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How You Can Defeat Anxiety By Being More Grateful

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How You Can Defeat Anxiety By Being More Grateful

Anxiety is caused by the fear of losing control

As I spiral deeper and deeper into the layers of the field of transition,  I realize with greater clarity that at the core of the anxiety that rears its ugly head during these tumultuous breaking and renewal points in our lives is the feeling of being out of control. We kick and scream and fight against this feeling because, in a phrase, it makes us feel like we’re going to die. Someone from another site posted a comment on one of my articles and said that she feels like she’s free-falling, and not a fun way. The problem isn’t the falling; it’s that we’ve never been taught how to fall without digging our nails in to anything in sight as a way to try to feel like we’re in control. We don’t know how to breathe into the falling. We don’t know how to surrender to it. If we could surrender and give up the resistance, we would find that the coal of control encases an exhale of spaciousness.

We each have our own ingeniously wounded ways of trying to manage the feeling of being out of control. Some people focus on the external or practical elements of a transition: For those in the wedding transition, it’s the dress, cake, flowers, and hundreds of other details that can distract the mind from sitting with the elusive unknown. For those that are trying to conceive, it’s the focus on ovulation sticks and pregnancy tests. For those that are moving, it’s the exclusive focus on packing without recognizing the profound opportunity for emotional cleansing of the past that moving offers.

When I was trying to conceive my first son almost eight years ago I was stunned that the majority of the conversations on the message boards were about sticks and tests. And yet I cannot forget the fact that on our first month of trying I overrode my innate and long-standing knowledge about when my body was fertile and instead put my faith in an ovulation stick! I’m not sure what I was thinking, other than the fact that I was scared out of my mind about the prospect of becoming a mother and focusing on the stick made me feel like I was in control of the process – even if only for a few minutes. But when I placed my trust in something outside my internal wisdom, the anxiety actually increased tenfold. (There’s a great irony in this story, which I tell in detail in my upcoming eCourse, Birthing a New Mother.)

For those that don’t focus on the externals, the mind tends to perseverate on “what-if” thoughts and other anxiety based thinking. The anxious mind believes that by attaching onto these thoughts, we can control the future and establish a foothold on the out of control quicksand that a transition initiates. I’ve had two women who were entrenched in the pain and fear of trying to conceive say to me, “I’ve just always had this sense that I wouldn’t be able to have a baby.” Both women now have children. The anxiously engaged mind says, “What if I don’t really love him? What if I’m making a mistake? What if this isn’t the right choice?” as a way to try to control the unsettling reality that there are no mistakes or right answers; there’s only an uncertain future where the possibility of loss and heartbreak exists. The anxious new mother obsesses on the thought of, “What if my baby dies?” as a way to try to control the future and avoid the almost unbearable love that sears through her body with such intensity that it feels like it’s going to shatter her open. As Michelle articulates in the Becoming a New Mother eCourse,

Some nights I’m in bed and I just start bawling because I think about all the terrible things that could happen to Henry. I keep thinking about the title “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” because at times it’s unbearable to love someone this much, to risk this much loss. I’m grieving my old warped sense of control because I don’t have it anymore and I know it. It hits me too hard sometimes when I think about Henry and all the things that could happen.

Last night, as I was putting my two year old to bed, the thought came into my head: I can’t envision him as an adult. Something tragic is going to happen. For a few minutes I latched onto the thought and I could feel the tendrils of panic begin to rise up in me. When anxiety takes hold, it’s like an eight-legged spider has sat on my brain and pressed its furry legs into my thoughts. In order to extricate its hold, I had to say to myself, There is no value in believing this thought. Even if it’s true, even if by some far-reaching chance I’m sensing into the future, there is no value in giving one more second to this thought. And then I opened my eyes and looked at the beauty and miracle of my son. And I thought, It’s because he’s so precious that I’m terrified of losing him. The thought is a way to try to control the future and protect myself from the vulnerability of loving him so much.

And then I remembered an older cousin saying to me years ago when my firstborn was a few months old, “When my daughter was a baby, I was so terrified of losing her that I almost wanted something terrible to happen. I couldn’t say that to many people because they would never understand what I meant, but I have a feeling you understand.” I did understand. It’s the part of us that’s so uncomfortable with the unknown future that we long for the worst to happen because then the unknown would become a known, quantifiable event. We simply can’t stand living with the unknown, and the what-ifs are a deluded way to create an illusion of control. We think, “If I can predict it, it will somehow make it easier if the worst happens. Or I can leave this situation (not get married, avoid motherhood) as a way to avoid the possibility of a future loss.”

For me, one of the antidotes to anxiety is connecting to gratitude. As my little one fell asleep on top of my chest, as I breathed in his warm sweaty scent and pressed my nose into his brown silk hair, my simple prayer of gratitude shimmered through me like an effervescent bath: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And the anxiety dissolved as it always does when gratitude moves in, because here’s what I know for sure: gratitude is stronger than anxiety. Joy is stronger than anxiety. And love is stronger than anxiety. Anxiety is really a mutated and often demented form of fear, and fear simply cannot withstand the power of love. When we actively connect to love or any of its incarnations, it will becomes the guiding force.

[Sheryl Paul]

As the daughter of two psychotherapists,Sheryl grew up with the language and theories of psychology running through her blood. As a young girl, she vacillated between dreaming about one day being either a writer, a therapist, or a midwife. Having found the confluence of these three arts through writing about and spiritually midwifing people through life’s transitions, including the transition of transforming anxiety, self-doubt, and depression to serenity, self-trust, and joy, Sheryl feels deeply blessed to be living in the heart of her calling.

While her writing and counseling work have primarily focused on the specific transitions of getting married and becoming a mother, in recent years she has felt called to broaden her practice to include the lifelong transition of life in all its beauty and complexity. For whether on the verge of leaping into marriage, getting a divorce, suffering through anxiety or depression, struggling with an addiction, or birthing a new identity as a mother, Sheryl believes we find the same issues of self-trust and control appearing again and again. The story line may change, but the spiritual seeker quickly finds that the areas that need attention reappear at deeper layers of the spiral on life’s journey.

Sheryl utilizes an effective, 6-step process called Inner Bonding® cradled within the spiritual context of transitions to create a powerful framework through which she can assist clients in finding their own voice, exploring the stories and beliefs that interfere with hearing this voice, confronting their need to control and the perpetual practice of learning to surrender, and guiding them as they make their way through life’s challenges and joys. Her decade of working with clients in transition combined with years of a loving marriage (not without continual consciousness and hard work!) and the privilege/challenge of being a mother have solidified her firm belief that, while guides are often necessary to help us find our way through the labyrinths, no one outside of ourselves and a spiritual source has the answers. In fact, SheryI believes that, whether we’re talking about parenting, marriage, or anxiety, there are no definite answers; there’s only the process of discovering what’s right for you.

In 1997, Sheryl graduated from Pacifica Graduate Institute, a depth psychology program founded upon the teachings of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, James Hillman, and the study of dreams, archetypes, myths, and the myriad ways that the unconscious manifests in daily and nightly life. As a writer, poet, and epic dreamer, she encourages her clients to explore their own creative outlets as pathways for connecting to Spirit and finding their own truths.

In 1999, she launched her unique business, Conscious Weddings, and a year later published her first book, The Conscious Bride, which broke the taboo of discussing the underbelly of the wedding transition. In 2003, her second book, The Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner, was published, and in 2004, she began working with impending and new mothers through Conscious Motherhood.

Since 1999, Sheryl has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her Home Study Programs and her website. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top media shows and publications around the globe.

To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, “Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes“, visit her Home page. Sheryl looks forward to hearing from you.

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