When something triggers our anxiety, the instinctive reaction is to freak out and ruminate about the stress and dwell in our existential pain and mope around feeling sorry for ourselves.
But that only make things worse. It compounds the pain with suffering.
Buddha famously called this the second arrow.
In life, we cannot always control the first arrow, he said. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. And with this second arrow comes the possibility of choice.
And so, instead of our mind and body going into reactivity, the healthier response is to pursue joy as quickly as possible.
Mellin’s book on neuroplasticity reminds us that the brain cannot be in a state of joy and stress at the same time. She says one of the two swamps the other, which is why the relentless pursuit of natural joy may be our most effective defense against stress.
The first few times I experienced panic attacks, my awareness of and relationship to joy wasn’t completely developed. And so, I felt helpless to take responsibility for what was going on inside my head. There was nothing to override my brain’s natural negativity bias.
But as my inner journey evolved, I discovered that joy was a skill. Joy was a choice, not a chance. And because it had a different biological signature than anxiety, that meant I could use it as a tool to cannibalize the panic.
Singing, for example, is an experience guaranteed to provide me with feelings of comfort and delight and aliveness. Especially when it comes to eighties pop songs. That’s why I keep a playlist on my phone for such an occasion. Should the waves of anxiety come crashing in, I know exactly which songs to play in order to marshal an effective joy response and allow the weather patterns of panic to come and go. Works every time.
The point is, you’d be surprised just how many people cannot recognize when they are feeling joy. But that’s the first step to overcoming reactivity. If you don’t already have an arsenal of tasks and activities and experiences and relationships that can help you cannibalize panic when it arrives, start building that toolbox today.
Because you never know when you might need it.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Do you shoot yourself with the second arrow, or have agency over joy?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author. Speaker. Strategist. Inventor. Filmmaker. Publisher. Songwriter.
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