Why Do I Feel Like This?

We all have times when we don’t feel so good. And in those moments, many of us ask ourselves the perfectly reasonable question “Why do I feel like this?”

Now there’s a bright side to this question … and there’s also a dark side.

The Bright Side

The bright side of this question is that it can help to alert us to issues we need to deal with.

For example, suppose the answer is we’ve been fighting with our partner, eating too much junk, drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, working too hard, not exercising enough, smoking, taking drugs, partying too hard, worrying about our kids, coping with an illness, struggling financially, racing to meet a deadline, facing the death of a loved one.

If so, then recognising those issues as the trigger for our painful emotions is a useful first step. And the second step is then: take action! Do something practical, useful and helpful to effectively deal with or adapt better to the situation.

Now usually, such issues are obvious – and you can identify them easily and instantly when you ask yourself the above question. But suppose you find that there is no obvious answer for why you are feeling down or anxious or sad or grumpy; what happens if you keep on asking yourself the question?

Well, that’s where things go awry. If you keep asking yourself “Why do I feel this way?” when there’s no immediate obvious answer, it usually just hooks you into …

The Dark Side

The dark side of this question is what psychologists call “rumination”. We get lost in our thoughts, analysing all the possible reasons for “why I feel like this”.

Usually, we then start running through all the unpleasant things that have happened to us, all the things that are wrong with our life, all the things that aren’t good enough in ourselves or others or the world around us, wondering if any of them might be the cause.

Naturally this pulls us more and more into discontentment, dissatisfaction, as we run through everything that’s lacking in our life. (Hardly surprising that this pattern of thinking plays a big role in depression.)

So when you catch yourself caught up in this type of thinking, it’s a good idea to unhook from it:

  • Notice the thinking process and silently name it: “Aha! Here’s my mind trying to figure it out again” or “Aha! There’s the ‘why do I feel like this?’ story” or “Here’s rumination” or simply “Analysing”.
  • Use your mindfulness skills to unhook from theses thoughts and get fully present
  • Start doing some meaningful, life-enhancing activity, and give it your full attention
  • Engage in what you’re doing
  • In this manner, repeatedly unhook yourself from the “Why do I feel this way?” story – over and over and over again; and repeatedly refocus on the activity you are doing.

But What Do I Do About The Feeling?

  • Use your mindfulness skills to practice acceptance of the feeling, and be self-compassionate.
  • Take action: do whatever you can to improve the situation or solve the problem that’s triggering it.
  • And if there’s no effective action you can take, stick with A). But stop trying to analyse the feeling, and instead put your attention and energy into doing something meaningful.

Remember feelings change like the weather; and sooner or later this feeling, no matter how unpleasant, will pass. 

Can We Get Rid of Difficult Thoughts and Feelings?

In a word: yes!

It’s not hard for most of us to get rid of unwanted thoughts & feelings … as long as they’re relatively mild.

When we’re a little bit anxious, a little bit angry, a little bit sad, it’s usually quite easy to ignore those difficult feelings, or distract ourselves from them, or think positively, or do a relaxation technique – and make ourselves feel better as a result.

But the more intense and painful our difficult thoughts & feelings, the harder it becomes to do this.

For example, if we’re mildly upset about something, and we eat some yummy food, chocolate or chips or ice-cream or whatever it is that tickles your taste buds, most of us will find that the tasty food successfully distracts us from our unpleasant feelings and makes us feel better.

But if we’re EXTREMELY upset about something, and we use this very same distraction strategy, we’re likely to fail; most of us will find we can barely taste that food in our mouth, that there’s little or no real pleasure in it, and it doesn’t help us escape those difficult feelings.

Likewise, if we’re a bit worried or anxious about something that’s not a major threat or a significant risk, then thinking logically and rationally about it, i.e.

  1. Carefully assessing the facts and calculating the real risks or
  2. Doing a simple relaxation technique, e.g. some slow breathing

will for most of us rapidly lower our anxiety, help us calm down, and enable us to stop worrying.

But if we’re EXTREMELY anxious about something that truly is a major threat or a very real and significant risk, these types of strategies just won’t work.

Example 1

For example, if you are going into hospital for major surgery for a life-threatening condition, how likely is it that a bit of positive thinking, relaxation, or distraction is going to get rid of your anxiety?

For sure, you may get a bit of short term relief from such methods, but how long would it last before the anxiety returns?

Example 2

For another example, consider: if someone you love very much were dying; could you stop yourself from feeling sad, angry or scared?

For most human beings, there are only two ways you could realistically do this.

  1. One way, would be to completely numb yourself with drugs or alcohol.
  2. The other way would be to completely cut off from your own emotions; this is technically called “dissociation”, and usually gives rise to an unpleasant sense of numbness, emptiness or hollowness.

The Take-Home Message

When our problems and challenges are minor, and our painful emotions are mild, it’s often quite easy to avoid, distract, escape from or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings.

But the bigger our challenges, and the more intense our emotions, the less our ability to do this.

And that’s why we can all benefit from making the effort to learn mindfulness, acceptance and self-compassion skills.

When we have these skills, we can respond more flexibly to our painful thoughts and feelings.

We can open up and make room for them. Instead of fighting against them, we can make peace with them.

We can let them flow through us without a struggle, allowing them to freely come and stay and go in their own good time.

Of course, such skills don’t come naturally or easily. It takes genuine effort to develop them.

But if we want to invest our precious time and energy in doing the sorts of things that make life meaningful, instead of wasting it in futile struggles with our feelings, then learning these skills is well worth the effort.

How To Harness Your Anxiety

Riding a Wild Stallion – Extract from The Confidence Gap by Dr. Russ Harris

You step on to the front porch of your farm house. You feel the warm caress of the morning sun.

You stretch your arms wide and breathe in the fresh spring air. Then something on the horizon catches your eye. A shape in the distance, moving very quickly.

You rub your eyes, not quite sure if you are dreaming. But no, it’s real. You dash back inside, grab your binoculars, dash back out.

Raise them to your eyes. And there it is: a magnificent beast, thundering across the plain, powerful muscles rippling beneath a coat of pure black hair.

But it’s not one of your own horses. It’s a wild stallion. And somehow it has found its way on to your property. So, what do you do?

Fear is like a wild stallion. If we know how to harness its energy, we can use it to our advantage.

But if we don’t know how to handle it, we’re in trouble. Imagine approaching a wild stallion without some good horse-wrangling skills: you’d get kicked, bitten or trampled, and waste a lot of time and energy for no useful outcome.

On the other hand, if you’re a skilled horse-whisperer, then you can approach that horse safely. And over time, if you treat it well, you can build a good relationship with it and eventually ride it.

Now, I have to admit I know absolutely nothing about handling horses. But I do know quite a lot about handling fear. So, I’m going to show you how to become a ‘fear-whisperer’.

The ABC of Fear-Whispering

There’s a simple ABC formula for fear whispering. When fear shows up, we: allow it, befriend it and channel it.

Allow It

Think of that wild stallion racing around. If you ever want to make use of its awesome strength, speed and stamina, you first have to allow it to stay on your ranch. And the same goes for fear.

There is a huge amount of energy within our fear. Remember, the fight-or-flight response evolved over hundreds of millions of years to prepare our bodies for action.

Fear gives us sharpened reflexes, increased muscle tone, heightened awareness and greater strength. It’s like a potent fuel. But we’ll never learn how to use that fuel if we’re not willing to handle it.

Once you learn how to ‘allow’ your fear: you notice, acknowledge and make room for it. After allowing, the next step is to…

Befriend It

If you want to tame that wild horse, allowing it to stay on your ranch is not enough. You have to build a positive relationship with it; you have to win its trust.

How do you do that? Well, from what I’ve seen in the movies, you approach it cautiously, and talk softly and gently, get closer and closer, and then offer it some tasty food, and if it lets you, stroke its flank, keep talking calmly and soothingly, and show it that you’re a friend, not a threat.

Note: we do have to be careful when comparing horses with fear, because horses can seriously injure or even kill you. In contrast, fear is totally harmless.

The worst it can do is make us feel very uncomfortable but that aside, the comparison is useful: if we want to use our fear to our advantage, allowing it isn’t enough; we need to befriend it.

Now, at this point your mind may start protesting, ‘But I don’t like this feeling!’ Rest assured: you don’t have to like it.

Let’s suppose there is a lonely old man in your neighborhood, and I offer to pay you ten billion dollars to befriend him.

And let’s suppose this man has some unusual habits; he is prone to angry outbursts of abusive comments, wears filthy clothes and totally neglects his personal hygiene.

So, you really don’t like him. And yet … there’s ten billion dollars at stake here. Would you make the effort to befriend him, even if you didn’t like him? For ten billion dollars, I’m sure you would!

So, what about fear? If befriending it helps you to live by your values, achieve your goals, perform at your peak, develop genuine confidence and generally live a richer, fuller, more meaningful life, then will you make the effort, even though you don’t like it?

Befriending our fear is just like befriending a person or a horse.

Friendliness involves being pleasant, welcoming, affectionate, trusting collaborative and helpful. Does this sound like a tall order? Maybe it is, but I encourage you to give it a try and see what happens.

Be pleasant and welcoming to your fear. It may seem very weird, but try talking to it (making sure to keep a strong sense of humour).

You might say, ‘Hello, fear. How thoughtful of you to drop by today. Come on in and make yourself at home. What do you want to do today? Oh, you want to give my heart a bit of a work-out, do you?

Please, do be my guest. See how fast you can get it racing. Oh, you want to chase some butterflies around my stomach? Please, go for it. My house is your house.’

Obviously, you wouldn’t do something like this in the middle of an interview or a performance, because it would interfere with task-focused attention.

But there are plenty of times and places where you could try this, such as in the car, in bed, waiting in queues, during commercial breaks on TV and so on.

Be affectionate towards your fear. If you’ve got a good imagination, you could imagine shaking fear’s hand, inviting it into your body, and slipping your arm warmly around its back.

And if you’re somewhere private, then you could gently place a hand on the fear – that is, on the part of the body where you feel it most intensely – and ‘hold it gently’; let it feel the soothing warmth of your hand.

Be trusting towards your fear. It’s not out to get you. Fear evolved for a purpose: to help us handle challenging situations effectively. It alerts us to risks and threats, and readies us for action, should it be necessary. So, we’d be in big trouble if we didn’t have any.

Be collaborative with your fear. Recognise you’re ‘playing on the same team’. Don’t fight with your fear; it’s there to support you. It’s a signal; it lets you know you’re facing a challenge. So perhaps you could remind yourself,

‘This is my brain, alerting me to a challenge; this is my body getting me ready for action.’

Regard it as a teammate, not an opponent.

Be helpful towards your fear. Fear evolved to give you strength, speed, focus and stamina. So, help it to do its job. Help it to put its energy into something useful, something meaningful, something life-enhancing. In other words . . .

Channel It

Cast your mind back once more to that wild stallion. You’ve allowed it to stay and befriended it. Now what? Now you want to use it to your benefit; to saddle it up and ride it.

And so, it is with fear. You’ve allowed it, befriended it – now use it. Take a moment to notice how much energy it gives you: all that adrenaline flowing through your system. Your whole body is geared up for action.

As I mentioned earlier, many successful athlete’s, business people and stage performers don’t use the word ‘fear’ to describe those feelings they have when facing a challenge.

They often talk instead of being ‘revved’, ‘pumped’, ‘juiced’, ‘wired’ or ‘amped’. These terms all acknowledge the energising aspects of the fight-or- flight response.

So, ask yourself,

‘How can I make use of all this energy? What values-guided activities can I channel it into?’

Of course, there are situations where you can’t channel your fear into something useful.

For example, if you’re out on a first date, chatting away in a quiet bar or restaurant, there’s not much you can do with all that energy. In such an instance, you just make room for it and engage fully in the present.

However, there are plenty of times when you can make good use of your energy. For example, if you’re playing sport, being physically active or giving some sort of performance, then you can channel all this ‘fear energy’ into it.

Reminding Yourself to Use Fear

Reminding yourself to use your fear can make a huge difference at times.

Over the past few years, I’ve been giving talks and workshops in Australia, the US and Europe, to audiences varying in size from half a dozen to several thousand.

Do I feel confident about doing this? Well, most of the time, yes, I do. I certainly didn’t feel confident when I first started, but now I’ve had so much practice that I generally do.

However, when I’m speaking on a new topic, or running a brand-new type of workshop, I definitely do not feel confident. (Nor do I expect to, until I’ve done it over and over.)

But I do act with confidence: I get up on stage, give the speech or workshop and engage fully in the task.

Now here’s the thing: regardless of whether or not I feel confident, I always feel fear.

If that surprises you, let me remind you of some basic human biology: when we’re facing a genuine challenge, we’re going to have a fight-or-flight response.

So, no matter how confident we are at doing something, if the situation is challenging, we’ll feel fear. You may recall this rule:

Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear; it is a transformed relationship with fear

Thus, before I start my talk or workshop, I make room for my fear, take a deep breath, and say to myself, ‘Okay! Here we go! Let’s put this energy into action!’

The fear is still there, but my relationship with it has transformed. Now it’s not just something I need to make room for in order to get on with my life.

Now it’s something useful in its own right. It’s a potent fuel; a burst of energy that revs me up, gets me buzzing and enhances my performance.

And you can do the same thing in your life. Remind yourself regularly to channel your fear and notice the difference it makes when you do so. It may take a while to get the hang of this, but when you do, it makes a huge difference.

Indeed, over time, you may find your-self using words like ‘revved’, ‘pumped’ and ‘amped’, instead of ‘fear’ and ‘anxiety’.

And if there’s nothing for you to channel your fear into, then make room for it and engage fully in whatever you are doing.

Don’t fight your fear; allow it, befriend it and channel it. 

The No BS Guide To Self-Compassion

Imagine you’re going through a rough patch, one of the toughest ordeals you’ve ever had to cope with in life. You’re facing all sorts of challenges, obstacles, difficulties. It’s painful and stressful, and there’s no quick fix or easy solution. Now, as you go through this, what kind of companion would you like by your side?

The kind of companion who says, with a cold, uncaring voice, “Suck it up, princess. I don’t want to hear your whingeing and whining. What have you got to complain about? There are starving kids in Africa, this is trivial.

What’s wrong with you? Why are you so weak? Just shut up and get on with it.”? Or the kind of companion who says, with a kind and caring voice, “This is really tough. And I want you to know, I’ve got your back. I’m going to help you get through this. I’m with you every step of the way.”?

It’s a no-brainer, right? All of us – even super tough men and women who work in the armed forces and emergency services – would choose the second companion over the first. What this second companion demonstrates is a quality called “compassion” – which means ‘acknowledging the suffering of others and responding with kindness and caring’.

Sadly, the truth is, most of us are a lot better at being compassionate to others, than we are to ourselves. When we are in pain, we often treat ourselves a lot more like the first companion than the second. Self-compassion means learning to treat ourselves like the second companion: acknowledging our own suffering and responding to ourselves with kindness and caring.

In other words, self-compassion means treating ourselves with the same warmth, caring and kindness that we’d extend to someone we love or deeply care about, if they were in similar pain.

For thousands of years, self-compassion has played a central role in many religious and spiritual practices, and now it is becoming increasingly important in many science-based models of therapy, coaching and counselling.

Certainly, it is implicit in every aspect of the evidence-based Acceptance & Commitment Therapy model, upon which The Happiness Trap Online Program is based.

A wealth of research shows the many benefits of self-compassion with everything from depression and anxiety disorders to grief, trauma and addiction, to dealing with stress and pressure in the workplace.

Self-compassion helps you to cope better with stress, anxiety and pressure, to bounce back from failures and setbacks, to cope better with grief and loss, and to handle any type of emotional or physical pain more effectively.

So it’s well worth knowing how to develop it in yourself. And if you’re worried that it’s going to involve meditation or a religious practice of some sort, rest assured: it doesn’t.

Although there are all sorts of mediative and religious practices that can be used to develop self-compassion, there are also many other ways that are arguably a lot simpler.

There are two basic steps to self-compassion:

  • Acknowledge your own suffering.
  • Respond to yourself with kindness and caring.

The easiest place to begin is with a simple thought experiment. If you wanted to be compassionate to someone you love, who comes to you in great pain, tells you how much they are suffering – what are some kind words you might say to them?

What are some kind things you might do for them? Whatever your answers are to those questions, apply them to yourself. Try saying the same kind words to yourself, and doing the same kind things for yourself, that you’d do for someone you love.

Of course, there’s much more to self-compassion than this, and I’ll be exploring other aspects in future blogs. But this is a good place to start. So next time you’re suffering, acknowledge it, and respond with kindness. This doesn’t come naturally to most of us – but it’s a skill that’s well worth making the effort to develop.

Why Social Anxiety is Worse for Some Than Others

All of us, at times, get anxious in social situations. To understand the reasons behind this, check out my blog: The Biggest Myth About Social Anxiety.

Some of us are much more affected by social anxiety than others. Some people take social anxiety in their stride, it doesn’t hold them back from being who they want to be or doing what they want to do.

They can feel anxious but still go along to that party or meeting or conference or event – and once they’re there, they can still be themselves and engage fully in the social interaction.

However, others are severely affected by their anxiety, to such an extent it severely impacts their behaviour and restricts their life. They may avoid socialising, or drink heavily to get themselves through it, or arrive late and leave early and hover in the background saying next to nothing, or do numerous other self-defeating behaviours.

Indeed, around 12% of the population are so negatively impacted by social anxiety, they meet criteria for a clinical diagnosis of “social anxiety disorder”.

As we saw in last week’s blog, social anxiety is normal, so why does it affect some people so severely?

Good question. Prepare yourself because there is a big psychological jargon word coming up soon. It’s due to something called…

Experiential Avoidance

‘Experiential avoidance’ means the ongoing attempt to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings. And it’s normal! We are all ‘experientially avoidant’.

I’ve never met a human being who said, “I just luuuurve having painful thoughts and feelings, please give me more!”. We all like to avoid uncomfortable inner experiences such as painful thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories, etc.

And we all have a zillion-and-one ways of getting rid of them or distracting ourselves from them – from drugs, alcohol and cigarettes to exercise, music, and Game of Thrones.

Now, a little bit of experiential avoidance is not a problem. But high levels of experiential avoidance is a massive problem.

The more effort, time and energy we expend on trying to avoid or get rid of unpleasant thoughts and feelings, the greater our risk of developing an anxiety disorder, an addiction, clinical depression, and a whole host of other psychological problems. In other words, what creates an “anxiety disorder” is not “anxiety” itself.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that we all repeatedly have throughout our lives. There’s no such thing as an anxiety-free life, we experience it every time we approach or enter into a challenging situation with an uncertain outcome.

What creates an “anxiety disorder” is high levels of experiential avoidance: investing large amounts of our time and energy into trying to avoid or get rid of anxiety.

“What???” I hear you say, “That just makes no sense! How can that be? Verily, thou dost baffle and bewilder me with thine strange and contentious manner of speaking.

Explain thyself, before I doth flatten you with my trusty war hammer.” That’s a fairly normal reaction (especially if you’ve been watching movies featuring Thor the Thunder God). So let me explain. If you’re absolutely determined to avoid or get rid of that anxiety that shows up in some social situations, then what are your options?

One obvious option is to avoid those situations. We all do this at times, and in moderation, it’s not a problem. But done excessively, it leads to social isolation.

Another option is to damp down or distract yourself from the unwanted feelings by putting substances into your body – be it alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, medication, food or chocolate. Most of us have done this at times, and in moderation, it’s rarely a problem. 

But if you do it excessively, over time it will likely have health costs, and maybe even lead to addiction.

A third option is to hide out in the background – to arrive late, leave early, and while you’re there, say very little (so you won’t say anything dumb) and reveal very little of what you truly think (so you won’t be judged). 

This strategy usually leads to deep sense of dissatisfaction and it’s the very opposite of a rich and fulfilling social interaction. I could go on, but hopefully the point is already clear. High levels of experiential avoidance leads to the excessive use of strategies such as those above. And the excessive use of such strategies has two major costs:

  1. It makes your life worse in the long term.
  2. It actually increases the frequency and intensity of the anxious feelings you are trying to avoid

Spot the vicious cycle!

So with this in mind, I vote we get rid of the term “anxiety disorders” and start calling them “experiential avoidance disorders” instead. “But you don’t get it,” I hear you say (I have excellent hearing), “My anxiety is horrible, awful, unbearable – that’s why I try so hard to get rid of it.” Good point. 

And the higher your level of experiential avoidance – the more determined you are to avoid anxiety – the more horrible, awful and unbearable your anxiety will become. So if you ever want to reach a point where your anxiety is not awful, horrible and unbearable, you’re going to need to learn a new way of dealing with it, a way of responding to it which is radically different to experiential avoidance.

Interested? Oh good, because that’s what we’ll look at over the next few blogs.

The Biggest Myth About Social Anxiety

Uh-oh! There’s a social event looming. Perhaps it’s a night out with friends, or a wedding, or a family reunion. Or maybe it’s a committee meeting, or an office party; a book club meeting, a networking event, a conference, a business meeting.

Whatever it is, you don’t want to go. Your mind is whirring: Will I enjoy it? Will I know anyone there? Will I say something foolish? Will they like me? Will they think I’m boring? Will I have a bad time?

Maybe you’ve got a knot in your stomach, or sweaty hands, or a racing heart. You’d like to pull out, to make an excuse, to postpone… Oh, what a relief it would be if the event got cancelled!

Ever felt a bit like this? I know I have, many, many, many times in my life. This is an example of what psychologists like to call “social anxiety”. Basically, the term means anxiety or fear related to social interaction with others. And it’s normal. Yup, you heard me right. Social anxiety is NORMAL.

Almost everyone feels anxious in at least some social situations. Yes, even that friend of yours who is always the “life’s blood” of the party, and all those social butterflies and masterful story-tellers and outrageous extroverts who always seem to have something interesting or funny or clever to say. Even they experience social anxiety in some situations.

So why is social anxiety so prevalent? I’m glad you asked. To answer this question, let’s go back in time, right the way back to the stone age (or if you like big words, the “Neolithic era”). You’re a cavewoman or a caveman and the world is a dangerous place.

You’re surrounded by wolves and bears and sabre-toothed tigers. Lots of mean critters outside your cave, only too eager to gobble up a puny two-legged naked ape for lunch.  

If you want to survive in this world, you have to belong to a group. If the group kicks you out, you won’t live long by yourself. The wolves will have you for breakfast. And if you survive breakfast, the bears will have you for lunch. You won’t make it to dinner time.

So how does your mind ensure you fit in with the group? It compares you to all the other group members. It asks: Am I measuring up? Am I fitting in? Am I doing the right thing? Am I following the rules? Am I contributing enough? Do they like me? Am I doing anything that might get me rejected?

Does this sound a bit like your mind, at times? If so, join the club. We all have minds that sound a bit like this! We inherited them from our stone age ancestors.

And as a result we are constantly comparing ourselves to other members of the group, and assessing whether we are likely to be rejected.

We’re not consciously aware of it a lot of the time, but it’s continually happening – even in our sleep at times. (Ever had one of those dreams when you’re naked in public and everyone is staring at you? No? Oh – err – maybe that’s just me then!)

The number one myth about social anxiety is that it’s abnormal: everyone else out there just loves social interaction, and there’s something wrong with me for feeling anxious about it. And when we buy into this myth, we can easily beat ourselves up:

“What’s wrong with me?”, “Why am I like this?”, “I shouldn’t feel anxious”, “I’m being silly”, “I’m defective” etc.

And of course, this self-flagellation (I feel smart when I use big words like that) doesn’t help; we’re just piling harsh self-criticism on top of our social anxiety – which is likely to make it even worse!

Of course, some people’s lives are much more affected by social anxiety than others. Research shows around 50% of the population find that social anxiety has a significant negative impact on their life, and around 12% of the population are so badly affected by it, they meet criteria for a diagnosis of “social anxiety disorder”.

So in my next blog, we’ll look at why social anxiety affects some people so much more than others, and what makes it worse, and what makes it better. But for now, I want to leave you with one practical tip to help you deal with it. (There are many more practical tips to follow in my next few blogs on this topic; I just want you to experiment with this one for now).

Tip #1 for Social Anxiety: Acknowledge it’s normal

When you’re feeling social anxiety, take a moment to acknowledge it. With a kind inner voice, tell yourself: “This is normal, everyone feels this at times.”

This won’t get rid of your anxiety, of course; but it’s a whole lot better than beating yourself up for having a perfectly normal and commonplace human experience.

No Worries? Really?

I run workshops around the world, and in every country I visit they have some version of the phrase ‘no worries’. In my homeland, Australia, ‘no worries’ is virtually a national catchphrase. It’s incredibly rare to have a conversation without someone saying it.

In other countries, rather than ‘no worries’, it’s ‘no problem’ or ‘pas de probéme’ or ‘nema problema’. In India, I was amused by many taxi drivers who said to me, in their best English, “no worry, don’t hurry, chicken curry”. But if only the sentiment were true – if only we really didn’t have any worries or problems or stresses.

But of course, this isn’t the case. In Western countries, around 20% of the population will suffer from some type of anxiety disorder in their lifetime.  Yes, that is 1 in 5 people! And of course, even if we don’t suffer from a full-fledged anxiety disorder, we all know what it’s like to worry.

To go over and over our problems, imagining the worst, thinking about all the things that could possibly go wrong. I’ve asked over 30,000 people (in workshops and talks that I have given) to raise their hand if they are ever awake in the early hours of the morning worrying. Typically, about 90% of the hands in the audience go up.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, I’ve lived through thousands of frightening experiences in my life…and one or two of them did actually happen.

So isn’t it time we got a bit more honest about this? Isn’t it time to own up to our worrying? To stop denying it?  I wonder what might happen if we started to see worrying as normal – as part of being human, rather than something to hide or deny or pretend doesn’t exist?

When we judge worrying as abnormal, unnatural, and the enemy of happiness (‘don’t worry, be happy!”) what happens? Inevitably, we get anxious about our worrying, and then in turn, we worry about our anxiety. And then as a knock-on, we worry about worrying about our anxiety.
Moreover, most of us are quick to say, “You worry too much’ or “I worry too much” or “I know I shouldn’t worry about it, but….?” And many of us are also pretty quick to give what is arguably the most useless advice in the world:  “Don’t worry about it!”  (As if that is somehow magically going to stop the worrying!”

When my son was eight, the headmistress of his school proudly announced in the newsletter that the Grade 2 kids (aged 7 to 8) would adopt ‘Hakuna Matata’ as their catchphrase for the year. If you’ve ever seen the movie, “The Lion King”, you’ll recognize the phrase from the song of the same name. ‘Hakuna Matata’ means, “have no worries!”.

So I wrote her a long letter (poor woman).  I talked about the grave dangers of sending this message to young kids. It denies their reality (all kids worry). And it makes them think worrying is abnormal! Or unnatural!

Which in turn will probably make them think there is something wrong with them. Wouldn’t it be better, I asked, if we taught them that everyone worries at times? That worrying is normal?

And then I suggested, given that there is no known way to stop the human mind from generating ‘worries’ (i.e., thoughts about unpleasant things that might happen in the future), we could teach them practical skills – mindfulness skills – to handle worrying more effectively.

Her reaction?

Well, let’s just say she didn’t appreciate my perspective.  So all the kids got the “no worries” programming, including mine. But at least I was able to counteract it by teaching him the very opposite of what he was learning at school.

A sad reflection of the times we live in.  But hey, no worries, right?