The Potato of Anxiety
Thich Naht Hahn writes in Peace Is Every Step about a potato. A potato he illustrates may be perceived as useless in its natural state for consumption. I mean, who would take a bite out of a raw potato?? But should we consider the potato worthless and throw it in the trash? He argues we can do something with this potato; we can cook it. In fact, we can make French fries! Mashed potatoes people!!! In his teaching, he shows us that we would not want to toss out the potato, but we could make use of it, namely transform it!! In similar fashion, should we “toss out” our traumas? What should we do with our anger, anxiety and other low vibrational energies? Should we push them down, ignore or attempt to cut them off from ourselves? This teaching would promote that, like the potato, we transform these energies into something useful.
Hold that thought and let’s talk about our over used friend, cortisol. Cortisol, aka the “stress hormone”, is produced in the cortex of the adrenal gland. Its natural mechanism is to get us moving and is, in fact, a needed hormone. Cortisol should naturally increase in the morning and then decrease in the evening, with spikes in times of higher stress or emergency but then return to lower levels immediately afterwards. In times of stress, cortisol production prepares us to “fight or flight”, literally, pumping blood to our extremities in order to perform either of these tasks. But if blood is pumped into our extremities, where is it not?? Less is in our core where our stomach, heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and other vital organs need it for a healthy lifestyle. For this reason, consistently higher levels of cortisol are known to cause higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, elevated blood sugar levels, abdominal fat around vital organs, lower cognitive abilities, anxiety, and insomnia. Overall, you’re just more irritable! No Bueno! My objective is not to turn this into a biology lesson, but a brief understanding of the role of cortisol is needed to illustrate the connection of stress and anxiety.
So, what should we do with our anxiety? Have you ever been told to just get rid of it? But how? And why? How do we transform our potato of anxiety into something more useful and what should we transform it into? If stress causes excess cortisol which causes excess anxiety, how do we reduce the real or perceived need to “fight or flight”?
Follow me….another word for fighting can be “resistance”. The very action of resisting is partially defined as “struggling against”. When we resist, either in physical or mental form, we do create the need for our fight or flight mechanism to being functioning. We do create cortisol! Resistance is creating negative states of physical and mental health. The very act of resisting our anxiety creates more anxiety!
It is interesting to note that the need to fight or flight can be real OR perceived. “Real” can come in the form of a T-Rex (going way back here) or a car accident or a literal fire alarm. “Perceived” stress can come in the form of so many things in our culture. Our society has us over indulging in social media, TV, gossip and the list goes on. What is this barrage of bad news, crisis and constant conflict doing to our bodies as we perceive these things as needs to be stressed? In essence, don’t we need to do something?!? We convince ourselves that we need to be in fear and compete and stress to the point we are over committing our bodies to produce unneeded cortisol to survive.
So what do we do?
Put directly, I would advocate that we learn to transform our Anxiety into Acceptance through Surrender. As noted above, resistance causes fight or flight responses. How do we avoid the perception of stress and resistance, but to surrender to the very circumstances that are causing the perception of stress? As defined below, the action of surrender is to cease resistance:
sur·ren·der [səˈrendər] - verb: cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.
Thoughts on Surrender
Initial thoughts may be: “Isn’t surrender for the weak?”, “Aren’t I giving up?”, “Doesn’t that mean I’m a loser??” In our society, I would claim they are significant misconceptions. Personally, I subscribe to a Zen saying, “Let go or be dragged” and found myself much less stressed and calmer when I do so. Simply put, the act of surrender naturally avoids the creation of cortisol and the by-product is acceptance.
This new pattern has, in fact, allowed us to transform the previous state of anxiety into a state of acceptance. Merely requesting ourselves to surrender might oversimplify the issue. Stay tuned and look for writings coming very soon on exactly how to surrender and live a new life.
Meditation & Mindfulness practices - Pending
Exercise & Yoga practices - Pending
Diet & Nutrition practices for mental health - Pending
Sleep & Calming practices - Pending