Every time I go on social media these days I meet a thick fog of fear. The causes vary but the effects are always the same – people torturing themselves with anxiety, dread, gloom and panic. Now I’m not saying I watch our world with total equanimity and there is certainly a lot of bad stuff going down out there. But it needn’t overwhelm us. Let me share a few simple techniques that might help – well, they work for me.
Step one: First up, I’d say be cautious with how you use social media and news channels. It’s good to be informed but we all know (don’t we?) when interest and awareness tip over into obsession and how easy it can be to become addicted to crises unfolding. We can wind ourselves up into a frenzy all too quickly, with devastating effects on our mental wellbeing. If that’s you (I know it can be me) consider stepping away. Take off notifications on your phone; limit your browsing. If you really can’t do that then use the tools out there to mute the panic. During the election I muted ‘Brexit’, ‘Boris’ and ‘Corbyn’ on Twitter and with those three clicks my Twitter feed suddenly became a meadow of gambolling dogs, Buddhist monks, and book promotions. Polyanna-ish? Maybe but sometimes needs must.
Step two: I ask myself whose business I’m in. This idea comes from the wonderful Byron Katie and it’s ludicrously simple. This is what she says:
“There are only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s [ie reality]. I have learned that the quickest way to being happy is to stay in my own business.”
Katie uses it mainly to offset critical, condemning and judgemental thoughts and conversations (gossip and drama). As in, whose business is it if someone plays loud music, votes the opposite way to you, wears clothes you dislike? Their business, right? Whose business is it if you are angry at these people? Well now, that’s your business.
But it’s also really handy for those big events, the ones over which we have absolutely no control, yet still get ourselves shit-scared about.
I first used this for my fear of flying. Back in the day I used to get myself into a right state, checking people’s auras before we boarded the plane (apparently your aura disappears before you die – who knew?). Once in my seat I would close my eyes and visualise furiously, placing angels all around the plane. Once airborne, I would spend the entire flight mentally keeping the plane up there. It was EXHAUSTING.
Then I read Byron Katie. Whose business is it to keep the plane in the air, she asked? Well, the pilot and God/reality. Is there anything I can do, really? Nope, not a sausage. So now I get on the plane, sit back, read my book and hope for the best. And that’s all we can do, truly. Us getting in a lather about Trump or Brexit or Iran or whatever won’t change things, will it? By all means do something practical – like donating to help the Australians fighting those heartrending bushfires, or joining XR or Greenpeace. But sitting stewing about things we can’t directly change doesn’t help anyone or anything – and it does damage us.
Step three: The third technique is for when the fear really descends. This is also hugely simple and was taught to me by a friend who’s a psychologist and psychotherapist. Whenever you’re scared, simply bring yourself to the precise moment you’re in. Feel yourself sitting, notice yourself breathing. Ask yourself, ‘Right now, this exact second, am I okay? Am I safe?’ And, second by second, you are. I’ve used this in some unnerving situations (driving on ice, enduring an attack of gallstones, extreme turbulence) and it’s worked every time. Because when you’re truly in the moment, you can’t be in the future (and that’s where the fear lies).
Let me know if you try any of these and if they help. I’d heartily recommend checking out Loving What Is by Byron Katie (you don’t even need to buy the book – all ‘The Work’ (as her self-enquiry techniques are called) is available online at her website.
PS – mantras also help!