Summary of “First We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety”: Sarah Wilson is a person who struggled with anxiety for a number of years. This book is the fruit of 7 years of global research intended to tame the “beast” of anxiety, make it beautiful and accept it.
By Sarah Wilson, 2020, 352 pages
Full title: First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story about Anxiety
Note: this is a guest chronicle written by Delphine Couet from the blog Guérir l’anxiété et les crises d’angoisse
Chronicle and summary of “First We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety”
Chapter 1: The first bit
Sarah Wilson is a journalist. She had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama and ask him one question: How do I get my mind to shut up? The Dalai Lama answered that it was not possible and that trying it was a useless waste of time.
Initially surprised, Sarah Wilson went on to understand that what he meant was that she did not need to change. She was already perfect the way she was. She came to understand that her problem with anxiety did not need to be fixed. And she had always believed that she had to make every effort to fix the problem. But it’s not true.
The author of this book, Sarah Wilson, suffers from a number of illnesses: anxiety, insomnia, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, bi-polarity and auto-immune disease. She tested all kinds of therapies in her search for healing: CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), hypnosis, psychoanalysis… She took anti-anxiety medication, anti-epilepsy medication and anti-psychotic medication for 11 years.
One day, she decided to stop. And then it all came back again. She understood that all these illnesses were related to anxiety, and caused anxiety. And that she did not necessarily have to get rid of it all.
Chapter 2: Because no one knows…
Many people are anxious, more anxious than they should be. One study has shown that around 20% of people living in France suffer from some form of anxiety . Anxiety is the most common mental illness.
There are also many people suffering from anxiety who do not consult a doctor, so they are not included in the statistics. To give you an idea of the scale, Google searches about anxiety have increased by 150% in 8 years.
The term anxiety is an umbrella terms used to describe no fewer than 37 terms in the DSM 5 (American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), including:
- Social anxiety
- Panic disorder
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Separation anxiety
- OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Anxiety has been listed as a mental disorder since 1980. Before, it was not talked about, and there were no books about it.
Interesting fact: the first anti-anxiety medication was put on the market in 1980…just before anxiety officially became an illness to be diagnosed and treated. It makes you wonder whether anxiety might not have been invented in order to sell medicine. The same applies to social anxiety, OCD and bipolar disorders.
Now Sarah Wilson is not trying to say that anxiety does not exist. It is important to be aware of the variety of treatment options available. But you can legitimately ask a certain number of questions: Are anxiety and depression genuinely caused by a serotonin deficiency? Are our brains deficient?
We often hear about theories relating to chemical imbalance in the brain, but these theories have never been proven. What’s more, even if it is true, is the imbalance the cause or the consequence of anxiety?
It is important to look into the subject, to ask questions. Why not define anxiety in a different way, not an illness to be treated or cured? Sometimes spending time talking about and defining a problem creates the problem.
Chapter 3: The something else
In this chapter, Sarah Wilson talks about her childhood. Although her childhood was relatively happy and normal, despite a lack of money, her brain was constantly working overtime. At the age of twelve, she became obsessed with spirituality, and then the insomnia and the OCD appeared. She felt as though she was the only person who did not understand what life was all about. She tried to calm the agitation she felt inside, to make her anxiety and fears disappear.
When she was around 30 years old, she went on a yoga retreat. She finally managed to meditate, to make contact with her Something Else, her presence beyond ego, her “Big I” as some people call it. The Something Else was the sense of being in the right place, that everything was okay in that moment.
When we are anxious, we are disconnected from the Something Else. We feel as though we have to do something, understand it, as if there is something missing in order to be complete. We do not know why we exist. So we check, we revisit and we compensate with these obsessive compulsive disorders, phobias, or anxiety attacks, on our quest for Something Else.
“You want to find something, but you don’t know what to search for. In everyone there’s a continuous desire and expectation; deep inside, you still expect something better to happen.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Chapter 4: Gentle and small
Give up sugar
Sarah Wilson is also the author of another book “I quit sugar for life”. .
At around 30, after a severe anxiety attack, she decided to retire to a cabin to write for several months. That was when she finally decided to test a diet that several doctors had recommended to her: a sugar-free diet. At the time, she was eating the equivalent of up to thirty teaspoons of sweetened products every day. After two weeks, she felt better and decided to share her experience.
She invites readers to try this for two weeks, without beating yourself up about it.
Kindness and gratitude
Other new forms of therapy also appeared at this time. Sarah Wilson hates therapies like cognitive behavioural and neuro-linguistic programming, as well as therapies based on positive psychology and personal development. This is because they consist of changing behaviour and thoughts.
New therapies of acceptance, commitment and compassion have recently intervened. They consist of accepting your thoughts and emotions, of living in alignment with your values, accepting what is negative rather than trying to push it away. The goal is not to pursue happiness at all costs, but to get on with what you have, moving towards your goals and being kind to yourself. Waiting to achieve an ideal of happiness at all costs only makes us unhappier, because such an ideal is unattainable.
Getting back to the subject of sugar, it’s not our fault that we are addicted. The same goes for anxiety. It is not your fault.
Some people have an old brain or amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for the flight or fight reaction) that is more sensitive. Trying to avoid, fight or criticise anxiety only makes it worse. The solution is self-compassion. Being kind to others works too. It tempers the reactions of the amygdala.
Sarah Wilson suggests an exercise. Visualise yourself as a child or look at a childhood photo of yourself at a time when you feel afraid or alone. Feel compassion for this child. Speak to them, tell them you understand their feelings, that there is nothing to fear.
You can also write a letter to your anxiety. Start by writing “Dear anxiety, you funny little thing, no wonder you were triggered….” and end with “I love you”.
It can be impossible to get rid of bad habits, so it is better to replace them with new habits. As you repeat the new habit, it becomes stronger than the old one, which eventually fades away. It is a long process, but worth it. You need to do it every day, not almost every day and not from time to time, because that is not good enough.
Chapter 5: Just meditate
“When you’re an anxious type, meditation is non-negotiable.” Sarah Wilson
Meditation has many proven effects. It reduces thoughts and calms the mind.
Sarah Wilson has been meditating twice a day for 20 minutes for the past 7 years. She practices transcendental meditation, which consists of repeating a mantra.
Meditation is about training yourself to restore calm, not to dwell on the mental state.
One quick and effective exercise is known as Stop. And. Drop. Stick a post-it with Stop. And. Drop written on it in a place where you can see it several times a day. Every time you go by it, focus on a place just below the sternum for 1 minute.
When you are in the throes of a panic attack, it is pretty much impossible to meditate. One good exercise to do in this case is to breathe through the belly (abdominal breathing). This reduces the stress levels and lets the brain know that everything is okay. Breathe in, expanding the belly, for 5 seconds. Hold onto the breath briefly, and then breathe out slowly for 6 seconds. Do this for at least 10 minutes every day.
Another very effective exercise is gratitude. Every evening, remember 5 things that you were grateful for during the day and say thank you. Thinking about the positive things in life helps us to feel aligned with our life and our goals. We realise that everything has meaning, just like when we meditate. Gratitude also stimulates the hypothalamus, which regulates anxiety. And we train the brain to look for the positive in things.
Chapter 6: Slow…
Before her big anxiety crisis at the age of thirty, Sarah Wilson was always running around. She slept for three hours a night, worked weekends, overdosed on sport, drank and smoked… After a year of this, early menopause set in and she discovered that she could not have children. She quit her job six months later, exhausted. And she had developed Hashimoto’s, an auto-immune disease of the thyroid. She was also pre-diabetic and has osteoporosis. If she had waited much longer to see her doctor, she would have had a heart attack.
She was forced to stop everything, to slow down and take care of herself. She couldn’t do sport any more, apart from just walking.
Just walking consists of taking 3 steps while breathing in, then taking 4 steps while breathing out. You count while you walk, and picture drawing the Earth’s energy through your feet.
We have two brains: an old brain that feels and a new brain that thinks The new brain never lives in the present moment. It analyses and criticises everything that happens. When one brain is activated, the other is on standby.
Walking is good for anxiety because it activates the old brain to let go of stress hormones by releasing endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.
Walking for 20 to 30 minutes 5 times per week has as much of an effect on anxiety as taking anti-depressants.
So, walk as much as possible during the week and go hiking at the weekend and on holiday.
When you hike, you also get to enjoy the benefits of being in nature. Taking a bath in a forest, as the Japanese call it, can reduce cortisol levels, a known stress hormone. Walking helps you to calm down, to take stock, to be in the present moment, to reflect without ruminating.
David Malouf, an Australian writer, believes there are so many stressed people around today because our pace of life is much too fast. Walking, cooking, writing, doing yoga and having sex can help to slow things down to your true rhythm.
Writing when you feel anxious is a good way to feel better. It doesn’t matter if the writing is poor, or whether you write on the back of a magazine or a napkin. What counts is putting the words down on paper, with no pressure, with no attention to spelling or handwriting, without reading over what you have written.
Chapter 7: The Something Else (part two)
There is a paradox about anxiety: we aspire to the Something Else, but we don’t know what it is or what it looks like.
We want to know the Big I, know who we are, why we are here. We want to find meaning in our life.
As we can access it through meditation, but Sarah Wilson noticed that she never stayed with her Something Else for very long, almost as if she was afraid of it. And we run from our true nature and take refuge in buying things, doing things, in distractions.
Being connected to the Big I goes hand in hand with silence and solitude. In silence and solitude, we realise how short life is, how vulnerable we are, what scares us. So we fill up the silence and solitude with activities and distractions, to avoid seeing what scares us most.
We are anxious because we know we are missing out on the Something Else. However, we are also scared of connecting to that Something Else. This dilemma must be resolved. We need to face our fear of the Big I. We must learn to accept ourselves.
Chapter 8: Closer
There are more and more anxious people in the world. Sarah Wilson thinks that this is because we seek satisfaction and meaning in life outside ourselves. In fact, it lies within. Sixteenth century French philosopher Montaigne wrote that we can only free ourselves from agitation by actively resisting the attraction to the outside and by remaining at home, being inside ourselves.
We need to welcome anxiety and agitation, not run from them.
Being anxious means running away from the present by constantly projecting yourself in a hypothetical future. It involves looking ahead, getting worried, and picturing catastrophic outcomes.
There is no point in constantly seeking a deep reason for anxiety. Knowing why is not always important. Otherwise you can become anxious at the thought of being anxious.
Being anxious means seeking solutions to an unknown future. Animals are not anxious. They are afraid of danger, but not of a hypothetical future. In contrast, humans are scared of the future, scared of death. Anxiety is about projecting towards the future, trying to get out in front of it. Depression, on the other hand, is about dwelling on the past, remorse and regret.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. And if you are at peace you are living in the present.” Junia Bretas
Also, when you are anxious or depressed you are afraid of the unknown, so you hold onto the past or attempt to predict the future. You cannot accept the Something Else that you do not recognise. Depression and anxiety often go together, because they are the expression of the same malaise, that of not accepting the unknown.
Ask yourself “what is the problem?”
“Ask yourself what ‘problem’ you have right now, not next year, tomorrow, or five minutes from now. What is wrong with this moment?” Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
What you will realise if you do this exercise is that there is no problem in the present moment.
The trouble with medication is that it suggests that there is something that is not right with us and that healing or happiness is the end goal to be reached, the solution. Personal development methods and certain psychotherapeutic approaches promote the same thing. They make us believe that the solution is outside us. In doing so, we move further away from our Something Else, our Big I. Wisdom is already inside us Sugar, alcohol, moving house, toxic relationships, compulsions and social media are also ways to flee reality and the present moment.
Take some time to take your time
It is important to take some time to take stock of your life, every day, in the morning if possible: How am I doing? Comfortable? In the right place? Does this make sense?
Chapter 9: Anxious spirals
There is general anxiety, a sort of buzzing in the background, and there are anxiety attacks, what the Sarah Wilson calls spirals of anxiety. For many people, anxiety presents in the form of crises that can be so physically violent as to look like a heart attack. But anxiety attacks can also be internal, a whirlwind of thoughts and nervousness. This is what the author calls a spiral of anxiety.
It is often in the first case when you cannot comprehend what is happening, when you look outwards. Otherwise, it is the second case. Sarah Wilson thinks that people with chronic anxiety will have spirals of anxiety more often, and people who are not anxious generally will have a full-on anxiety attack.
Spirals of anxiety are triggered by uncertainty and lack of control. Sarah Wilson would find these whirling thoughts unbearable and look for any possible way to escape them, running away, scratching herself… she even tried to jump off a balcony and out of a car once.
Anxious people who have attempted suicide are not trying to escape unhappiness. They are trying to escape the incessant and uncontrollable mental pain their anxiety causes them.
Anxiety and other people
There are a number of paradoxes when it comes to anxiety:
- Anxious people seek solitude but they have a strong need to connect with other people
- When you are anxious, it can be easier to cope with strangers than with those closest to you. You feel guilty around loved ones.
- Anxious people sometimes appear to be extroverts, when they in fact suffer from social anxiety. Sarah Wilson is someone who can talk to thousands of people and appear on live television without panicking.
- You understand your anxiety and you can talk about it, but it is impossible to remain reasonable when you are in the middle of a panic attack. This can be explained by the fact the brain can no longer take rational thoughts into account in a moment of panic.
Anxious people’s brains are constantly looking to resolve future problems. However, it is impossible to resolve them because they have not happened yet. The brain is permanently ruminating and cannot stop. Yet nothing productive, new or creative appears.
“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” Jodi Picoult
Those close to anxious people have a role to play when we are caught up in a spiral of anxiety. They have to organise things for us, make strong decisions on our behalf, be present, patient and calm, even if we push them away.
The partners of people who suffer from anxiety should not confuse the need to control the anxious person with the need to control their partner. Anxious people do not want to control their partner, but they do want to control their environment and anything that can set off an anxiety attack.
How to manage a somatic panic attack
Meditation is very useful, but it does not work in the middle of a panic attack. It is impossible to focus, to impose self-discipline or self-control because the adrenaline rush is too strong. When this happens, it may be possible to reconnect with the body, using massage for example. A Thai massage in a salon for example. Some people find running a big make-up brush across the face or arms helps, or braiding their hair, dancing, or walking while counting their steps.
The attack must be seen for what it is: physical symptoms triggered by the brain to help us choose between fight or flight. The pupils become dilated as they seek the best escape route, breathing comes more rapidly and becomes shallow to take in the necessary oxygen. The oxygen that accumulates and is not used makes you feel dizzy. Your heart beats faster to send the oxygen throughout the body. You sweat, your muscles contract and blood pressure increases. The blood leaves the hands and feet to move towards the biggest muscles. The digestive system takes a break. This is nothing but anxiety, not serious physical problems.
Chapter 10: Make the beast beautiful
Anxiety can be useful
OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) affects many people. It is not a recent illness. In ancient times, people with OCD held dominant positions thanks to their attention to safety and hygiene. Anxious people see danger before other people see it.
This could be the meaning of anxiety: to be the first to alert others to danger. It’s our superpower.
Anxious people are also often great artists, writers, scientists or politicians. Emily Dickinson and Charles Darwin couldn’t leave their homes because of their anxiety issues. Barbara Streisand and Adele suffer from stage fright and avoid giving concerts. Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson suffered from social anxiety.
Bipolar disorders affecting 1% of the population also have meaning. They have always existed and have helped humanity to make progress. Bipolar people take risks and test limits.
To find meaning in your anxiety (and make the beast beautiful), Sarah Wilson suggests some reading:
- The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
- Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
- My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel
- The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
- An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
- Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen
It is preferable to accept your anxiety than try to transform it into something else. There is no point in trying to control something uncontrollable. It’s okay to have times when you are less energetic, feel less good, more agitated. These moments can lead to something. You can feel compassion for these moments, curiosity, perhaps even find them amusing.
Anxiety pushes us and guides us, tells us something we may not want to hear.
At a biological level, anxiety is similar to excitement. You can therefore choose to interpret your anxiety as a form of excitement. Say it out loud “I’m excited.” This is called cognitive reassessment.
“The hero and the coward both feel the same thing, but the hero uses his fear while the coward runs. It’s the same thing, fear, but it’s what you do with it that matters.” Mike Tyson’s coach
Instead of trying to calm down and relax, it is better to let the anxiety express itself. Panic sets in when you try to curb the flow of anxiety.
A Harvard study carried out in 2003 proved that it is easier to move from anxiety to excitement than from anxiety to calm. It is easier to convince yourself that you are excited than to try to calm down.
Chapter 11: Pain is important
Anxiety hurts. It is intimate, painful and lonely. You feel alone; you have the impression that nobody understands you. Anxiety is fear, a primal reaction.
It should be remembered that happiness is not our natural state. After all, we cry when we are born. We are not born happy. We are made to suffer. Our Prehistoric ancestors were constantly worried, much more often than they were happy. That is how they survived. Worry is our default mode.
We need to accept that, and accept our anxiety.
So how do we do that? We can talk to ourselves, observe our bodily sensations. We can let ourselves cry, observe our actions. But we can also allow ourselves to make mistakes, recognise those mistakes and apologise. We can do nothing. We can try to stop taking medication.
Finally, we can welcome what is happening, without fighting it, without fleeing it, without reprimanding it. Just observe it. Recognise the pain.
Viktor Frankl wrote about this topic in his book “Man’s Search For Meaning”, which he wrote after surviving in a concentration camp. According to Frankl, the ultimate goal is to find meaning in our lives, and that involves suffering.
The quest for happiness at any cost is useless, even dangerous. In doing so, we become fearful of sadness. We should not seek to be happy, but seek to lead a full life that has meaning for us.
Chapter 12: Do the work
If you want to heal from anxiety, you have no choice but to roll up your sleeves and take action. There is no miracle solution and nobody can act on your behalf. You have to take your own destiny in hand. You have to do it for yourself, and for the people close to you.
Look after yourself
To heal from anxiety disorders, you have to learn to live a conscious life, to keep on an even keel, look after yourself and avoid toxic people.
Once you come out of the spiral of anxiety or a panic attack, you can think about your life, ask questions, implement small actions to prevent future attacks. The hardest part is getting started. The first step is the most difficult one, the others follow naturally.
Yes, it’s difficult, but as the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: “Nothing any good isn’t hard.”
And you cannot change your habits overnight. You must be patient.
Anxiety can become a gift if you embrace it. It pushes us to be better. It makes us sensitive, vulnerable, and authentic.
Watch what you eat
Anxiety can lead to health problems caused by cortisol, the stress hormone that it constantly releases into the body. Anxiety can cause weight gain, trigger digestive problems, fertility issues, lack of nutrition, osteoporosis. But anxiety can also cause inflammation in the body. This increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The opposite is also true: a poor lifestyle can trigger anxiety.
Meditation and walking can regulate these problems. Reduce your sugar intake, because it encourages chronic inflammation and disturbs intestinal balance. Stop eating processed food, eat 5 to 9 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, yoghurts and vitamin supplements, if necessary, in particular magnesium.
Chapter 13: Indecision
Sarah Wilson hates making decisions, even apparently innocent ones like choosing a café or a flavour of toothpaste. This causes her great anxiety and she castigates herself when she cannot make a decision. Anxious people are paralysed when it comes to making decisions, however small, because they feel like important decisions.
In our modern society, we have choices about everything and we are told that it is a form of freedom. Barry Schwartz, an American psychologist, calls this the paradox of choice: Having more choices is supposed to make us happier. But we tend to feel happier when we have fewer choices or no choice. Having no choice is the greatest of freedoms.
You need to find solutions to reduce choices. You can eat the same thing for breakfast every day, like Leo Babauta, or always dress the same way, like Barack Obama or Mark Zuckerberg. And you can always buy the same brand when it comes to certain products. Psychologists call this “dropping certainty anchors”.
Adopt morning rituals
If you suffer from anxiety, you can follow rituals to get the day off to a good start. You can meditate, write or exercise. If you don’t have time to do these things, then get up earlier.
Flip a coin
Anxious people often have trouble following their instincts. You can flip a coin to decide. Before the side of the coin is revealed, monitor your emotions to find out what result you are hoping for. That’s how you can get to know your instinct
Chapter 14: Back the fuck off
Anxious people are generally perfectionists. They want to control everything and keep a tight grip on things. They are looking for the best solution, but it does not exist. Anxiety appears when you realise that you have no control. To compensate, you seek perfection and even more control, which only make the anxiety worse.
You have to let go, go along with the flow of life.
One exercise in learning how to let go is to sit cross-legged, lean forward with your arms out in front of you, and let everything go.
Here’s an interesting fact: when you have to deal with an emergency, anxiety disappears. This can be explained by the fact that when you are handling the emergency, you are living in the present moment. You cannot simultaneously live in the present moment and feel anxious about the future. By focusing on the emergency you have to deal with, the mental ruminations go away. Sometimes, coming face to face with your fears can even lower anxiety.
We are told we need to strike a balance between work and leisure in order to have a good life and reduce anxiety. But it has in fact been proven that trying to do everything perfectly only leads to more stress and unhappiness. In order to be happy, do not try to strike a balance and be perfect. Do what you want when you want. Shake up the established order. Do the opposite of what you would normally do. Change your routine Do things the wrong way around, see life with a fresh eye. For example, sleep upside down to the way you usually sleep (your head where you usually place your feet).
Chapter 15: Space
Anxiety is often experienced as a constant flow of thoughts that build up and cannot be evacuated. In fact, anxiety comes from the Greek word “angho”, which means ‘to squeeze”.
Anxiety is like a tangled ball of wool. To untangle it, we try to find the end of the thread and pull. We think that by changing jobs or partners everything will be resolved, but it doesn’t work like that. We only tighten the knots. It is better to take the ball and loosen it gently between your hands until it starts to expand and the knots begin to loosen, thereby creating more space.
To heal anxiety, you need to create and find space. Stop filling up your wardrobe, your diary and your stomach. Make space instead. Take breaks. Spend time alone. Do nothing. Sit in the dark.
Find the space between breaths.
Sarah Wilson suggests trying the following exercise: Breathe in while counting to 4. Hold onto the breath while counting to 3. Breathe out in 4 and hold on for 3. Do this for 1 minute and enjoy the time spent holding your breath in or out.
Chapter 16: Boundary building
Anxiety is everywhere in our society, and we don’t really know why. The world is becoming increasingly anxious, because of modern western society.
The problem with our modern lives
Our pace is urgent and has no breaks. We work fast, we eat fast, we hurry from one place to another. We do lots of things, we travel around the world, we multi-task and spend time on our smartphones. As we do all this to have more time, but all we end up with is less space, which is exactly what we really need. We are no longer able to do anything. We are in a constant state of over-excitement. Technology has imprisoned us and driven us apart from one other.
Society tells us that we must be happy. If we are not happy now, then happiness must lie somewhere else – in consumerism, in a miracle solution, in a new activity. All this drives us further away from our deep self.
And when we worry because we are faced with all these obligations, we get labelled with a diagnosis of having a disorder or illness, when the reality is that it is simply too much to handle.
According to ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, anxiety is not an illness, but a symptom of imbalance, more especially an imbalance of the Vata dosha. This dosha becomes unbalanced when there is too much noise or movement, when we consume too much coffee and sugar and when there is air conditioning. These are elements that we can often find in our modern lives.
How to tame your vata
To restore balance to your vata dosha, you can avoid air conditioning and fans, as well as draughts. Take a break from coffee from time to time. Eat at the same time every day. Eat consistent food and use olive oil or butter. Go to bed early (before 10pm), switch off social media. Walk, do yoga. Avoid shops (too much noise, light and air conditioning).
We are anxious because we are in a state of anticipation and expectation, the desire for something, but we are unable to accept that nothing is going to happen. Even meditation can be a form of waiting for something, if we expect to find calm, if we seek to avoid negative emotions. In reality, meditation is about accepting what is happening.
There used to be limits: fixed working hours, no laptops or mobile phones. In the past, shops were closed on Sunday, we never took planes and we wrote letters. These limits, which created stability, have disappeared.
It is up to us to set the limits. Nobody else will do it for us.
We can decide to check emails just twice a day, to avoid big cities, to put the smartphone down at 6pm. We can set aside one evening alone every month, or even 1 week every year, and take one full day of rest per week. And we can send fewer emails, own fewer objects, stop over-consuming.
Chapter 17: The wobbliest table at the café
Welcoming the discomfort of anxiety does not reduce anxiety, but it is a reminder that it can also be a source of joy. Like children who know how to be happy even if they are sitting in a puddle. Don’t run away, do not look for distractions. Look anxiety square in the face and do not react to it.
When you lower your expectations and choose to do simple things, you can let go, go with the flow and appreciate the little joys.
If you decide to focus on what isn’t working, and especially how to fix it, you will always end up finding another reason to be dissatisfied. It’s endless. If you waste energy avoiding the wobbly tables in cafés, or making one more stable, then you will go on to notice that the sun is in your eyes and change tables again. Then you will notice that the person at the next table is talking loudly, and so on.
Expose yourself to anxiety
It is simpler and creates less anxiety to walk straight towards whatever is making you anxious. You need to expose yourself to your anxiety and welcome the discomfort, until it ebbs away. It always will.
We are anxious because we are not capable of remaining in a situation we find stressful for very long before making a run for it.
You need to look for discomfort in order to choose to stay with it. Stop running away, connect to your Something Else, your internal joy.
We spend a lot of energy running away from our worries, but it is simpler and healthier to welcome them. Whatever you resist, persists. What you embrace will eventually ebb away.
Get wabi-sabi with it
Wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in imperfection, impermanence and decline.
You can make bouquets of weeds, cook unexpected recipes, eat off the floor, not bother with household chores. Do what you want, not what others want.
Chapter 18: Grace
An anxiety spiral can lead to grace. This was Sarah Wilson’s experience when a series of coincidences led her from depression and thoughts of suicide to hosting a television show and kick-starting her career.
An anxiety spiral can take you far down the rabbit hole, plunge you into pain. If you remain in the discomfort and accept it, you can open up and allow anxiety to exist and express itself. Then you need to give up control and let go. Openness and humility develop and this allows good things to happen. This is grace, the knowledge that life will take care of us, that we are where we need to be.
The goal of this journey with anxiety is to develop character, our internal strength and our appreciation of life. We may not emerge healed, but we do come out different. This is known as post-traumatic growth. According to more than 300 studies, around 70% of people who have gone through anxiety disorder experienced positive psychological development.
Life is a series of uncertainties. You cannot know everything and control everything, and you might as well accept this. Accept the mysteries of life, without trying to understand them.
Conclusion of the book “First We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety”
People become anxious when they are disconnected from themselves, from what matters. They feel that something is missing and that they no longer understand the meaning of life. This happens increasingly often in modern society. We seek out what is missing elsewhere, by over-consuming, in technology, in food.
Anxiety takes us through the darkness and shows us what we need, what really counts – ourselves. Everything is already here. Anxiety brings us home.
In reality, anxiety is a super-power. Accept it in order to find meaning and allow life to carry you along. It helps develop resilience.
Anxiety is not the problem. This problem is that we never talk about it and nobody tells us how to cope with it.
This book is a deep dive into how people who suffer from chronic anxiety think and operate. It is a perfect companion for a loved one who wants to understand the condition better. Everything is explained in detail, from thought processes to reactions, fears and doubts.
Anxious people will also find the book helpful as there many helpful tips scattered throughout the different chapters. We sense that Sarah Wilson knows what she is talking about and we feel less alone.
However, the book is too unstructured for my taste. I feel like Sarah Wilson did not properly edit her work and that there are too many short cuts and repetitions. You can easily get lost among them.
Strengths and weak point of the book First We Make the Beast Beautiful
- An inspiring personal and moving story.
- Some great tips dispersed throughout the book (meditate, slow down…)
- Helps us to understand how anxious people function.
- The writing feels like a draft version, with no real structure. It is constantly toggling between a variety of different ideas.
My rating :
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