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Slow it down and change your focus to create peace and find meaning

Viktor Frankl an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor was also the creator and developer of Logotherapy, a psychotherapy based on the premise that the primary motivational force of an individual is to find a meaning in life.

Viktor asserted that without meaning, people fill the void with hedonistic pleasures, power, materialism, hatred, boredom, or neurotic obsessions and compulsions. In other words we become inward focussed and that inward focus often manifests after a time as ANXIETY (neuroticism, obsession and compulsion) especially social anxiety and also depression.

Such heightened self-focused attention has been suggested to be involved in the development and maintenance of social anxiety disorder (National library of medicine - Neural correlates of self-focused attention in social anxiety - published online 2014 Oct 17).

"Individuals with social anxiety are characterized by pronounced fear of social interactions and performance situations. During social threat, it has been shown that individuals with social anxiety tend toward exceeded self-focused attention in a trait-like fashion (e.g. Clark and Wells, 1995; Rapee and Heimberg, 1997). Generally, self-focused attention is defined as becoming aware of self-referential and internally generated information (Ingram, 1990), which comprises information about bodily states, thoughts, memories, personal beliefs, attitudes, emotions and moods."  (National library of medicine - Neural correlates of self-focused attention in social anxiety - published online 2014 Oct 17).

Viktor Frankl's writings about finding meaning in life were not formed from a fanciful notion of idealism or toxic positivity but from his personal first hand experience and observations on finding joy and lightness in the midst of horror and darkness of a concentration camp which saw the deaths of most of his family including his wife.

Since its publication in 1959, Man’s Search for Meaning has been one of the most quoted and referenced books on the topic of the human condition.

Over 65 years later, Frankl’s observations are still profound and insightful. So when he allegedly writes

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

(and while this quote is very in line with Viktor Frankl’s work, it is not verbatim in any of his published books and reference to it's exact source is not readily available - we will go with it being Viktor for ease along with the majority who attribute it to him)

This space which is talked about is the space which holds our freedom from chronic anxiety.

We experience anxiety as both a thought in our mind and a feeling (alarm) in our body. The thoughts we have determine how we feel in our body (anxious, distressed, fearful vs calm, at peace and enthusiastic about life).

When we become aware of our thoughts and the response of our body, we can create a space and a pause to change our action and response. The space is the gift and the practice of awareness.

With conscious awareness, you can see options that were not available to you previously, and in those options rests the power of choice of how to respond to the thoughts and the feelings in a way that reduces the perception that we are helpless victims of anxiety.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of awareness is that, in slowing down and becoming aware of the anxious thoughts of the mind, you create the space that wasn’t there when you automatically believed everything you thought. It is in that space that you create choice—and choice is power.

If we imagine our feelings as our body reaction to our thoughts we may be able to see how our thoughts and feelings develop into a sort of feedback loop much like the painful high pitched sound you get if you place a microphone in front of a speaker.... and for the uninitiated, do not do this.

By definition, feedback is a positive gain loop between an input and output source. When a microphone is sending a signal to a speaker in the same room, there’s a risk that a feedback loop will be created. The microphone signal is amplified through the speaker, then the sound from the speaker is picked up by the microphone and amplified through the speaker again, causing the system to overload and feedback.

The result is a howling sound that is loud that in the worst cases can damage your equipment and more importantly, your hearing

If we imagine the scenario where the input source is our thoughts, our output source is our body we can see how we create a feedback loop whereby the body signal to the brain is one of danger but this signal of danger is in response to the brain output which was a thought that the situation you are imagining is a threat; and so it goes amplifying back and forth creating overload.. overwhelm and (often) a panic response.

This is where the pause comes in. The space between the stimulus of the thought and the response of the body (alarm).

If we can pause.


AND Remember that thoughts are generated in our brain 70,000 - 80,000 times a day and they are not a real threat, but imaginings which we can choose to evaluate as harmless brain droppings (to quote Russell Kennedy MD). We simply do not need to believe every thought that we have. We can interrupt the feedback loop and create calm in our body and mind.

One of the ways to reduce the possibility of the feedback loop is the reduce the input gain to as low as possible (in other words, turn the volume down) and at the same time move away from the speaker. We can emulate this with our thoughts/ feelings anxiety feedback loop when we pause and reduce the input of our worrisome thoughts and move out of our head and into the grounded reality of our here and now world. If I change the focus from me and my perceived inability to cope in a given situation, to other things (or people in the room and where they are at, not what they might be thinking about me), I can change how I feel in my body.

When I get out of my head - and into my body - I ground myself in the present moment and not in future anticipatory and imagined (made up) scenarios that cause the feedback loop to begin.

In fact the body response to excitement about an anticipated event is very much the same as the feeling of anxiety, so much so, we can choose to perceive our anxiety as anticipation and excitement and notice that it takes away the sense of panic almost immediately. Try it! It might be life changing.

Our perception is everything.

When we take this one step further, and we choose to live a life of meaning and purpose, we move away from self focus and anxious feedback loops because our focus has shifted from us, to the wider world.

Frankl observed that it may be psychologically damaging when a person's search for meaning is blocked. Positive life purpose and meaning were associated with strong religious beliefs, membership in groups, dedication to a cause, life values, and clear goals.

TL;DR: Anxious ruminating thoughts and made up scenarios cause an anxious response in the body that we feel as alarm. If we pause, remind ourselves we dont have to believe everything we think, we can redirect, reframe, ground ourselves in the present moment and change our perception.

Grounding ourselves, reminding ourselves in our thoughts that right here right now I am safe and feeling safe in our body (feet on floor, feeling carpet or wood underfoot, breathing slowly and deeply) gives feedback to our amygdala (the part of the brain designed to keep us safe) that indeed we are not under threat at all and the alarm can be turned off.

Further. Creating meaning in our life takes us out of our own head and focusses on the world around us, reducing anxiety (especially social anxiety).

For more information on reducing anxiety email

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