There are so many ways to freak out in response to life’s challenges, disappointments, and frustrations.
We can become anxious, and worried, and imagine catastrophic things happening — worst-case scenarios that make our hearts pound.
We can lose our tempers, yell, storm off, or simmer in resentment.
We can find someone else to blame, however indirectly they may have been involved in whatever it is that’s bothering us.
We can find ways to avoid the difficult feelings around the problem, by drinking, or binge-watching Netflix, or immersing ourselves in work, or comfort-eating.
We can make sure we don’t cross paths with someone we have problems with, or try to ignore mail that may contain bad news, or put off calling the doctor about some symptom we have in case we learn something unpleasant.
We can shut down and retreat into depression, blaming ourselves, telling ourselves how we’re useless and how things always go wrong and how nobody likes us.
We can go numb, and cut off from our feelings.
There are all these ways we can freak out in response to difficulties (and there are probably more) but they all have two things in common:
First, they create more difficulties for us. The mind can act as an amplifier system for problems. Often our reactions create greater difficulties than the original problem that gave rise to them.
Second, they’re all unnecessary. We don’t have to do these things. It may be hard to change, or scary to think about changing, but it’s possible to do so.
We all have the ability to become mindfully aware of how our minds act and the ways in which they can cause us suffering. We all have the capacity to let go of the thoughts and actions that constitute freaking out. We all have the potential to courageously turn toward the difficult feelings that arise in life. We are all capable of meeting challenges with a mind that’s calm and creative — a mind in which we spontaneously respond to difficulties in a wise and balanced way.
We all have that potential.
None of us is broken, in the sense of being unable to move to a way of being that’s more balanced and creates less suffering. All that’s happened in our lives is that we’ve learned and practiced habits that take problems and multiply them. Those habits have been inherited as part of the way our minds work, or have been picked up from our family, friends, or culture. And we can learn new habits.
Accepting this gets much easier when we recognize that habits depend on circuits in the brain, and when we recognize that the brain’s circuitry is not fixed, but is in a constant state of flux. Yes, if we keep exercising habits of freaking out, we’ll keep reinforcing those pathways in the brain. But if we learn to activate parts of the brain associated with habits such as keeping things in a wider perspective, regulating our emotional responses, maintaining positive emotion, etc., then those positive habits will get stronger, and the underlying circuitry for them will become etched more and more deeply in the brain.
With every thought that passes through our mind, every word we speak, every action we take, we are literally rewiring our brains.
This can end up with us becoming radically different — and happier — people than we once were. We just have to take the first step, and accept that we create who we are.