I am in consistent admiration of those people who can seemingly get so much done in the course of a day.
Whether it’s a CEO that can hold 5 meetings and still find time to get out of the office and spend time with his family, or the mom who wakes up at 5AM to workout before going to work, it’s always one hell of a balancing act.
When I’m having a panic attack over realizing just how much needs to get done and the fact that it’s just not happening today and it seems like everyone around you is both trying their best and dropping the f*cking ball, I’m wracking my brain like Tara Reid’s plastic surgeon trying to fix that stomach – “HOW DO I FIX THIS?!?!”
DON’T LOOK IT IN THE EYE IT’S SENTIENT
I’ve heard from nearly a dozen people that “mindfulness” is the key. Be present. Live in the moment.
It’s the Hallmark card of psychology right now, and it doesn’t goddamn work. Sure, it can calm you down for one moment. And then the next moment the panic machine starts again and you feel even MORE anxiety because you screwed up at doing the one thing that was supposed to keep you from being anxious.
The key is to act like a camera aperture: be able to zoom into focus and zoom out quickly.
Anxiety, and by extension, anxiety attacks, usually come with the symptom of “tunnel vision”. You become so overwhelmed by stimuli that as a survival mechanism, your body focuses on literally what’s in front of you. If your eyes were camera lenses, you’d be blocking out everything around you and focusing on a pinhole because it would be literally all your system could handle.
It’s a learned skill to be able to focus on the minute but not lose track of everything else around you. Imagine if you’re standing on train tracks and you’re focusing on a piece of gravel next to the ties. You’d ignore the fact that a 100-mph locomotive is about to fricassee you into bite-size chunks.
Similarly, if you’re focusing solely on the train that comes, you won’t notice the penny on the rails that will derail the train hilariously.
I’m about to veer on the edge of science here.
You have two brains. You have a functional brain which manages your normal functions, and you have an uber-brain which manages your brain. If your regular brain starts going off the rails, you have a second brain to shout “CALM THE F*CK DOWN”. Otherwise, the slightest thing that’s off, from the rustle of a leaf to a crooked painting would cause our hearts to explode in panic. You have a body that can govern your sensibilities – that’s what separates you from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Hyper-focusing is the product of your regular brain. Predators and those at the top of the food chain have specially-attuned instincts and senses, like smell, that’s far beyond ours because their standard brains have developed the ability to pick up a scent from miles away.
“Big-picture thinking” is the product of your uberbrain. The ability to manage enormous amounts of input and stimuli, the depth of memory you use at your disposal that’s beyond typical muscle memory – that’s uberbrain talking.
And talking is important.
When your uberbrain can’t talk down your regular brain, or when you become lost in your uberbrain and lose what’s right in front of you, your body panics. It’s akin to a loss of consciousness. Overwhelming experiences, trauma, anything that causes you to faint – all of these are a sign that your system is overloaded.
But when your uberbrain can calm down your brain and tell it that everything will be ok, when your brain can see the steps in front of it and use that input for your uberbrain to function – you’re at your best. You can zoom in and zoom out like a camera aperture, and do it quickly enough to get two simultaneous pictures of what’s going on around you. It’s a muscle that’s responsible for this communication, similar to the corpus callosum which connects the right hemisphere and left hemisphere of your brain and allows them to “talk” to each other.
Like all muscles, it must be trained. And you can do it where you’re sitting right now.
Think of an emotionally difficult situation. Could’ve been a traumatic situation, a time where you experienced loss, an accident, or a bout of nervousness. Let your memory experience the feelings, the sights, the smells of that time. Focus. Engage your animal brain.
Your heart rate increases. You may sweat a little, shake a little. Your body is re-experiencing the traumatic situation.
Then use your uberbrain to rise above your body and look at the world around you. You’re sitting on the couch, or at a desk, or in bed. You’re not actually in a dangerous situation. Everything’s fine. Look at the big picture. Engage your uber-brain.
Let the animal brain talk.
Then let the uberbrain talk.
Let them talk to each other for a few minutes. Feel a little worry (“but what about THIS”) and let your higher brain calm it down (“you’re literally sitting in Triscuits crumbs watching Real Housewives—there’s literally nothing to worry about and you’re safe”).
You’ll notice your regular brain is picking up the stimuli around you (cat hairs, 72 degrees, soft blanket, comfy desk chair, novelty mousepad) and feeding it back to your uberbrain which is thinking about possibilities (what if the faulty accelerator pedal on my Camry causes me to drive through ANOTHER cupcake shop?) This is great progress, because it means your brains are talking and helping each other, using all functions of your body to both calm down and move your body and mind and consciousness through this situation.
What you’re doing isn’t easy. It feels a little like exercise, doesn’t it?
That’s because you’re exercising the muscle that communicates between your two brains.
The more you do this, the better you can handle what life throws you. Because it will throw you challenges and curveballs and completely unexpected holy-sh*t-the-world-is-collapsing-around-me-how-will-I-survive-through this situations that you’ll want to numb or distract from and you can’t. You can’t numb them all and you can’t distract from them all. You will never, ever be able to, in the same way you will never be able to just sit around in bed while everyone around you takes care of you for the rest of your life. You’re gonna have to get up and walk to the fridge eventually.
Train your brains.
Win at life.
And you’ll be happy.