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3 Reasons Why You Are the Root Cause of Your Stress & Anxiety

Learn why giving a f*ck about too many things, not being present, and placing too much value on emotions can lead to stress and anxiety.

3 Reasons Why You Are the Root Cause of Your Stress & Anxiety

I’ve been focusing a lot on learning about stress and anxiety and the way that it affects our overall performance in work, relationships, learning, and life in general.

This is not a scientific statement by any means, but stress and anxiety are killing us and sapping our performance as a society. We’re more irritable, less understanding, and less efficient at what we do because of stress and anxiety. The biggest problem? We’re bringing it all on ourselves.

Eating poorly, not taking care of our bodies, not sleeping enough hours, I could go on and on why we have stress and anxiety, but as I’ve learned more about dealing with my own, I’ve found that there are some really key root causes. These are not things like diet and health, but something even more basic: your psyche.

I’m going to talk really big picture stuff here (not tell you to do things like wake up earlier and mediate — although you should be doing that) and hopefully, if you deal with a lot of stress and anxiety in your life, this big picture stuff will maybe help you re-think the way you’re living your life and then take all the smaller, more tangible steps (like meditating), to fix all that stress and anxiety.

 

You Give a Fuck About Too Many Things

If you haven’t read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” by Mark Manson, I highly recommend you start reading it. Particularly if you’re struggling with stress and anxiety and are looking for a new way to look at life.

The book is actually a very practical, modern approach to thinking about Buddhism, so if you have dabbled in Buddhist teachings, want to learn more, and are tired of trying to interpret sayings like “Good is bad and bad is good,” Manson’s book is a great way to absorb the Buddhist teachings in a more relatable way. This was by far the best book I read of 2016 and it really set the tone for how I want to live my life starting in 2017.

There are a lot of lessons to be taken away from Manson’s book and but the lesson central to the book is that we as human beings only have “so many fucks to give.” When we choose to give a fuck about everything, we unnecessarily bring ourselves stress and anxiety.

The point here is that stress and anxiety are likely unavoidable (bad shit happens in life — it’s just a fact!), but we too often choose to care about things that we shouldn’t bother wasting our emotional energy on. This excerpt from Manson’s book really rams this point home:

“Look, this is how it works. You’re going to die one day. I know that’s kind of obvious, but I wanted to remind you in case you’d forgotten. You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount fucks to give. Very few in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought of choice — well then you’re going to get fucked.”

Is a family member sick and dying? Yes, probably something to give a fuck about and to use some emotional energy on. That barista who put whole milk in your triple, no foam, extra hot soy latte? Fuck that guy, let’s enjoy those extra calories today. The fact that you HAVE to have that Herman Miller chair for your living room, but you can’t afford it? Fuck that chair, there are plenty of others that I can afford.

And that’s why Manson’s thesis is so brilliant in its simplicity: We have a conscious choice to choose what we spend our emotional energy on and when we choose to expend that energy on EVERYTHING (especially the stupid fucking shit) we drop an atomic bomb of stress and anxiety on our psyche.

So when something happens that gets your blood boiling, ask yourself, why should I give a fuck about this? Is there something better that I should spend my fucks on? You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll realize that shitty thing that just happened to you, isn’t worth your emotional energy. And that’s enough fucks for one day (Mom if you’re reading this….sorry!!!!)

 

You Are Not Present

I never truly understood what it meant to be present until very recently. And I never truly understood how important it was to be present to relieve yourself of stress and anxiety. Growing up, as a little kid I remember how important it was to plan ahead and prepare. This was a trait that I carried forward with me for pretty much the rest of my life. It worked well for me in school and in business.

But one negative side effect of this personality trait is that it can cause a ton of stress and anxiety if all you’re doing is planning ahead and preparing. It’s probably a pretty big reason why I have such an OCD and Type-A personality (these personality types are naturally balls of stress and anxiety). We hear all these sayings “Fortune favors the well-prepared” but what we don’t realize is that stress and anxiety can also follow the well-prepared.

The reason for this is that if you’re constantly thinking about the future, worrying about every possible thing that could go wrong, you’re actually not focusing on what is going on in the here and now. This excerpt from renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s novel “You Are Here” is a great example of this:

“In daily life, you are in the habit of running because you think happiness is impossible in the present. This is a habit that was handed down to you by your ancestors, your parents. Happiness does not seem possible to you in the here and now so you look for it in the distant future.”

This manifests itself in “multi-tasking,” which really means that your mind is pretty much all over the place. Do you have your email, web browser (with so many tabs open that you can barely see the favicons), Slack, Spotify, and iPhone all open at the same time while you’re working on a project? You’re not present. Are you driving in the car thinking about your next meeting? You’re not present. Sitting at your desk thinking about how great the weekend will be? You’re not present. Every moment when you are not present is more stress and anxiety building up in you.

So what does it mean to actually be present? It means to focus on the here and now. Working on putting a project plan together? Stop trying to respond to emails and messages while putting that project plan together. If you’re eating with your family, don’t be thinking about preparing for that next sales meeting. Can you really focus and do ONE thing at a time with your full intention? It’s a lot fucking harder than you think it is.

Want to try a test to see if you can really be present? Set a timer for 2 minutes. Sit down, cross-legged on the ground. Then close your eyes and breathe in and out through your nose for those 2 minutes. Focus entirely on breathing in and breathing out. Can you do it for 2 minutes thinking ONLY about you breathing in and breathing out? No thoughts about your to-do list, no thoughts about what you’re happy or upset about, can you just clear your mind and focus on breathing for 2 minutes?

If you’re like me when I first started your mind probably did exactly what I just prescribed: it raced out into a million fucking places. Just take inventory of how hard it is to sit for 2 minutes and focus on your breathing. If you can’t even string more than 10–15 reps of breathing in/out, you know you’ve got a serious problem in being present.

There are a lot of tools and techniques that can help you train (yes you must train yourself) to be more present, but that’s reserved for another post.

 

You Give Your Emotions Too Much Worth

This is something that I really struggled with during my 20s. You see when you’re in your 20’s you have a shitload of energy. Physical and emotional energy. In my 20’s I gave a fuck about everything and in short, I let my emotions get the best of me. At the time, I thought I was being “real” by letting my emotions govern me, but now with the benefit of time, some hindsight, and being a little bit fucking wiser, I realize that emotions are bullshit. They are not to be trusted. In fact, fuck emotions! Why? I’ll refer to another quote from Manson’s book:

“Emotions are part of the equation of our lives, but not the entire equation. Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. Just because something feels bad, doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts, suggestions that our neurobiology gives us, not commandments. Therefore, we shouldn’t always trust our own emotions. In fact, I believe we should make a habit of questioning them.”

Emotions are a terrible lens through which to see the world. In fact, they are a super distorted ass lens through which to see reality and that’s the reason we can’t use them as the “equation” to life. The reason for this is that emotions are temporary and that when we base our permanent life actions on this temporary “thing” we end up causing a lot of fucking stress and anxiety for ourselves.

For example, we are all out there chasing this fleeting emotion of “happiness.” But the fact of the matter is that happiness is a temporary state. You experience it, and it goes away. But if we get fixated on our emotions, then we get fixated on the fact that we need to constantly pursue happiness. And if happiness is a temporary thing, then we’re constantly chasing this high that constantly goes away. Thich Nhat Hanh gives a really good description of this:

“It is essential to understand that an emotion is merely something that arises, remains and then goes away. A storm comes, it stays while, and then it moves away. At the critical moment, remember that you are much more than your emotions. This is a simple thing that everybody knows, but you may need to be reminded of it: you are much more than your emotions.”

This is exactly why you are stressed and anxious: because you place so much value on your emotions. You think your entire world is crumbling down around you because you feel sad or depressed and that has implications for the rest of your life, when in reality it’s just a fleeting moment. You think your entire world is crumbling down around you because you’re unhappy because that chick on Instagram has a ridiculous ass and you’ll never have (or be able to tap) that ass. Emotions are temporary, both good ones and bad ones, so stop living your life around them. Tell yourself, fuck happiness! Fuck sadness! It’s just a temporary state of mind.

I hope this post has helped you think about some of the root causes of your stress and anxiety. As I mentioned earlier, all of this is really high-level stuff and it doesn’t necessarily provide you with the tools to fix some of these issues, but I hope it provides you with a framework to think about why stress and anxiety are building up in your life.

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