Third Level Anxiety: The Paradox of Overthinking

Anxiety and overthinking go hand in hand. It’s a chicken and the egg scenario. Does the anxiety cause the overthinking or does the overthinking cause anxiety? Hard to tell. In the end, I’m not sure if it even matters which comes first. The result is the same, discomfort, distress, and inability to make decisions. The prefrontal cortex shuts down in that all consuming sympathetic nervous system reaction triggered by the amygdala, or the emotional center of our primitive little lizard brain.

Over the years, anxiety has a way of building. The pathways between stimulus and response get more and more defined. My anxiety used to be directly related to specific instances. I would get anxious in social situations. Soon that anxiety would begin to bubble up at just the thought of being in said situations. Now it’s transformed into more of a vague fear of the anxiety itself and trying to avoid all situations in which I may start to feel anxious. I’ve reached third level anxiety, fear of the fear of the fear. This stage is practically paralyzing. It can cause you to avoid your life completely just in an effort to avoid anxiety. It can manifest in a covert way, such as the inability to make decisions.

I have to admit it is humorous to realize I’ve always tried to “fix” my anxiety by somehow thinking myself into a sense of ease. But it’s pretty hard to use logic and reason to defuse a completely illogical physical reaction. It’s counterproductive to try to think your way out of overthinking. But what else can you do?

Learning to Cope

One of the reasons I have my doubts about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s effectiveness when it comes to my mental health specifically and anxiety disorders in general is the focus on the thinking mind. CBT’s primary method is changing the way you think in order to change your behavior. But you can’t solve the problem of too much thinking with more thinking. A lesser known therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT feels like a better fit. Rather than teach you how to reframe your thinking, this therapy helps you cope with and understand your emotions so that you can feel safe and accept yourself.

Even though in the moment anxiety feels like it’s demanding action or some solution, I’ve learned by now that there really isn’t anything I can do or think that can dispel my anxiety completely. The frantic effort to avoid it only causes more mental suffering. The only real way I can learn to handle this fear is to let myself feel it. More than any catastrophic imagined outcome, I’ve become afraid of the physical sensations themselves. I’m anxious about feeling anxious. However, that quickly dissipates when I face those feelings rather than try to run from them.

How to Face the Feelings

Coincidentally, I’ve found the advice from my previous post about how to help yourself focus and be mindful in a calm, neutral setting works just as well when you’re lying in bed on the edge of a panic attack. This time rather than being unable to focus because of the vague sense of disinterest or boredom at the everyday objects around me, it’s the exact opposite. It’s hard to focus because everything just seems so overwhelming that I don’t know where to begin. But nevertheless, imagining I have to describe what is happening in that moment as if I’m writing a story is tremendously helpful.

The next time you find yourself feeling anxious, overthinking, or distressed by indecision, take a moment to step out of the thinking mind all together. Accept that the solution you’re desperately trying to find with your mind is not in the mind at all. The solution is surrender. It’s accepting that sometimes there is no solution but to sit with the sensations. Try to describe the feelings of anxiety swirling around in your body to someone who has no idea what anxiety even is. Be as detailed and creative as possible. Get curious. What is anxiety? Where does it manifest in the body? What does it physically feel like? How long can it last? Does it ebb and flow? Does it get stuck in your chest, in your throat?

Avoid concentrating on what it is that’s making you anxious. That is irrelevant once you’ve determined that it is irrational. Let it go. Show yourself that you are capable of feeling these difficult feelings. Even if they don’t go away. That’s not the intention. It’s learning that you can handle them. When I slow down and breathe into my anxious feelings, I often realize that the feelings themselves are no where near as bad as my struggle to avoid them. I can befriend these sensations by simply allowing them to exist.

Conclusion

I know all this is easier said than done. It’s hard to do anything with intention and mindfulness when your brain and body are on red alert. However, knowing that this is an option available to you is the first step towards practicing it. You won’t be able to every single time, but the more you notice the opportunity to sit with your difficult feelings instead of trying to fight them, the easier it will become. Give yourself the time and the space and the permission to experience even unpleasant situations with patience, curiosity, and equanimity.

Embracing Autumn

The sleepy sun begins to blink
after months of brightly beaming
suddenly realizing the long, hot days 
have started to wane once again

There is a stirring of pumpkin spice excitement
as the air lifts and lightens its humid grip
rising early to greet crisp, chilly mornings
with socked feet and hot mugs held tightly in cold hands

Spiced apple cider and gathering together
to face the winter slowly creeping closer
crafting grinning pumpkins to keep the
growing darkness at bay

Learning to allow myself to enjoy this season
despite the inevitable mental decline ahead
bravely barreling toward the frigid cold while
celebrating another successful season in the sun

5 Unexpected Benefits of Going Vegan

By now I think most people are familiar with the major benefits of transitioning to veganism. Many, like me, are initially drawn in by promises of weight loss while still eating large quantities of food. Then they wind up staying for the animals and the myriad of other bonuses you notice along the way. Other people do it to be healthier in general or to contribute less to the destruction of planet Earth. There are tons of posts out there that will tell you about the same handful of positive changes a vegan diet brings into your life. After being vegan for over 10 years, I’d like to shine a light on the somewhat stranger, less discussed benefits a vegan lifestyle offers.

One: Level Up Your Cooking Skills

I hate to cook. Or at least… I used to. Now although the amount of time it takes and the mess it makes frustrates me from time to time, I can’t help but get an immense sense of satisfaction from the incredible, healthy dishes I’ve learned to throw together so easily. In the beginning the increased necessity for cooking your own meals may be daunting to new vegans. In a small area like the one I live in, going out to eat every night or buying pre-made vegan food items isn’t really an option (even if I could afford it.) I can’t just go to the deli and buy a rotisserie chicken for dinner when I’ve had an unexpectedly long day. On the other hand, I honestly have no desire to let others make my food. They simply don’t do it as well as I am able to now. I’m quite surprised and proud of my newfound cooking ability and can genuinely say I prefer the meals I make at home over the expensive vegan restaurants’ dishes. If you’re interested in the types of food I prepare, you can find links to all my most used recipes in this post.

Two: Expand Your Food Repertoire

After ten years of hearing, “But what do you eat?” I’ve grown quite perplexed by the question. Imagine trying to answer that as a non-vegan. Am I supposed to list dozens of food items and meals? I eat so many different things! I feel like simply responding, “What do you mean?” I once heard someone on a podcast who explained it perfectly. How many different meats are there really? Maybe three or four that people eat regularly, then cheeses and milk. That really isn’t much variety. On the other hand there are thousands and thousands of different plant foods available to us to eat. Non-vegan meals now look quite sad and tan-colored to me, very bland and unappetizing. Since going vegan, my experience with new, interesting, and exotic foods has expanded beyond the wildest dreams of the normal, American meat-eater. I’ve tried dishes from many different cultures, mastered the art of utilizing spices, and tasted fruits and vegetables I never knew existed before! I assure you I eat a more exciting and varied diet than any non-vegan I’ve ever known.

Three: Bye-bye Common Cold

While I had a vague awareness of this before, the Covid-19 pandemic really brought it to the forefront. I think we’ve all gotten a bit more paranoid around anyone who seems to be sniffling or coughing in the last few years. What’s surprised me is just how often everyone I know experiences cold symptoms like these. It’s almost as if everyone around me is perpetually ill. There are people I’ve noticed who are literally always congested, dripping from their noses and eyes, and have a cough that won’t quit. And these aren’t people with long Covid. Many of them never got it to begin with. Hopefully I won’t be jinxing myself by saying that in my ten years as a vegan, I’ve never gotten sick. Seriously. Not once. And before you go attributing this to luck or good genes, I used to get sick all the time. At the very least, I could expect a few days of serious battling with a stomach bug every year and being plagued by the pesky common cold every fall/winter. I never even realized how badly my body felt at a baseline level until I went vegan and experienced real health for the first time in my life. I thought regular sickness was just how life was supposed to be. I’m here now to tell you, it’s not. Veganism is your ticket to not only long-term health, but daily wellness.

Four: Faster Recovery Time

Not only does a vegan diet prevent you from feeling achy and sluggish after a big meal, it also helps your body recover more quickly from a workout. A vegan diet contains absolutely zero cholesterol, so the heart benefits are usually a big focus. But in addition to a stronger, healthier heart, the rest of the body’s abilities are also bolstered by eating plant-based. I can’t help but laugh when I see fitness bros proclaiming vegans are weak and can’t build muscle for lack of protein. Not only are there world-class, record breaking athletes that are vegan, the diet is also a great help to the average fitness enthusiast like myself. You are not only just as capable of building muscle, but the process will be much less painful. Inflammation in the body wreaks all sorts of havoc, but it also is the culprit when you notice sore, tired muscles after an intense workout. While I still get a satisfying sense of soreness from a challenging leg day, my body recovers and replaces those aches with new, stronger muscle tissue much faster than it ever did before I went vegan. If you’d like to learn more about the effects of veganism on athletes, I’d recommend watching The Game Changers. Or you can read about this specific aspect on their website.

Five: Brain Fog Finally Lifted

Before the pandemic, this aspect of veganism was also a bit harder to explain to people. With so many long-covid patients reporting the now common term of “brain fog” I feel I have a better chance of helping people understand what I mean. It’s been so long, I can’t really remember what it used to feel like inside my head. Still I’ve never forgotten the experience I had after about a full month of vegan eating. I woke up one morning and everything just felt clearer. It’s hard to describe exactly. I’ve always said it was like a cloud had lifted off of my mind. I could think faster, more coherently, more easily than ever before. It’s not like I had been struggling or anything. I had always been a straight A student and prided myself on my above average intelligence. Even so, this was something different. Almost like I had been carrying a heavy weight that was suddenly dropped, allowing me for the first time to move at my full potential. When you and every one you know have been living in a perpetual state of mild illness, you don’t really understand what it means to truly be healthy and well, physically AND mentally. But I promise you, give it a month, even if just as an experiment. You’ll be blown away by what you discover.


I hope that this has given you a bit more insight into the nearly infinite reasons to go vegan. I’m sure there are many more that I have accidentally overlooked, but these five are the ones I’ve been thinking about lately. I’m no saint. I went vegan in the beginning for selfish reason, not for the animals, as I wish I had. I’m hopeful that personal gain will be a motivator to other people as well. Regardless of what aspect of veganism you look at, there is some incredible benefit to be had whether it be to your health, daily lifestyle, cognitive function, the Earth, or the animals. Please consider giving yourself, everyone else, and everything on this planet this amazing gift.

Quick Fix

At some point alcohol became
the weighted blanket for my mind
something solid to make me feel secure
a heavy shroud to hold me down
in the present moment

Over ten years of diligent practice
I've become a master of self-medication
caffeine, cannabis, kratom, and liquid courage
a witch's brew of corrosive ingredients
to subdue my writhing soul

Quick fixes never work for long
so many mornings left picking up the pieces
of poorly planned promises to myself
smoothing over the soft doubt deep down
that this really will be the last time

Sometimes it is strange to see others
experience true joy without chemical assistance
I wonder if my synapses are too damaged to do that now
Imagining a life without my caterpillar quantity of crutches
seems just as alluring as it does absurd

Still nothing could be worse than this ritual self-denial
this refusal to allow myself to exist as I am
accepting that I am unable to overcome my small fears
by burying them stealthily beneath bottles of booze
next time I'll try harder to be brave

Peripheral

Anxiety is living life in the periphery
a mind afraid to focus on direct experience
like eyes left straining into the blurry images
produced from the outer angles of sight

Endlessly missing the opportunity
to see what's right in front of me
distracted by the desperation to see it all
before making my next move

Walking blindly into the future
while believing there is some safety
in focusing all attention on the sidelines
absorbed by unclear, obscured visions

Mastering the practice of mindfulness
the ever evolving effort to stare straight ahead
being present with what's before me rather
than apparitions hovering just out of view

Keep walking faithfully forward
syncing each breath with firm steps
resting in the reality of perpetual uncertainty
softly savoring all the surprises of life

Allowing myself to become engrossed
in the ever unfolding mirage of right now
releasing all tight tendrils of assumed control
to be submerged in this moment

My Temple

This body is not an ornament
or a toy to break and replace
it is the holy vessel that holds me
and tethers me to this world

A useful container that houses the soul
perfect and precious because it is uniquely mine
the one thing I fully own, my true home
the most important gift I could be given

How ungrateful I've been for
the mortal flesh that supports me
my personal window into reality
an unconscious effort that keeps me living

Belittling all that this body does
based only on shallow self judgement
centered around outward appearance
as if that even matters

The frightened animal form
my consciousness has been assigned
to protect and take care of
offering only criticism and neglect

May I be a better steward
to this living temporary temple
and learn to speak to it with gratitude
and soft caresses of loving kindness

The Sea Inside

My soul is always rising
with righteous indignation
swelling like the sea with
power and momentum

Impossible to contain or quiet
any attempt feels like an attack
on the very moral fury that
has frothed the foaming waves

Wrestling with water
just adding to the flood of feeling
lashing out at the perceived inner oppression
of my own attempts to foster peace

Internal justification is not enough to quell
the violent current of painful passion
as though a feeling that is valid
must require direct action

Levees of logical pleas create
different ripples of unbridled rage
the audacity of any intention
to hold myself back

You cannot stop the ocean
and there is a sense of pride
in having the courage of conviction
a will made stronger by the moon

But saltwater eats away at the shoreline
and erodes everything that it touches
my brain and body were not made
to endure this endless, stinging submersion

Is It Practice or Pretending

Sometimes I miss the days
when hating yourself was cool
now that I was good at
cigarettes and self harm
underaged drinking and drugs
from disreputable sources
not caring about my future
was a free fall into darkness
but at least it felt free
self-hatred had a shadow
of pity and compassion
I could wrap around myself
at the very end of the day
a full-bodied surrender
to unshakable sadness

Shifting perceptions of self care
can start to feel like a curse
when you can never live up
to your own expectations
shame and self-doubt stack up
the irony of forced kindness
metallic aftertaste of unworthy
a constant struggle with
the authoritarian arbiter
of my own inner voice
will it ever get easier
to give myself grace
now my shadow is self-criticism
for being utterly unable
to practice what I preach

I’m So Tired Lately

Lead weight of lethargy
limbs made heavy
by slow flowing blood
cursed with a natural inclination
to bow before gravity's siren song

taking small sips of poison potions
in search of a lightening elixir
squinting eyes gaze at the sun
soft prayer for this feather soul
to grow glorious wings

Sloppy frustration of trying to swim
through water with baggy clothes
saturated by the dense atmosphere
of all the things that can never be known
while holding the boulder of what is

Energy wasted and unseen between
tangled networks of misfiring neurons
thoughts running thick like black ink
spilling over and staining everything
filled up with empty fear

Invisible burden of a world on fire
venom coughs from soggy lungs
silent sickness of a sinking mind
staring blankly upwards from
beneath the dark rhythm of the sea