If the world seems to be in turmoil, this doesn't mean you live in unique times. The world "out there" has always been a source of trouble and never the source of peace. The real issue is how to relate to such a world.
What Is Inner Turmoil?
Turmoil is a broad term. There are many ways that people can feel worried, agitated, anxious, and depressed. But if you look inward, certain common elements are generally present.
- Troubling thoughts keep repeating themselves.
- It feels as if these thoughts are in control.
- As a result of feeling out of control, you experience an element of fear.
- The inner agitation feeds off itself the more you dwell on it.
- Finding a way out of turmoil seems impossible, which leads to spiraling helplessness.
If you stop for a moment and reflect upon anything that has deeply worried you or made you feel depressed, especially if that is happening right now, you will notice these mental qualities. To escape your inner turmoil, each of them must be reversed.
- Troubling thoughts must be put to rest.
- You need to feel that you are not the victim of your mind and emotions.
- The element of fear must be released.
- Inner agitation needs to decrease day by day.
- You must regain enough power to feel in control once more.
How to Escape Inner Turmoil
How can you achieve these things when they seem far out of reach? To begin with, realize that all the elements of mental turmoil disappear naturally and spontaneously when the mind is relieved of stress. It's normal to feel worried in certain circumstances, such as when you are waiting for medical tests to come back. When they do and the results are good, your mind naturally returns to a non-anxious state.
This simple fact gives us a valuable clue. It tells us that the mind doesn't need to be forced to escape turmoil. Mental calm and balance is your default state. Inner agitation of any kind is self-correcting. So the best strategy for escaping inner turmoil is to support what your mind wants to do in the first place, which is to be calm. So what kind of support can you offer?
Here are some suggestions, rooted in the world's wisdom traditions:
- Stop feeding your inner turmoil. Reduce external stresses. Stay away from disturbing conversations and people who dwell on bad news and worst-case scenarios.
- Limit your exposure to the 24-7 news cycle on TV and the Internet. There is no need to keep fueling the stress response.
- Experience the calmness of being centered in yourself. The best way to do this is through regular meditation.
- When you notice that you are in a worried state, take a few minutes by yourself in a quiet place and become centered again. Taking deep breaths with eyes closed tends to be very effective.
- Exchange negative thoughts for positive ones as soon as they occur.
The last point is necessary because most of your negative thoughts are born of habit and old conditioning. They keep returning if you don't replace them, and this return repeats the past over and over. Replacing negative thoughts as soon as they occur requires commitment; it's much easier simply to let inertia take over. But if you want to stop feeling victimized by your thoughts, you must stop them from roaming freely through your mind.
How to Practice Positive Thinking
Here are the kind of positive thoughts that can free you from old conditioning.
- If you start worrying, think instead, "I have never improved a situation by worrying about it."
- If you experience signs of fear or anxiety, think instead, "Fear is just a reaction. It doesn't really tell me anything I need to know."
- If you are visited by an old memory that brings a bad feeling, think instead, "I am not that person anymore."
- If you feel stressed by a situation, think instead, "I am not a victim, I can change my response to this situation.”
These are only examples, but the general principle is always the same: Disinvite unwelcome thoughts. Tell them they are not needed and can go. If you keep this tactic in mind, you will experience a personal shift. Rather than encouraging and tolerating negative thoughts and feelings, you will be encouraging mental balance to return. The world's wisdom traditions teach you not to fight against your mind—a battle that can never be won—but to seek the mind's natural ability to self-correct. That's the secret of escaping inner turmoil.