Dealing with worry and fearful overthinking (from Watkins Magazine)

IMG_7883When you go into worrisome or fearful thinking, things can get very bleak and the world seems to change: visuals may come into you mind of all the bad things that might happen. Your breath might become shallower and your body feel tense. Your mind races and the storm of thoughts begins.

This is simply what the mind (and then body-mind) does when you’re overthinking – everyone’s mind, not just yours. Before you know it, you are absolutely convincing yourself of nightmare scenarios. It can be shocking how detailed and negatively creative the mind’s projections can be. It’s all fiction, of course, but it seems so real.  And like being trapped in a spider’s web, the more you try to fight it, the more trapped in overthinking and fear you seem to become.

Dispelling fears

The feeling of worry or fear is a sure sign that you are not tuned in to You. You don’t feel like yourself during these times – and that’s because, in many ways, you’re not. You have temporarily disconnected from your clarity and are connecting with the static in the radio – not the radio broadcast itself. And that static plays all kinds of miserable, untruthful drama and judgement and projected worries. It really is like you are under a spell. And this article is all about how to break the spell; break the circuit in your overthinking.

Tuning into you

When you are fully “tuned in” – meaning when you are relaxed and centred –  you cannot worry. You haven’t got access to those relentlessly negative thoughts when you are tuned in. In an ideal world when the thoughts do start coming you want to ignore the content; that stream of worry thoughts that chatters on forever and will move from subject to subject.

But let’s get real: It’s not always that easy

All the above sounds good in theory. But theory and real life are very different. People read self help books and feel great but when a problem comes up it’s as if they hadn’t read them. That’s because theory on it’s own is useless – you need the muscles honed from practice to work with these ideas. When you are in the middle of an intense situation, all the best advice in the world can go out the window. It doesn’t matter how many positive thinking books you have read or how much you have worked on yourself or how many times you decide to “be mindful and observe your thoughts”, sometimes, despite all the “9 steps to stop worrying” books on your shelf –  you might get taken over by worry or fear. And that’s ok. 

I’ve worked with a lot of people who have the tendency to worry or go into fear and overthinking. This is partly what my book Lighthouse is all about. My effective solutions came from my years of research working with hundreds if not thousands of people – and from a very personal problem: because in my own life, I found it a challenge to deal with worry or fear and nothing had helped me. No books, teachers or therapists could reach me. I frequently went into panic or fear and couldn’t work my way out of these ferocious moods, which were totally ruining my life.

A personal experience 

I remember one of many fearful situations: I went into worry about a close friend of mine, in a situation I couldn’t do anything about. I was waiting for news. I hadn’t heard from him for days. Rather than going into a excitement of how he must be having a great time and be too busy to call me, you guessed it, I did the opposite.

I used to think there was something terribly wrong with my mind – but then I realised it’s the same for pretty much everyone: for some reason the overthinking mind tends to go into the negative and race with thoughts when we “disconnect” from our empowerment.

My stomach went tight and my mind raced with worst case scenarios. I convinced myself that all kinds of terrible things were going on and desperately tried to think my way out of this and try to find solutions. I felt so physically and mentally exhausted with it all I had to leave my place of work and go home and sit down, which hardly improved things, as I continued overthinking.

Worrying about worrying

I’d read a lot of “positive thinking” books which had got me scared about how I shouldn’t be worrying as it would block solutions or even negatively affect the situation, which frightened me and made me worry even more. But trying not to worry was useless – in fact it made it worse. Then I was worried about the negative affects of my worry, so I tried hard not to worry and to think of positive outcomes  – in order to positively influence the situation. Things just got worse, the negative voices and images in my mind got more ferocious. The pain that comes from worrying means you have stepped aside from truth and clarity – but knowing this doesn’t always make the experience any easier. Worry clouds your vision; it’s like being in “static in the radio” where you can’t see sense or hear your intuition. And it’s like being swept up in a cyclone of confusion and high emotion.

So you’re worrying. And it might not be your chosen state of being, but that’s where you are right now. You are where you are.

Fighting against thoughts doesn’t work

You want to look for something to appreciate but let’s be honest, if you are swept up in a drama (like I was) that can feel almost impossible. Trying to focus on other things just gets you to “try not to think of” what you’re currently obsessing about. And it will, more times than not, keep you stuck in your worry. Of course you would love to feel great right now- but that’s not an option. Trying to feel good, trying to change your mood, trying to do anything is resistance. And what you resist, persists.

Make peace with where you are

And so in a situation like this, the first thing to do is face where you are. And that means looking for the good in where you are; looking for the good in worrying.

You may be arguing with this point. But, I ask you, what is your suggestion? When you are caught up in a storm of overthinking like worry, you have two options. And one of them is not to stop worrying or to ‘be positive’. Your two options are: to worry and to fight against the worrying. Or, to worry and make peace with the worry.

“I should be worrying because I am. It’s normal to worry in this situation. It shows I care. Maybe my worry is necessary right now, in a way I can’t see right now…”

When you embrace worry, and see it as a normal feeling, it begins to leave you and you become clearminded. Things then start to happen.

This isn’t about “not doing anything”, but when you are caught up in worry you can’t think clearly and decide the right things to do, if anything does need to be done. This is about centring yourself so that solutions, both within and without, reveal themselves to you. And this is easier said than done and required practice.

Once you’ve made peace, now Life can help you

Once you’ve made peace, ideas for distractions and solutions will naturally appear.  Life will begin to help you out and find other things to get your attention. The path to where you want to be will open seemingly from out of nowhere. When you try to do it “your way” by continuing overthinking there are no gaps between thoughts; It’s like there’s a hardened shield of thoughts around you and Life cannot get in.

A relaxing outcome

I accepted that there was nothing I could do, which initially added to the worry, but then helped me make me peace with my situation. Experience had shown that when I find away to be ok, even just for a minute. Even if I’m in a really dramatic moment. If I can just slightly make friends with where I am, a space is formed where answers can come in.

I did the practice I shared earlier, “good things about where I am”. And then life began to help me out. A phone call came in from a friend, I saw an interesting  article on the internet, which was enough to fully get my attention (and take it from the fearful subject). I began to relax, and feel a little more naturally optimistic. (I hadn’t tried to be optimistic –  I just, as best as I could, settled into where I was.) From this state of peace, more optimistic ideas came in. Sometimes I went back into the fear again, but then I quickly came out of it. And I was certainly feeling a bit better; and a lot more relaxed. I felt like “me” again.

Within about 30 minutes, an email came in, and I got news of the friend I was worried about – the first time in five days. And all was well.

When the storm is over

Practicing meditation and other techniques day to day, when you are not in the grip of worry or fear, will recondition your mind to go there less – and stop these habits of worry before they get started. However, if you do go there again (and if you have been going there you probably will again), you now know what to do.

For further practical, effective solutions for dealing with low feelings – and moving into feeling good again – see the book Lighthouse – Navigate the emotional storms of life and discover the power within you. Out now in paperback.

Light in the Shadows (with Teal Swan)

original-2Finding Self-love, purpose and peace within the murky challenges of everyday living

When I first met Teal Swan back in 2014 we instantly connected.  I remember the moment clearly. In St James Park, London, we got talking and I found myself instantly at ease with her, saying way more than I’m used to on a first meeting. We shared a feeling of familiarity like old friends coming back together.

After that first meeting in the park, what followed was hours of conversation on Skype about the meaning of life and everything – including one of my favourite topics: Practical spirituality. We offered one another insights and helped one another through the challenges of everyday life – not knowing at the time how it was all one of those perfect synchronicities for building material for our workshop, Light in the Shadows, which we are presenting together at the Mind Body Spirit Festival this May.

When Mel Carlyle from Mind Body Spirit asked us to team up, it was an instant “yes” from both of us. By this point we had already discussed co-writing a book –  and this organisation, which I love, seemed the perfect place to make our debut together.

Years before we had met, both of us had always wanted to go to an event like the one we are going to present; one in which the speakers get real and share their insights about how to handle those “murky  challenges of everyday living” that everyone encounters. The relationship struggles, health worries, body image concerns and other fears. We will be sharing the ways we have mastered feeling good when things “out there” are proving difficult. It won’t be another of those “Five steps to get everything you want” – but something more authentic and helpful to this human experience.

Lighthouse in a storm

In my own life I’ve reached many lows. There was a time when it seemed like the darkness would never end. Finding a way out of this darkness is what has led me to be able to help others help themselves out of their personal hell. Someone who hasn’t been to the depths, without any knowledge of this emotional terrain, cannot guide those who have. They can simply offer a vacant “cheer up”, perhaps – but this is both annoying and totally useless to those lost in a tangle of thoughts.

Another benefit of these dark times is that these moments forged my best qualities and life experiences: The rags of life create the riches. Without the shadows, I wouldn’t have evolved so much. And it’s the same for everyone, of course.

The benefit of the shadows

Ferocious thoughts are needed for a phenomenal life just as heavy weights are needed to create great muscle. The thing is to leave thoughts be, to do their thing. We don’t analyse and go crazy at every detail of the heavy weights – we just lift them. Let the tension of the mind be. Leave those thoughts and feelings- they are not you. These shadows are nothing to do with who you are, they are just a machine, evolving you.

So if you are aware of what I’m talking about when I talk about ferocious emotional storms- good. You are an Olympian, not a regular amateur.

Depths of emotion

I was interested in Teal’s “Shadow Work” – an area of exploration I wasn’t so familiar with. And Teal appreciated my way of soothing people “like a lighthouse” wherever they were emotionally – and however life was for them. Both of us are teachers who are open with our own struggles – and both of us had also struggled with much of the personal development material out there in our own lives – and had seen others go through the same.

From my experience working with people, it seems everyone has their own personal hell – yet we often keep our own a secret. The illusory perfection of social media like Instagram and Facebook can beat us down – and being told to “be positive” or “just let go” is useless information and knocks us down further. Especially when we are in a low mood. But that’s what so many of the books we had read told us to do – and it was hard to do it. Myself and Teal both relate to the depths of human emotion and have found ourselves as guiding lights to many others, helping them out of their own personal storms.

Diving for treasure

We all know that feeling after a stormy time in life – we feel incredible after. Not only the relief that comes from it begin over, but we actually emerge better off: more evolved, in so many ways.

When we go into the shadows, it’s like a deep sea dive for treasure. It may feel harsh – but on our return to the surface, we are better, we have new insights – and perhaps we have been “nudged” to change our life in some positive way.

Michael and Teal collaborate

We started to get messages requesting that we combined our approaches. When we met in London last summer the timing was all wrong. So here it is, our first collaboration- and it’s happening live at the Mind Body Spirit Festival in London on May 2 2016: Light in the Shadows: Finding self love, purpose and peace within the murky challenges of everyday living. 

For the latest Mind Body Spirit Festival visit: www.mindbodyspirit.co.uk/events

Feeling low? It’s not for the reason you think

feeling lowYou may think the reason you feel bad is that you don’t like your body. Or it could be a bad relationship or grief from a relationship breakup. Or that you don’t like your job and don’t know what your life purpose is.

But it’s none of these reasons.

You may have tried everything to fix your problem… And nothing’s working.

It’s because your problem isn’t what you think is.

When I asked someone who was sad about losing a deal if he was always happy before this event- he paused to get his mind of this latest drama and then remembered- of course he wasn’t. The mind moves from one arrangement of drama to another. Different people different places; different situations and scripts. Same feeling. The problem isn’t the details of what’s going on- you have to look beyond that. It’s that you’ve fallen asleep to right thinking; you’re temporarily out of your right mind. 

There’s a real trick of the mind that says if the problem would sort itself out; if he would come back or she would change or a job would be better; if the furniture would rearrange– I’d be happy. But without being in a happy mindset- which means a mind free of unpleasant thoughts-  all the money, love and ‘stuff’ in the world will do nothing to make us happy.

So it’s not about fixing a faulty situation; it’s about shifting to a mindset the works.

If you stay in the lower-level mindset looking for answers, it can get ever more complex. It can be a seemingly endless nightmare. You can move from one book to another; one course to another. Turning over the problem again and again in your mind looking for the solution. But the solution is not here to be found- you’re looking in (or thinking from) the wrong place.

Getting back into connection

When you’re in a low mood the mind goes on at you telling you you have to do something- and fast. Go somewhere else, do somewhere else- the message is always about moving your body somewhere else. But this achieves nothing. You just go somewhere else and end up feeling just as bad, if not worse, because “yet another thing” didn’t work. This is like watching the horror movie channel and then being confused when horrific content comes onto the TV screen.

Or it’s the difference between rummaging through junk in a bargain basement versus getting in the life and going to a floor with things you do like. You can spend years searching the bargain basement and not find what you want. What you want is not there.

Finding the place where the solution is

Meditation, physical exercise and taking a nap are all ways which can help you be retuned back to feeling like you again; the place where all solutions reside, awaiting your return.

In the Greek tale of the Minotaur, the hero Theseus was given a golden thread so he could feel his way out of darkened maze; a maze that symbolises the nightmare the “lower self” mind can be.

Meditation or other techniques which allow you to step back from your mind is the ‘golden thread’ to find your way home; to find your way back to your path; back into connection again.

So in truth there’s only one problem – we’re disconnected. And what’s the only one solution to this only one problem – to connect again. Simple.

But it takes focus to drop into that place, ignoring the chatter, temptations and criticism of the lower-level mind, whose suggestions never lead to happiness- and that’s where the practices I teach come in.

Being sensitive is not a bad thing

Pain means we’re out of our right mind – it’s an indicator that lets us know that we’re out of sync with ourselves; and we can feel this.

One great thing about intense pain is it can force you to give up your way of trying to rearrange the furniture and surrender the faulty mind altogether. That is why we hear often that those really low moments that some people call “rock bottom” were the best things that ever happened to them.

We can often go on for a long time suffering slightly – but it is in these rock bottom moments that we are forced to breakthrough into right-mindedness; where a new beginning awaits.