Rewriting Your Anxiety Story (Part Two)

This article is part two of a three-part blog series on How You Can Escape the Anxiety Story.  Click here to read the rest of the series.

Now that you know that you are the driving force behind your Anxiety Story, you can just switch off your story and have a nice day, right?

Not so fast. If you’ve been creating your Anxiety Stories over and over for some time, they tend to become ingrained in your head. Our Anxiety Stories suck us in and one chapter leads right into the next, so it can be hard to interrupt the story.

A major roadblock may come lumbering into your path, especially when it comes to a long-ingrained habit or well-worn Anxiety Story. That roadblock is what Buddhists call shenpa, and shenpa brings along his pal klesha.

Meet shenpa and klesha

While shenpa and klesha may be fast friends with each other, they are no pals of yours. You can at least be relieved to know you’re not the only one who gets regular visits from this dastardly duo. Buddhism has, after all, been around for some 2,000 years.

Shenpa is the urge to be drawn into a habit that causes us to suffer. The suffering is klesha.

While neither sounds particularly attractive, unless you happen to be a big fan of self-abuse and destruction, getting shenpa and klesha out of your life may not be as simple as you’d hoped.

An example can show you why.

Let’s say you know you need to lose 10 pounds but you feel you just gotta have that piece of chocolate cake or you’re just going to die! That deep tug you feel inside to eat the cake you know you shouldn’t because it will make you feel lousy afterward is the shenpa. You eat the cake anyway. In fact, you don’t stop with a single piece of cake but you eat the whole dang thing. The suffering you get from eating too much cake is the klesha.

Recognize them yet?

Shenpa and klesha are definitely on hand when you play an Anxiety Story. Shenpa shows up when you get anxious and feel that strong urge to replay your usual Anxiety Story that comes with the anxious feeling. The misery and suffering that comes with replaying the story is klesha.

Told you they were no pals of yours.

It’s not important that you memorize the Buddhist terms for these concepts or from whence the two faux friends come. What is important is to understand the specific things you keep doing that cause you to suffer and that you have an incredibly powerful urge to keep doing those specific things anyway. It is equally important to realize you need to train yourselves to resist so this overruling urge can go away.

Don’t believe the lies.

Shenpa and kresha get loads of help invading your brain because most people typically believe the lies their Anxiety Story tells them. Your Anxiety Story will tell you when you engage in a particular activity, you are going to feel a certain way, so you need to do something else so you don’t feel like that.

Let’s go through a few examples. Your Anxiety Story says if you go to a party you are going to be bored. So you start to feel you need to avoid parties altogether and sit home by yourself if you ever want to be comfortable. That’s a lie.

Another Anxiety Story may tell you when you go to a business meeting you’re going to be embarrassed. So you need to find ways get out of business meetings or you’ll forever be embarrassed. That’s another lie.

Every time you turn down a party invitation to sit alone on your couch or duck in the bathroom during a business meeting, you are making your Anxiety Story stronger and stronger. Pretty soon the Anxiety Story will have you in a stranglehold and it will be laughing with glee while you wallow in misery.

The only reason feel the way you do at parties or in business meetings and the only reason you both feel compelled to avoid them is because you keep buying into the Anxiety Story. You keep repeating your Anxiety Story. You keep feeding and fueling your Anxiety Story. You keep believing its lies.

Exercise: Avoiding the hook (and the lies) 

Because the concept of shenpa can be a bit tough to grasp, you can liken it to an analogy that helps you see it more clearly. We can illustrate the concept with the story of a fish.

Every day this particular fish swims along in the lake when a hook with a worm on it comes plopping into the water. This fish is particularly intelligent, and he knows the hook with a worm means trouble. He’ll get hooked, pulled up and end up on someone’s dinner plate!

Alas, even though the fish knows he shouldn’t mess with the hook, he wants to go after the worm so badly. If he goes after the worm, things will only get worse, never better. Despite the worm appearing so delicious and inviting, there is always a hook hidden.

Practice seeing all the baited hooks in the water around you. Your goal becomes swimming around them without getting tricked into getting caught on one.

Our next and final article in the series offers further tips on how to avoid the Anxiety Story’s twisted trickery by purging the urge to fall prey to it and returning to that thing called reality.

This article is part two of a three-part blog series on How You Can Escape the Anxiety Story.  Click here to read the rest of the series.