By Rudolph Tanzi. Ph.D, and Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, co-authors of Super Brain
In today’s world of super connectivity and pervasive social media, we have never been in such intimate contact with others. While this is ushering in a renewed sense of community, anxiety levels are on the rise. During nearly every waking moment, in the back of our minds, we are constantly wondering whether we should be checking emails, texts, voicemail, and social media sites. So, while the Internet and social media are making the world a smaller and arguably friendlier place, we may also be experiencing a greater sense of anxiety with the growing social pressure to communicate with others nearly every minute of the day.
Anxiety creates a false picture of the world, piling on things to be afraid of that are in fact harmless. The mind adds fear. If the mind can undo the perception of fear, the danger will vanish. To begin with, life cannot exist without fear, and yet fear creates paralysis and misery. The two aspects, one positive, the other negative, meet inside your brain. For people who suffer from free-floating anxiety (one of the most common complaints in modern society), the short-term solution is a chemical fix-it: tranquilizers. Chemical fixes bring side effects, and the most basic problem of all is that drugs don’t cure mood disorders, including anxiety. Just as being sad is universal while depression is abnormal and unhealthy, fear is universal while free-floating anxiety gnaws away at the soul. As Freud pointed out, nothing is more unwelcome than anxiety. Medical studies have found only a few things that the mind-body system cannot adapt to: one of them is chronic pain, the kind that gives no remission (shingles, advanced bone cancer), and the other is anxiety.
Free-floating means the thing you fear is not a specific threat. In the natural scheme, our fear response is physical and targeted. Victims of crime report that during the act, as the weapon of their assailant loomed large in their visual field, they went into a state of hyper-alertness, their hearts racing. These aspects of the fear response come automatically from the lower brain, and the things that cause you worry and anxiety are thought to be programmed in the amygdala. That doesn’t tell us enough, however. Once you become anxious in a pervasive sense—as happens, for example, to chronic worriers—the whole brain gets involved. Fear is targeted and specific; anxiety is pervasive and mysterious. People who suffer from it don’t know why.
What they experience is like a bad smell that stays on the edge of their awareness no matter how hard they try to pretend it isn’t there. To heal the anxiety, they can’t attack it as one thing; the bad smell has seeped everywhere. In other words, their reality making has gone awry. Anything or nothing can trigger anxiety in them. They always have something to be afraid of, a new worry or threat. To find the solution, they must learn not to fight the fear but to stop identifying with their fears.
Achieving detachment is only possible if you can get at what makes fear so sticky. In its positive, natural state, fear dissipates after you run away from the saber-toothed tiger or kill the woolly mammoth. There is no psychological component. In its negative, pervasive state, fear lingers. Its stickiness seems unavoidable.
So, anxiety, fear, and doubt generally creep into the brain as a survival mechanism that is deeply ingrained in the more primitive areas of the brain. The ancient hindbrain and emotional brain regions are incessantly attempting to promote survival by ensuring shelter, sustenance, and social acceptance and validation. When we feel the need to check our cell phones for texts and email with every new minute, our primitive brain has taken control. We find ourselves mindlessly serving the instinctive brain’s demand for social acceptance and stature. The key instrument used by the brain to serve this instinctive need is the pervasive and irrational feeling of anxiety, the nebulous feeling of fear that you should be doing something right now that you are not. The solution? Simply be observant, be aware, be mindful of the feeling of anxiety. Examine what you are anxious about. This is easy. Simply ask what it is you feel you should be doing while anxiety permeates your mind. Next, detach. Remind yourself that you are not your brain. You are the user of your brain. When you no longer identify with your feelings but instead observe and learn from them, you can more readily detach from them. At that point, you, the true you, is using your brain and you are a step closer to a “Super Brain”.
Pre-Order your copy of SUPER BRAIN: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being.
Rudolph Tanzi and Deepak Chopra combine cutting-edge research and age-old spiritual wisdom—linking the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience with aspirations for health, well-being, and spiritual realization like no else can. Their combined wisdom and expertise demonstrates that through increased self-awareness and conscious intention, you can train your brain to reach far beyond its present limitations.
To celebrate the release Super Brain, Random House is giving away Deepak Chopra’s online course Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul for free when you order your copy of Super Brain (releasing November 6, 2012). Get the details.