The whispers of rocks echo in clinks and bangs. The stones chitter in reply, “Here she comes“. Blades of grass crackle underfoot. Dying. She doesn’t realise they are screaming, breathing their last, at the mercy of her boots. The hiking stick she leans on groans as it bears her weight, supporting her every step. It laments its cosy place nestled amongst the leaves and silently curses her for taking it so far from home. Its knotted eye imagines a ladder to take her skyward, towards the light she so desperately seeks. The voices of nature warn that it’s just an illusion, but the haze beckons her on.
Seek what light you will.
Heed the signs along the way.
Don’t give dreams away.
It’s whirling again, my mind. I can’t help it, it just is. “I hear you!” I scream. “All right!” I agree. “Shut up!” I plead. And yet it goes on, and on. I feel it, deeply, the withdrawal…as I sink into the dark recesses of my thoughts. They’re unruly now; untamed, and relishing in the freedom I have allowed them. The more I say “No”, the more they say “Yes, let’s tell her again”. Their truths are untruths. I know it and yet I don’t. I bend to the sounds of the unkind and unfair. Unrelenting and unwieldy these thoughts bear down on me. An incessant chatter when all I want is silence. Oh please let there be silence.
Hush now, time for rest. When Summer seems far away Look for the sunshine.
My flips-flops squelch in the soft sand. Tiny grains, incongruously scratchy, between my toes. I scan the beach, finding a place to settle in with my book. The heavens above me, a perfect hue, blend with the azure of the ocean. Warm, gold sunshine, cleanses away the stresses of the working week and soon, I am lost – deep in the pages of my paperback. A sudden rush of movement, catches my eye. I look up, but am too late to evade that rogue wave!
don’t get too cosy keep one eye out on the sea waves like to roam free
Blue skies and marshmallow clouds deceive me into thinking this is just another day. The traitorous sun rose this morning, like it alway does, and warbling birds gather outside my window. All this reminds me I am alone. I reach for the pillow where your head lay, breathing in scents now lost to black. My disconsolate heart, resolves always, to remember you.
Winter’s here to stay. Fallen leaves all blown away. No more sunny days.
Despite grappling with the many challenges anxiety has thrown at me over the years, I have realised the importance of trying to maintain a zest for life. I will share some things I have found to be helpful. Reducing your daily stress can work miracles on your zest for life, as can changing the way you look at a situation. Diet and exercise also play an important role, releasing “happiness hormones” and regulating the fight/flight response triggered by anxiety. A good night’s sleep can work miracles when it comes to your mood and efficiency level for the day. But most of all, learning to handle difficult situations and developing coping strategies, plays a large part in maintaining your zest for life. To recap, hold onto your “zest” by:
Practicing Relaxation Techniques. It is important to find ways to relieve the muscle tension caused by anxiety.
Exercise & Diet: Any type of regular exercise is very effective in relieving stress.
Talking It Out: If you are feeling isolated because of anxiety, there are options for discussing how you are feeling.
Take positive steps. Don’t let anxiety take
away zest for life.
When you’re in a state of anxiety, you want to have control over your surroundings and what’s around. You are constantly seeking a feeling of safety. In reality, the more you seek control, the more you wind up searching for safety. It’s an exhausting cycle. Ironically, you need to let go; to yield; to give over to your fear. Surrender is often viewed upon as a negative thing. We are always encouraged to take charge of our lives and be persistent. Talking about yielding to something, may make you feel weak. However, if you surrender to a higher power, you bring that power into your life and allow it to consciously move you towards your goals, dreams and desires. It’s in the yielding that balance can be found.
A higher power
is actually in control.
Give over to it.
The word xenial is defined as “the friendly relationship between a host and guest”. Hang on a minute, I hear you say. Isn’t this A-Z about Anxiety? How can that be friendly?” Bear with me a minute as I explain… The person suffering from anxiety is obviously, the host. Anxiety, is the host’s guest (albeit an unwelcome one most of the time!) In order for Anxiety to exist, she needs the host. Otherwise, she has no purpose and not enough fodder on which to survive. Here’s where it gets interesting. Anxiety also needs the host to believe she is a friend, not foe, otherwise the host will just kick her out. She beguiles you into believing all those thoughts and worries, are her way of cautioning you. Looking out for you. Having your best interests at heart. How kind to have a friend who cares so much. But Anxiety is a master of deception. Don’t believe it for a second…
With a friend like this,
who needs enemies? Evict
the unwanted guest.
Author’s Note: W was nearly going to be for “worry”, but I felt that over the last few weeks with my other A-Z posts, that the sense of worry surrounding anxiety had been clearly conveyed. So instead, I chose W for “wellbeing”.
Having good wellbeing enables us to live life to our full potential. Wellbeing isn’t as straightforward as just being happy. Wellbeing is all the different elements that make us complete, such as, meaningful relationships, knowing our strengths, finding pleasure and our passions, and contributing to a greater cause. A strong sense of wellbeing contributes to good mental health. It also helps to protect us from the feelings of hopelessness brought on by anxiety or depression. Self care is central to promoting a positive state of wellbeing and something I actively work on.
More than being happy, good wellbeing makes us complete.
Give yourself a break.
There are various forms of anxiety. Recognising the differences between them can assist you in gaining a greater understanding of your loved one and their condition. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (or GAD) is when a person feels anxious most of the time and worries about lots of different things, over a prolonged period. Health Anxiety is similar to GAD, however, the focus is on the person’s health. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or OCD) is when a person has ongoing thoughts and fears that cause anxiety. Although the person may know these thoughts are untrue, the person often tries to relieve anxiety by engaging in certain behaviours or rituals. Social Anxiety results in an intense fear of criticism, being embarrassed or humiliated, in everyday situations (such as, public speaking or eating in public). A Specific Phobia is when a person feels very fearful about a particular object or situation and may go to great lengths to avoid it. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) can occur after a person experiences a traumatic event. Panic Disorder results in frequent panic attacks. These are intense, overwhelming and often uncontrollable. There are many different types of anxiety and luckily, also many ways to treat them. Effective treatment helps people with anxiety learn how to control it, so it doesn’t control them.
Recognise your type.
Be aware of your symptoms.
Learn to control it.
Anxious feelings are a normal reaction to a situation where a person feels under pressure. Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. For a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be brought under control easily. Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are often not discussed openly because of fear of stigma. Unlike physical illnesses that have obvious symptoms that are observed easily; symptoms of mental health conditions may remain unrecognised and misunderstood. Negative views about mental health are often due to misunderstandings, misconceptions or lack of knowledge about the condition. You can help someone suffering from anxiety by showing understanding. Familiarise yourself with the signs and symptoms and be there for them. Listen. Don’t tell them to “snap out of it” or “toughen up”. What they are experiencing is very real and often terrifying.
Be there for your friend
or family member. Don’t judge.
Love and understand.
Terror, terror, in my core. Who’s the unfairest one of all? During all my years of struggling with anxiety, I have experienced countless panic attacks. The uncontrolled feelings of sheer terror, that escalate with every little physiological or cognitive symptom, is truly one of the worst aspects of this condition. When you are in the grip of terror, the world plummets beneath you and spirals out of control.
This terror has me
in its vice grip. I can’t
see any way out.
For those who suffer anxiety, if we listen to our self-talk, it often sounds something like this: “You’re such an idiot!”, “You’re worthless!” or “You’re disgusting!”. But…the good news is that this negative self-talk, with careful practice and attention, can be turned into positive self-talk. While positive self-talk is not an anxiety cure or prevention strategy, for some reason if you say positive things to yourself long enough, those things start to become a reality. Positive self-talk also has the added bonus of simply being distracting without the negative consequences of negative self-talk. The less you’re able to focus on negative, anxiety fueling thoughts, the more they seem to go away.
negativity flip and turn your self talk ’round
Rumination is one of the similarities between anxiety and depression. Ruminating is simply repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion. The themes of rumination are usually about feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness. The repetition and associated feelings raise anxiety, which in turn interferes with solving the problem.
stop the round and round
repetition helps nothing
just solve the problem
Oh what bliss are those moments where the mind is quiet! We tend to believe that what we think is always a fact. The truth is, when we believe that every thought we have is true, we open ourselves up to a whole world of pain and stress. Don’t let your mind be so loud. By recognising that our thoughts are not facts, we find a lot more peace and quiet. Allow thoughts to float in and out of your mind without judgement. Shhhhh! They are just thoughts.
don’t believe all thoughts
shush any unhelpful ones
to quiet the mind
Where, oh where, would I be without my psychologist? I dread to think! I am fortunate to have found an absolute gem, who helps me enormously. Seeing a psychologist can help you change your thinking patterns so you’re able to keep your anxiety under control and reduce irrational worries. You don’t have to live with anxiety and fear. Treatment can help, and for many, therapy is a good place to start. Certain types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy, are particularly beneficial. These therapies can teach you how to control your anxiety levels, worrisome thoughts, and fears. It is important to find the right psychologist for you. If you have had a bad experience or not found therapy to be helpful, keep trying.
Therapy’s worthwhile. Your insights help me get through…
Indebted to you.
Objectivity is one of those traits we all like to think we have. After all, the best course of action in any given situation, is to consider all the facts and circumstances, and then make the best possible decision. Objectivity works in two ways. First, it helps to remove emotion, allowing people to think more rationally. The other use of objectivity is that it provides a neutral approach that allows a fair discussion to take place. Anxiety can make you lose all objectivity. If it’s not managed, anxiety can cost us opportunities, money, and relationships. Anxiety can cause us to commit cognitive errors because our perception is off. We may project our emotions, past experiences, or backgrounds, onto the person, situation, or event.
Stand back. Consider
– subjective or objective?
See things as they are.
Anxiety is a nag. She is continually complaining and faultfinding. When surrounded by such negativity, it’s hard to see a way out sometimes. You feel strung up and left out to dry. The constant feeling of worry creates intense anxiety that is out of proportion to the real troubles and dangers of everyday life. While all people experience some anxiety at times, people with an anxiety disorder feel anxious and fearful nearly all the time. They are rarely free of this nagging emotion.
Always trying to
quiet the unhelpful voice.
Nagging serves no one .
“Mindfulness” and “being mindful” aren’t just trendy catch phrases for the modern world. You hear them so frequently because they work. All hype aside, mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment. Practising mindfulness can help you to cope with everyday life and deal with anxiety. It can also help you to concentrate, relax and be more productive. Some ways to be mindful include: focusing only on the present moment, concentrating on what’s happening around you, withholding judgement, and engaging in mindful meditation.
Focus on the now.
If your mind roams, bring it back.
Re-training the brain.
Anxiety is a lonely road. Despite being surrounded by people who love and support you; you can feel totally, despairingly, achingly alone; trapped in the thoughts in your head. In crowds of chaos, you stand adrift. Occasionally, a light shines through, and other voices are able to reach you; reason with you. But when you’re in the grip of a panic attack, or heightened anxiety, these moments are fleeting and fragile. Cold fear surrounds me as I realise this is my battle, and my battle to face alone.
Onwards the journey
takes me on a fractured path.
Anxiety is a harsh critic. Her voice is brutal; even cruel, at times. It cuts to the very core of your self-worth. And so, it is vital, that she is adequately tempered with kindness, in order to preserve the self. This involves being caring and supportive to ourselves when we fail, feel inadequate, or struggle in life – extending the same feelings of compassion to ourselves that we typically extend to others. Most of us are very good at being kind and understanding toward others, but not toward ourselves. Think of all the generous, caring people you know who constantly beat themselves up (this may even be you). When our inner voice continually criticises or berates us for not being “good enough”, all it achieves is making us feel depressed, anxious, and afraid. “Be nice to yourself. It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time” (Christine Arylo).
Shut down the critic.
Embrace failings as learning. Be kind to yourself.
The word “jitter” can be used as both a noun and a verb. When used as a noun, it describes feelings of extreme nervousness. As a verb, it means to act nervously. When thinking about anxiety, it can definitely apply to both. I often feel jittery – at the start of the day, when I’ve spent too much time on my own or when embarking on an activity that I am not 100% confident with. I would definitely say I often act jittery too. My sister, who I have recently travelled with, used that exact word to describe my behaviour in my anxious moments. I think it is a great word, in either context, to describe how someone who suffers from anxiety may act or feel.
Fight or flight activated.
I’m on high alert.
Sometimes anxiety can paralyse you. It can be impossible to make a decision and stick to it. When there are too many options, anxiety loves to play Devil’s advocate. You always second guess yourself and wonder about all the “what ifs”. What if that wasn’t the right choice? What if something bad happens? What if the other outcome was better? What if I create more problems for myself in the long term? These questions plague my thoughts and at times, make it difficult to think with clarity and objectivity. This means my fears have the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I guess, making any decision is sometimes better than standing still.
Which way should I turn?
My thoughts, are clear as mud. Indecision sucks!
Although anxiety often brings me down, I live in hope. Hope for a day without anxiety. I always start small. A day. A week. A month. A year. Wouldn’t it be glorious? One after the other! I hope to achieve a level of living that does not exist with an underlying feeling of constant threat or terror. After all, if I don’t have hope, I have nothing else. And so I go on.
Wishing on a star for fundamental calmness.
My hope upon hope.
I am grateful for every day I don’t have anxiety. My soul breathes a huge sigh of relief whenever I have a “normal” day…or week…or month! But aside from that, I also find that by actively practising gratitude, I am better able to keep things in perspective. I am more mindful and in the moment, rather than allowing my thoughts to run away from me.
I rein thoughts back in, reframe them as positive.
Grateful I’m alive.
Another unexpected upside to anxiety is the friendship that you form with others. Friendship is critical to surviving an anxiety or panic attack and when you suffer from one or the other, you soon find out who is really there for you. True friends can deal with your “good, bad and ugly” and can be trusted to assist you in your battle. This is something I value immeasurably. Countless times I have leaned on the positivity and steadfastness of those around me. I have literally been dragged up and out of my head by these wonderful people I call friends, and I cannot thank them enough. I know I would do the same for them in return, in a heartbeat. In the wise words of a famous song, “I get by with a little help from my friends”…
Singing out of tune, you stand by me anyway
because you’re my friend.
An unexpected upside to anxiety is that I can be very driven and motivated to achieve, because of it. My anxiety stems from underlying feelings of inadequacy and never being ‘enough’. And so I strive. Every day I strive to achieve more; be more; live more. I aim for excellence in all that I do because nothing less is acceptable to me. My attention to detail and the conscientious way I attack all aspects of my life, has served me well. So, in this way, anxiety has a silver lining. It has also been my ally in many successes in life.
when you try your best excellence is paramount hard work rewarded
Yep. We need to talk about it. Although no one knows exactly why, depression and anxiety often go hand in hand. They are the “fraternal twins” of mood disorders. I know I need to carefully manage my anxiety or it spirals into depression. I can literally feel it happening. I start by withdrawing and my motivation shuts down. I want to sleep all the time and can’t face general activities of daily life. A feeling of hopelessness consumes me. I am constantly balancing the scales between the anxiety and depression and it’s exhausting. Sometimes it feels like I’m locked in with no escape from this diabolical duo.
I’m spiraling down
into a yawning chasm.
Despair takes over.
For me, one of the best things to provide some relief from anxiety is firm touch. A cuddle. A hug. A comforting hand on the arm or shoulder. Never underestimate the power of this. In fact, there is even a machine for it – a therapeutic, stress-relieving device invented by Temple Grandin while she was attending college. Her hug machine (also known as a hug box, or squeeze machine) is a deep-pressure device designed to calm hypersensitive persons. While a degree of hypersensitivity is integral for identifying risks in the environment, protecting us from harm, and staying alive; in people who suffer anxiety, something that is thought to be a threat when it actually is not, can cause emotional and physical overreactions, and create undue distress. I am fortunate that I have my loving husband who understands the comfort a cuddle can provide….and when he’s not around, I can always count on my beautiful dogs!
Crush anxiety. In the arms of those who love, comfort can be found.
Anxiety can break you. At first, you cope; going through the motions and pretending things are fine. But over time, the cracks appear and even the smallest hairline fracture, has potential to do enormous damage. You go on, until eventually, you shatter. With a sense of helplessness, you pick up the pieces and stick yourself back together. But you are weak and vulnerable, and know it will happen again. Sometimes, those around you, know you are broken and play it to their advantage. Like predators seizing their opportunity. Sometimes, those around you are the glue. They support you and hold you together when you can’t anymore.
In pieces again anxiety has smashed me
Author’s note: This is my first time completing the A-Z Challenge and even before it begins, I have been struggling to come up with a ‘theme’ that I am completely happy with. After flip flopping from one idea to another, it struck me – my theme should be anxiety! Battling on and off with anxiety for years, I can certainly write about every element of it from A-Z! I also want to use my favourite poetry type as the form for writing, so will write a “Haibun a day” for this challenge. Hope you enjoy coming along with me for the ride…
Things will be going along just fine. Life is grand. When suddenly it begins again. That familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Invisible hands twisting at my gut. My brain turns a switch and I become consumed. Anxiety steals my joy and takes the living out of my life. I feel the heaviness of it settle over me. It seeps into every pore, and controls every waking thought. I am the host of an unwanted guest. I try to distract myself but I’ve played this game too many times for it to work any more. I try confronting it. Calling it out. Silently I scream, “I can hear you!” but it never stops. It can always scream louder and longer and is unrelenting. It’s like wading through a solid black fog. It may lift for a while, liquify; but it will never clear.
I dream of being free.
No longer living this nightmare.
I dream to be me.