family is way better. Who’s Penelope? I DON’T KNOW! Because people with perfect families don’t exist!
5. Read. People have been swashbuckling with anxiety for a long, long time. Screw those people who tell you self-help books are for losers. All sections of the library are self-help, dabbit!
6. Laugh a lot. If you can’t laugh when you’re anxious, laugh when you’re not. Or if you’re just not feeling funny, but you’d like to laugh, try laughter yoga. I urge you to watch this video. Tell me you didn’t laugh!!!
Treating Anxiety With Sage Advice
Check out these awesome quotes:
From When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times by Pema Chödrön
-You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.
-No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear…the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away…. So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.
Here are some other good ones:
-When I get up in the morning… my real concern is to discover whether I’m in a state of grace. And if I make that investigation, and I discover that I am not in a state of grace, I try to go [back] to bed. A state of grace is that kind of balance with which you ride the chaos that you find around you. It’s not a matter of resolving the chaos—because there’s something arrogant and warlike about putting the world in order—but having a kind of escape ski down over a hill, just going through the contours of the hill. —Leonard Cohen
-Let a man once overcome his selfish terror at his own finitude, and his finitude is, in one sense, overcome. – Santayana
-Kierkegaard once claimed that anxiety is our “best teacher.” He was correct, to a point. By underscoring the tensions in our minds and goading us to action, anxiety does indeed teach us. But as the chronic sufferer discovers, the best teacher is not anxiety itself but the ceaseless, lifelong effort to think clearly and act well in spite of it. To do that you need certain qualities — the ones my brother Scott isolated in his book of wisdom: simplicity, mindfulness, pragmatism, stoicism. It would take me 10 years, six therapists and countless hours of self-torment to see this. -Daniel B. Smith (from his article on anxiety published in the NY Times – The Maniac in Me.)
My anxiety came as panic attacks when I was in my mid-twenties, finally settling in and manifesting itself, two or three times a day, as a real fear of dropping dead within the next few minutes. It’s lasted all my life. That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: I am 81 years old. Never has irony been more appreciated. – VM from Lucerne, CA (pulled from the comment section of The Maniac in Me)
I hope, from the very center of my heart, that something in these series of posts helps you feel more safe, more grounded, and more at peace. And if you do take something from this post, consider it practice, and keep practicing. Like the author John McPhee says – “You put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart”. Imagine what you’ll have after a couple of quarts! Let’s do the math… oh, you’ll have 1.89271 more liters of self-confidence that you can do this!