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Fear Episode 6


· 44:07


[00:00:00] Mark: There's nothing quite like waking up in the morning and having had a real sense of fear and dread of remembering that you forgot to do your science homework and it's going to be graded today. And then a few seconds go by and then you have that wonderful feeling of, oh no, I'm 40. I don't have to go to school.

[00:00:25] Anya: I have that, but it's maths there's like some outstanding exams or pieces of coursework that I need to do so I can actually finish school and then Yeah, I remember that I'm 50 and . That's possibly not. Though, although I do wonder cuz I have such, I have places when and when I dream that I go back to and I did talk to someone, what about this one time she went, yeah, yeah, probably Astra protecting, you're probably on a different dimension. You've got another lifetime and, and you come here for the rest and this is like

[00:01:01] Mark: If that's the case, one of you is getting a raw deal.

[00:01:04] Welcome to the A to Z of happiness, with Anya Pearse and me, Mark Steadman. Join us as we unpack the science of happiness, one letter at a time. This week it's F for fear.

[00:01:22] Anya: Well, this is one of those things where Again, I'm talking about something not because I'm good at overcoming it, but be deliberately because I'm shit at it. And I know for myself how much Happiness feeling scared has taken from me in my life. And, you know, fearing something is going to happen, you know, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

[00:01:47] That can very often, if I'm not careful, cloud a really enjoyable experience or relationship with someone. You know, this is great and they're gonna, you know this, there's something is going to happen, which means it's going to end in a way which leaves me bereft. and, you know, having those kinds of fears.

[00:02:11] You know, and I, I'm like everyone else, you know, I wanna, I want to avoid painful and difficult emotions as best I can. I'm, I, I mean, I'm learning One of the things which, you know, uh, our mutual friend, uh, the coach, Chris Kenworthy, um, Is often pointed out to me when that I, you know, he's a fan of the Enneagram and says, points out when I'm, when I'm being very four-ish, which means that I'm being very, you know, I will sit with difficult things and I'll go, okay, this feels this.

[00:02:42] I don't like this. Why don't I like this? What's underneath the not liking, et cetera, et cetera. What's under, under all these fears? Cuz you know, it's so easy. To distract myself and to numb myself from that. And I think the, I don't wanna say call it as a gift because it was hard one, but you know, I had a period just over a decade ago when I was so physically incapacitated by my illness that I couldn't distract myself from my experience.

[00:03:18] the only thing I could do was actually repeating a mantra. I forgive myself, I forgive myself, I forgive myself. Just so I could sleep for more than four hours. I was doing like, like four hours during the day. Four hours during the night, which does not do your nervous system any good. you know, I think I've mentioned before, you know, I've had a, what I euphemistically call a cow to building childhood

[00:03:42] You know, so there's a lot. my negativity bias has been honed by experiences of, um, interpersonal trauma. I am still, you know, I, I sound bright and chirpy right now. The sun is shining. You know, I, I have your marvelous company right now. but yeah. Loneliness, um, from extended period of social isolation mean that, Now the, the lonely brain is a hypervigilant brain, and so I'm more attuned to threats

[00:04:15] Mark: Should we, should we look at what those, what those, those threats are? Because I think for me, my understanding here is, It has a lot to do with rejection and feeling, perhaps feeling like we're, we're in an outgroup and wanting to be in the ingroup or feeling like we are in the ingroup and being absolutely terrified that we put a foot wrong.

[00:04:34] Do you know? Or say the wrong thing. Do the wrong thing. And then we are banished and exiled and, and, and sent back into oblivion and loneliness again.

[00:04:43] Anya: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:04:47] not, not, not the moment. No, not this is gonna turn into a really fucking cheerful, uh, podcast episode. . But yeah. You know, part of this, this vigilance is we are a social species. and you know, certainly from infancy we are, you know, fundamentally dependent on our caregivers for our very survival. Um, and this is where we can develop certain, certain wounds really when, you know, at certain stages of our development, where we haven.

[00:05:22] received the care and attention. And I'm not just talking like physically, you know, food and shelter and things. I'm talking, you know, emotionally a feeling of safety. You know, there can be wounds, which we through no fault of anyone. you know, there's this, this thing of, good enough parenting, you know, if you have certain sensitivities, if you have a genetic predisposition. Actually, you know, trauma is hereditary. You know, your grandparents might have experienced something which give you, which leave you with a certain sensitivity to feeling rejection, to fearing, being sent out of the in-group or waiting to be kicked out of the in group. these are all survival aspects.

[00:06:04] These are all, you know, but I'm thinking about. To me, this is very much the survival, threat being oh, experienced being running the show almost, you know, picking us up, grabbing us, and carrying us away. because yeah, this, this, this aspect from infancy of being dependent on other people, you know, because we are a social species, we.

[00:06:29] Hugely interdependent with others, for yes food. Shelter, but also for a sense of ourselves, you know, this idea of being mirrored by other people so we can learn who we are in relationship to others, you know, and the, there's, there's a whole thing of, oh, trying to get rid of your ego. It's like you need to have an ego.

[00:06:51] You need to have a, a strong sense of self before you can get rid of it. And if you don't have this kind and considerate reflection of your better qualities and, and which allows you to make mistakes and to get a sense of yourself. there can be huge. areas, huge things that can trigger our fear.

[00:07:11] You know, one, being afraid of ourselves and the aspects of ourselves, you know, two afraid of other people, you know, judging us and yes, kicking us out, or you know, also rejecting us for those things that we reject in ourselves. That could be huge thing. and just this whole realization that. in Martin Seligman's, uh, formula for Happiness Perma, the central column, the central core of it is are for positive relationships and we are a social species. Part of what makes loneliness so painful is the fact that we are not with others and you know, the fear of rejection, the fear. death, be it the death of our ego, death of our identity, the death of hopes and dreams, springing from these, these, these biological fears of death. Yeah, they can be particularly challenging.

[00:08:12] Mark: Now, Ian Brown of, of the of the Stone Roses, uh, put out a song, oh, how many years ago? Quite a few, um, called F e A R in which he listed it was using fear as an acronym for lots of different things, you know, for each erode for every man of religion and the one thing that I don't think he did, uh, and indicate, um, or, or list was false evidence appearing real.

[00:08:39] Anya: Yeah, it's an interesting one cuz I think this is one of the things, you know, we try and cuz this is a definition or you know, a way of looking at it, which I've come across and it's an interesting one because so often, you know, what we're responding to isn't the actual situation we're experiencing.

[00:08:58] We're experiencing our thinking about the situation. And you know, this idea of false evidence, what we're responding to isn't, you know, what we can physically, tangibly feel. I love, there's a, there's a piece in one of, uh, Michael Neal's books where he talks about, you know, one of his mentors talking to, to a man about all his issues.

[00:09:20] And he was going, getting like really, really angry. And he went, well, what? Wait, so what are you saying? They're all my stress and all the things I'm worried about. They're just mirages. And, and the mentor went, yeah, but they're real mirages

[00:09:33] Mark: Hmm.

[00:09:36] Anya: you know? And I think when we start thinking about. this, this idea of the false evidence that really takes me into kind of like the two ways of, you know, I'm just gonna quote some, some stuff now, uh, or attempt to from, about the neurobiology of fear, you know, and this, the fact that we have, yeah, well, the fact that we have that, that this split perceptual system and so,

[00:10:01] Mark: It's easy for

[00:10:01] Anya: kind of.

[00:10:02] Yeah, it's not that easy . Um, you know, and so we have like this quick survival response, but it's all based on pattern matching. And so, you know, we have the, the amygdala is like the smoke alarm of the brain. And depending on how, on your window of tolerance, depends on how finely calibrated that smoke alarm is.

[00:10:25] Because I think we've all had those alarms in our, in our houses, which you have a slice of toast that's anything more than a light honey, and it thinks the entire building is a flame, you know? And

[00:10:38] Mark: I stayed in a caravan, uh, the, uh, in September of 2021, and every time I would in the morning, I would make my lovely little fried breakfast and, uh, I had to open the caravan door to make my breakfast because there was absolutely no way of this thing not going off and, and, and in a very small, confined space,

[00:11:00] Anya: Oh God.

[00:11:00] Mark: oh, that shit's Ear piercing.

[00:11:02] Anya: Oh, very, very

[00:11:03] Mark: But I love that actually because that, that really, that because that smoke alarm, it is so, cuz the point of that is to tell you shit's going down and this is the only thing you need to care about right now. That's why it's so loud. That's why it's, you know, it's, it's sort of impenetrable because it is meant to say there, there are no other priorities right now. And so when that's going off in our own heads, that is, is, that is quite the, quite the experience.

[00:11:32] Anya: It is, it is. And it's interesting, you know, using the idea of of, of the smoke, you know, this idea, you know, is there smoke this, we make this, this connection. There's no smoke without fire. And I think that's what the, you know, the amygdala is very good at. It goes, this smoke, there's clearly fire. We need you to move quickly now everyone nears, exit please.

[00:11:52] Out the building. Out the building. So it activates, you know, the body's fight or flight hormone. , you know, and in, in the, and you know, it's this, it's very efficient. It bypasses, you know, our executive function. It just goes right shift, move now.

[00:12:11] Mark: uh, all resort. What is it like, uh, the Star Trek thing? Like everything's diverted to, you

[00:12:15] Anya: Yes. To the

[00:12:16] main,

[00:12:17] Mark: to, to shields or whatever.

[00:12:18] Anya: yeah, absolutely. Main factor shield. Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, this is like, and it says, you know, in in the book, you know, I'm Krenn quoting from Healing Developmental Trauma, which is, uh, a, a wonderful, uh, beachside side reed, um, , you know, but it says, you know, in a pre pre predator world, , you know, this can make the difference between life and death.

[00:12:40] This is why, you know, we, we, we had it as one of the first things that we evolved and we've kept retained it. that's that, that's the thing. You know, we are, I was watching Oh, for the George Clark's episodes, not, not the amazing spaces, the one with like old, old house, new home or something. And there was this gorgeous, villa, uh, uh, farmhouse.

[00:13:06] Which was, you know, from the front, beautiful. But at the back there's like lots of additions of like eighties extensions and our nineties extensions and this, that, and the other. And it's very much like our brains, you know, we have like the original architecture built in from, from the start of our evolution.

[00:13:23] And then we've had all these extensions built on.

[00:13:26] Mark: Can I now do my impression of a character from Father Ted?

[00:13:29] Anya: You can.

[00:13:32] Mark: This is my favorite character from Father Ted. He's a, he's a, a painfully boring man that, uh, people get stuck with, um, usually in, in confined spaces. And, um, this is a bit the, the credit sequence where he says, we, we had a, an extension put on the house, and then we had an extension put on the extension, and now the house is in a circle now. What's your favorite humming noise anyway?

[00:14:00] Anya: But that's it. You know, this is like a lot of, this is what we're contending with is, you know, we've got an old building with an extension, with another extension, but like, not everyone where there's a fire, people come outta the extension, they go into the original main building, and that, and that shit is made, is like really roughly humorous.

[00:14:18] Like it's just old stone. You know, possibly a dirt floor. You know, it's, it's, it's, it's, but it's there because that's where all the utilities come into, into the main property, you know, but trying to navigate between all these different stages can, can trip us up because obviously we didn't put them on the same flooring level.

[00:14:38] There were steps, um, that would be so much more sensible.

[00:14:42] Mark: we're building a house, not a bunga.

[00:14:43] Anya: Yeah, exactly. Um, but you know, having this split perceptual system, you know, means that, you know, to minimize effort, the blame makes a quick assessment with just enough detail for a good enough match, you know? And if danger is assessed, you know, the Milo responds to this minimal information, you know, but the second one, you know, if, if no match is found, the brain proceeds to seek more information until a ma until a match is found.

[00:15:11] And this is where we kind of, we move into from thinking fast, into thinking a little bit more slowly to, to paraphrase the book. you know, this is kind of like touching into our hippocampus now, our memory. And so we are fear with a lot of it is pattern matching. You know that Is that why we mistake, it's much better for us to mistake a stick for a snake and to run away than to stop and seek more information and go, no, no, no, it's just a stick.

[00:15:39] That's cool. That's fine. No more screaming.

[00:15:41] Mark: There's, uh, there's a guy, uh, called Marco Armand who created, among other things, uh, he was, I think, employee number one at Tumblr, and he created the popular podcast app, overcast, and he has a thing because his name is Marco. Lots of people call him Mark. And so he, he has what he calls a snap to grid name, and I think that snapping to grid is a really good metaphor.

[00:16:06] So if you've ever done anything where, like, especially on Windows like. If you drag an icon somewhere out of the, sort of the main grid of where it wants to be, it will snap back. It will sort of want to be in alignment and you can sometimes get that when you are, you know, if you are doing something in Canva or whatever, and you, you wanna drag something and, and what ends up happening is it, it snaps to a grid line.

[00:16:29] and we do that in all sorts of different areas where we go, oh, that's close enough to, to what I wanted. And so I think, yeah, like if, if the idea of pattern matching and pattern recognition doesn't necessarily, spark it in your brain, I think that that's something that, you know, if you, if you use a computer or a tablet, you might be com you know, familiar with that thing of the shortcut being taken there to be like, eh, it's close enough.

[00:16:52] And our brains do that all the time.

[00:16:53] Anya: Yeah. Because our brains, you know, only wear a couple of pounds. They take CIR somewhere in the region of 20% of our calories, you know, so it's always trying to be really cost efficient cuz it's like, if it's has like the quick pattern matching, right? Okay. All systems go. If it's the slower pattern matching that again, you know, takes effort.

[00:17:13] If there's no match, then you know, new information can be learned, but then it needs to be hung onto something else structurally for it to be remembered. You know, this is why people think that I have a really great memory for stuff. It's not, it's because it ends up like being, there's this huge tree. I can see connections between things. But it's not until someone says something that I remember the connection and then this, it's like the Duke box effect comes up,

[00:17:38] Mark: Hmm.

[00:17:39] Anya: I can't remember stuff. You know, just really nearly, there needs to be some kind of inciting trigger, some kind of catalyst. And then all the little, it's like, um, an electrical circuit, all the little lights, you flick a switch and all the little, all the little lights all suddenly get powered up and you ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding,

[00:17:59] But they were all set up to connect with each other previously, which is how I end up remembering things and having a, a moderately good semantic memory for certain things.

[00:18:14] Mark: So we have some, some questions, some prompts, uh, and, uh, and the, and the first one too, that we, that we're gonna look at is, what are you afraid of?

[00:18:26] Anya: Yeah, because I think, you know, actually what we've done, we've talked a lot about some of where the core fears lie. Um, you know, this idea of. You know, being, being rejected, you know, the fear of, of death, whether that's lit, literal, or social. but sometimes just being aware of what it is that we're afraid of helps us to work out, you know, is this what Martha Beck says?

[00:18:57] You know, like there's this social self, am I afraid of not fitting in? , which is different. You know, we talked about beef and belonging. It's different from belonging. You know, our essential self belongs everywhere. You know, but our social self wants to get it right. You know, knows that there

[00:19:17] Mark: Dear listener, Annie just saw me make what can only be described as a face.

[00:19:22] Anya: there there was a forehead resting on the microphone moment, Okay. And breathe into the diaphragm. But yeah, you know, we have, cuz the social self is built from social rules, which means that we can get that shit wrong,

[00:19:49] Mark: Which is why I love improv, genuinely because that was the discovery I made doing improv. I, I was trying to figure out, like, I, I enjoy this. I enjoy. I, I'm, I'm sort of okay being on stage and all that kind of stuff, but there is something about this that I enjoy, and I, and it's because you, it's very difficult to get it wrong. Uh, when you do get it wrong, it can go catastrophe, wrong. And I have a couple of those experiences, but in the main it doesn't because what happens is you build the world as you go. You build the world based on, or you are almost building it based on the mistakes. You're building it based on the funny things that people said, maybe on purpose, maybe not.

[00:20:28] And so there are no rules or the rules that you are, that you are adhering to are being made up on the spot. And so you can't get that social stuff wrong when you are in that, in that scenario, because, in that world because of the world of Yes, and which I'm sure e everyone is familiar with in, in, in its basic form because the, the job of another performer is to say, okay, cool, given that that is now canon, given that that is now part of the world, what comes next?

[00:20:57] And so if you, if you become the type of person who reacts, who, who, who laughs instead. Crying when they've been given bad news. Okay. That's now the, that's now how you react and that is now true. We don't have to, you know, point and laugh at that person, in an unsafe way because that is now part of the, part of the universe.

[00:21:18] Sorry.

[00:21:18] Anya: Yeah. And you are, you are Krenn. Cuz I think I always love, there's a book called The Science of Storytelling by Will's story. And he talks about how, you know, up until like late adolescence, we are building a model of the world. And then after that we are defending it.

[00:21:32] Mark: Hmm.

[00:21:32] Anya: Yeah. It's always a wonderful book.

[00:21:34] Uh, I do recommend, but it is, you know, in those situations you are creating the social rules as you go along. , you're not trying to work out what they are, you are being intentional with them. You know, you have agency and anything is, anything is possible, which is very, very liberating. and, and I think it's, now, it's interesting just thinking about that in the context of fear and actually thinking about the difference between fear, worry, and anxiety.

[00:22:03] actually. Because in that situation, those, the social situations, you might fear being cast out, you know, and anxiety is more of a, like a body experience, but a worry thing is like, okay, if I can just work out how to do this, I can stay safe. And I think, in situations where you are, I think this.

[00:22:23] You know, one of the things which , I, I, I used to say it, I came with a side salad of neurodiversity. or that I'm on a spectrum. We just haven't worked out which one it is yet, um, . But what I love about, certain aspects of that and, and owning that is the permission it gives me to make social cues explicit.

[00:22:44] I, I will very much say, you know, hi. I'm, I usually say I'm highly sensitive. It is a form of neurodiversity. I can get confused by staff or overwhelmed by staff, what's going on here.

[00:22:54] Mark: Mm.

[00:22:54] and you know, in the relationship I'm in at the moment, this person is, you know, he is very good at communicating.

[00:23:02] Anya: Things, which ordinarily other people will tell him to go, oh, what are you telling me that. He will say, I'm just gonna do this so I can then do that. And I'm like, and, and, and I'm like,

[00:23:12] Mark: Mm-hmm.

[00:23:14] Anya: you know, checking in with like, is is it okay if I still pay for lunches? You know, can, I'm making these, like these social things. Yeah. He, he, he also thinks he probably needs to get looked into. he's like because like all the people he hangs out with and, and vibes all go, yeah, we've got, I'm a little bit neurodiverse, I've got this going on. Um, But yeah, just making these things explicit because then when they're out in the open,

[00:23:42] part of what makes social navigation difficult can be the conflict between what someone says and the energy we're experiencing from them. A lack of congruence. You know, I think we've all had times when you've had someone who is clearly pissed off with us. Say, no, I'm not

[00:24:01] Mark: It's fine. It's fine. I'm not passive aggressive. You're passive aggressive.

[00:24:12] Anya: No, it doesn't matter. It's okay. . And you know, Virginia Satir talks about this kind of lack of congruence, and if we experience it as children, it makes us feel unsafe. And we all still have these inner childs within us, these, these young aspects who are, you know, and, and we have this neuro receptive sense of picking up whether something's a warning or welcome, you know, below, below our level of conscious awareness.

[00:24:44] And if someone, th this is why, you know, it can be really challenging for some people to trust someone who's smiling, actually, particularly trauma victims, because you know, the person who might have, harmed them. We're smiling and reassuring them at the same time, and so we end up the pattern matching again, the pattern matching. Ah, if someone is smiling and telling me that everything is okay, they actually mean to do me harm.

[00:25:15] Mark: That, that is a profound thing to be afraid of. What can we be scared of and still do anyway.

[00:25:22] Anya: Yeah. Cause I think there's this lots of, you know, the versions of this of cause it, it is this thing of trying to look into ourselves and go realizing, and this has been credited to like, Like Nelson Mandela and the Princess Diaries, just to give you a bit of a, like a broad spec. So a broad societal spectrum, you know, courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.

[00:25:52] And that one is actually from, you know, Franklin d Roosevelt. And I think wanting to. Live life without fear is what you know, Ross Harris, the acceptance, commitment to therapy trainer would say is a dead person's goal because Cuz cuz fear keeps, you know, fear keeps us safe. We often get it con, you often get it mixed up with, you know, worry and anxiety,

[00:26:18] Fear. I remember there's a lovely video by Michael Neal where he talks to someone who is a professional security, uh, not officer security guard or, but more than that, kind of like top level, like sort of a person who would

[00:26:34] Mark: like a bo, like a body man.

[00:26:35] Anya: body man. Yeah. Look after like you know, members of state politicians, film stars, private security.

[00:26:43] Yeah. That kind of thing. And he said actually, What most people think of is fear is, is, is worry. You know, fear is a, as a tremendous resource when we need it. It gives us this juice, this, this sudden burst of energy, you know, to, to fight someone or to lift the car off our child, you know, this sudden surge of, of, of hormones.

[00:27:07] but we're only supposed to experience that like once every maybe 48 to 36 hours. You know, and if you see an animal in the wild, if they've been chased, and it's been, it's just very much the proper pre predator experience. You know, once they're safe, they'll shake it all off and they'll go back to grazing, you know.

[00:27:26] Anya: But what happens, happens with us is, you know, we have, we have worry and anxiety, and where it's, You know, if you've been chased by a tiger or whatever, we won't be just standing there going, oh, well that was all right. Okay, I'm gonna eat now. We'd be going, oh, but they could have done this. They could have done that.

[00:27:42] I, I, it, I I, I can imagine myself being torn from limb to li and it would be so excruciating. And you know, this is why I'm saying about the analogy of the old building with the new staff, We've evolved, you know, a tricky mind, which has all these prey instincts, all these, you know, initial things which are very much useful if we're being chased by a tiger.

[00:28:04] Plus this, these new capabilities which allow us imagination. To imagine the what ifs to think of these things. and when we were kind of like thinking between, you know, the difference between worry and anxiety, there's a wonderful article by, guy Winch who has a book like Emotional First Aid, and he says, you know, some of the, because it, it is useful even to find not just the difference between fear and anxiety and worry, but also the difference between worry and anxiety.

[00:28:33] You know, this idea that we tend to experience worry in our heads and anxiety in our bodies and worry, we, we worry is about, again, we think we can figure something out. It's about something specific where anxiety can be more diffuse and you know, a worry might trigger problem solving, but an but anxiety doesn't.

[00:28:52] And is what you're experiencing caused by, realistic concerns and causing mild emotional distress because, you know, anxiety. Because it's in the body. It, you know, it can take us, take all of us and I can, can obviously create severe emotional distress because our nervous system is constantly aggravated.

[00:29:14] And as you know, if we are constantly acting like we are being chased by the tiger, just, or there's, or we constantly feel like there's a tiger in our, our.

[00:29:25] Mark: Immediate vicinity. Yeah.

[00:29:26] Prowling.

[00:29:26] Anya: prowling, and not even sometimes in our immediate vicinity, just knowing there's a tiger out

[00:29:32] Mark: Yes.

[00:29:33] Anya: I think that's where it starts to get, you know, start to go.

[00:29:36] Okay, so am I thinking, how, how do I, how would I, so a worry might be there's a tiger out there. How do I avoid it? Or if I encounter it, how do I triumph over it? Anxiety is, It feels like the tiger's here all the time. My body's spawning as if the tiger has got his eyes on me all the time, and so many of us live with, and the Gabel matte, I think said in, in, in a piece that what used to be called clinical or diagnosis, clinical anxiety is pretty much like the standard now. So many of us live with this low level hum. This background noise of anxiety, which, because it takes up so many of our resources actually depletes us from the, the problem solving capabilities of, of woo , of of, of going, okay, I'm worried about this.

[00:30:35] What can I do? Cause you're so depleted and so drain. it, it's. The kindness of the design. You know, I, I, I have my little habitat model where you go out from, sorry, I'm just having a little laugh because, uh, Mark's cat Vasco has made a wonderful appearance.

[00:30:53] Mark: Speaking of, speaking of anxiety and, and big cats prowling around, I, I, I I had the sense that there was a big cat that wanted my attention.

[00:31:02] And on cue , friend of the show, Roscoe made an appearance. but yeah, this, this idea of, you know, we can't be in this, highly triggered, highly mobilized state for long, it will burn us out. And actually the kindness of the design is, you know, is the dissociation, is the numbing, is the checking out. Cuz otherwise we, you know, we won't have the opportunity to resource ourselves. We will just go boom, we'll just up in flames. Sounds like my 2022. So speaking of, uh, of kindness and how can we develop a, a gentler relationship with our fears?

[00:31:41] Anya: And I think that is the, the million dollar question because, having anxiety, feeling scared, feeling worried, these are all parts of being human. there's a wonderful video,with, uh, Dr. Russ Harris again, he talked about the struggle switch. Actually what happens when, particularly when we feel anxious, is.

[00:32:05] We go, oh, no, I'm feeling anxious. And then we go, oh. Then we get angry. Oh, why I'm, I'm angry that I'm feeling anxious. And then we worry about, oh, I feel sad. Oh, I feel so sad. I get so angry that I'm feeling so anxious. And actually we put up, you know, we create all these things, you know, we, we have this phenomenal capacity for imagination and we can get ourselves caught up in what all this anxiety means.

[00:32:32] But if we can. Go. Okay, I'm anxious. Full stop. It's this, this, again, like the Michael Neil thing of, you know, more fewer, full stop, fewer commas, more full stops. And I think it's so easy to go, oh, I'm feeling anxious right now. This must mean, and then we create a whole narrative, a whole dialogue, a whole, you know, story behind it.

[00:32:56] And sometimes actually it's just, okay, this is, this is a normal emotion. Whew. I don't particularly like it. Okay.

[00:33:05] Mark: And you're not alone in that, that I, I think that there is a weird, I, I've struggled with that sort of the, the, the idea of the common humanity thing. because it sometimes in my head I sort of hear, well, lots of people feel like that, so you are not, you know, you are nothing special. Like, you know, you, you, you, whatever.

[00:33:23] Whereas actually, It's reminding that we're not alone. Remind, reminding ourselves that we're not alone in, in, in that, and that this is something that we are not necessarily uniquely feeling that, uh, other people do experience this. And, and I think that in itself because if you think that you, your experience is so alien, then that's just gonna heighten that.

[00:33:43] It's just gonna make you feel, you know, not only am I anxious, but I'm also. I seem, you know, I can't imagine anybody else could feel this anxious about something, so there's something wrong with me there. Whereas reminding yourself, no, actually, it's just that we don't like when you are scrolling.

[00:33:59] Instagram people don't really put up like, I'm feeling really anxious today, or I couldn't get out of bed, or I'd spent all day in my pajamas. because that's not what Instagram is for, but people are feeling that.

[00:34:09] Anya: Yeah. And that's, oh, there's so many, so much. I want to, to, to explore on that, you know, but I'm gonna start at the end and look backwards, so, you know. We, uh, the, we compare to despair. I think it might be one of the 12 steps, actually. I haven't taken them, but that rings a bell. And this idea of we are very good at comparing our insights to other people's outsides.

[00:34:33] You know, that's be very, that's, that's, that's, that's, that's not gonna take you to a good place. but also, you know, if. What you are talking about. You know, I, I'm, I'm feeling really anxious if no one else is feeling this way, that that's, that's

[00:34:49] Mark: Hmm mm-hmm.

[00:34:50] Anya: shame and that in and of itself

[00:34:52] Mark: we'll get there when we get to

[00:34:54] Anya: Yeah. . Well, we're still on.

[00:34:58] We haven't worked out what we're gonna do for us yet. So, so, so if it's not this season, it'll be next season. . But, but yeah. And that is an emotion and experience, which, which makes us want to withdraw from others. Now, if you remember at the start of this, we talk about fearing rejection. You know, this is all tied up in it.

[00:35:17] And actually one. . You know, Brene Brown points to this as one of the cures for shame is to actually speak stuff out to other people. You know, this is why, you know, when I'm feeling, anxious or afraid or uncomfortable or in shame, actually, I will say, whoa, I'm just feeling X right now. I will deliberately put it out there and go, this is the experience I'm having, rather than let it, um, rule me from the shadows, which is so, so easy to

[00:35:50] Mark: And then try and mask it or try and hide it. Or di Yeah.

[00:35:53] Anya: Yeah. AB absolutely, it feels more, it feels less effortful for me to just say the thing than trying mask it to be, to attempt authenticity. I don't get it all the time, you know, I still very much human. but yeah, this idea of

[00:36:11] recognizing that whatever your experience is, of feeling afraid, of feeling, of fearing rejection, of worrying about, you know, how your life is unfold. Feeling this free floating anxiety about things that are, or just on the periphery or just outside the periphery of your literal or metaphorical vision that these are things that are your signifiers. These are. I'm thinking of your little membership cards. This is your wallet full of membership cards of you being a fully paid up member of the human race. These things do not separate you. These things are Proof that you are human and you belong. Because if you are experiencing it, it shows that you are human.

[00:37:14] Mark: On that note, I feel like um, we could use a self-compassion break.

[00:37:19] Anya: Just a very brief self-compassion break because as much as be feeling fear, feeling worried, feeling anxious is part of being human, it also sucks. It's also a really freaking painful experience. , I ain't gonna sugarcoat that. but. , this idea of a self-compassion break, something you can do just to take the edge off, just to allow you to be with that experience rather than, numbing yourself or, or, or avoiding it just to be with it rather than to make stories with it.

[00:37:56] And so, yeah, the, the, the mindfulness aspect. You know, perhaps just take a moment right now to, if it's safe and comfortable to do so, to just close your eyes or perhaps lower your gaze. Notice your sitting bones if you're sitting down on the seat or surface beneath you, the feeling of your feet on the floor, perhaps noticing your breath rise and fall in your body Now you're here, you're home in yourself. Just call to mind a situation in your life that's perhaps a little difficult for you, that perhaps causes you some fear, worry, or anxiety right now for this moment. Perhaps choose something that's small, like a pebble in your shoe rather than a big boulder, but whatever's coming to mind right now, that's.

[00:38:56] And just see if you can actually feel the, feel, the emotional discomfort in your body. Just notice where it might be just, just gently alerting you right now. Perhaps it's in your stomach, in your chest, stiffness in your shoulders. Not judging it, just Hey, this is just data gather. You know, and perhaps say to yourself, oh yeah, I'm just feeling some difficulty right now.

[00:39:29] What am I, what am I thinking? What am I feeling? And then I'm gonna offer this some kindness, some tenderness, perhaps offer yourself some words of acknowledgement of what's going on, you know? Oof. This is tough. This hurts, this sucks. Whatever works for you right now, whatever. Just gives loving, gentle acknowledgement of the suffering that you're experiencing.

[00:40:07] And then we can remind ourselves, Hey, suffering like this. . It is normal. It's part of being human. And perhaps you can just gently remind yourself with words like, yeah, everyone goes through tough times at some point, or, I'm not alone in feeling this way.

[00:40:38] Whatever wouldn't bring you some relief or some comfort right now. Now I'm just gonna end, which is a little self-kindness and if it feels safe and comfortable to do so, perhaps just gently placing your hand over your heart and just feeling the soothing contact and the warmth as you do so, and just, just inviting you to think, hmm. May I be kind to myself or may I accept myself just as I am? This is a moment for us to think, you know, what kind things can I say to myself right now? Perhaps it's, Hey, I've got you. It's okay. I'm here for you. Whatever you most need to hear. You can give yourself that gift right now.

[00:41:51] And then I'd love to invite you to just gently invite your amazing imaginative mind to offer you the answer to. What kind things can I do to myself to do, for myself, to help ease their suffering? What action can I take to show myself that I care? So we're not just thinking in words for thinking of ways to really let let the love. From ourselves to ourselves.

[00:42:37] Now, if you have an answer to that, that's great, and if you don't, that's okay. We can be open to something arising later, but in this moment, I'm just going to. Just notice your feet on the floor again, have your sitting bones on the seat or the surface beneath you if you're sitting and listening to this. The feeling of your hands and just opening your eyes and raising your gaze, knowing that you've, you've listened to yourself, given your yourself kind words, and showed yourself that you are there for you and that you care.


[00:43:24] Mark: The A to Z of Happiness is presented by Anya Pearse and me, Mark Steadman. It's produced by Origin and you can find us at atozofhappiness.com, where you'll also find links to the things we discussed. If you know someone who could benefit from hearing this episode, please share it with them, whichever way is easiest for you. Take care and do join us again next week on the A to Z of Happiness.

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Creators and Guests

Anya Pearse
Anya Pearse
Intuitive adviser, facilitator, and positive psychology practitioner.
Mark Steadman
Mark Steadman
Coach helping digital creatives with big feelings


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