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Month: December 2016

Why facing our mortality is the best way to wake up out of anxiety

Why facing our mortality is the best way to wake up out of anxiety


It’s been a year of many farewells to notable faces and some great talents. January kicked off with David Bowie, Prince soon followed and to finish the year we lost George Michael, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds.

That’s not to say that the loss of a celebrity is worth more than any other person. We all come into and leave the world in the same way. That’s because death is a great leveller.

But barr the odd spiritually sorted type or diehard athiest, most of us have our heads firmly planted in the sand. If we don’t think about death, it might never happen, right?

I remember vividly the first time I considered my mortality. I think I was about nine years old and was out on my pony. For some reason it just suddenly dawned on me that I, Mary Greenwood, would one day not exist.

And I think that was probably one of the defining moments in my eventual journey towards anxiety. I just couldn’t imagine what that would mean. The person who was thinking would no longer think. So aping the sentiment of Decartes, I don’t think, therefore I am not. Oh the horror.

And so, from time to time, it would ocurr to me again. Mostly at night as I lay in my bed. “I’m going to die. I’m going to die.” Cue more horror.

As a lapsed catholic, I’d long given up on the idea of ascending into heaven and hanging out with the angels. But what was left was a haunting void of nothingness.

I think at the root of most anxiety is the fear of dying. My fear of social rejection probably goes back to the primitive reality in which if someone was kicked out of a tribe, they would literally perish. Obviously, no one talking to me at a party won’t directly contribute to me being shunted off this mortal coil, but somehow I still believe my very existance depends on it.

So, it seems to me that we have no alternative but to look this whole death thing right in the eyes and see what answers we find. Because if it turns out it isn’t the worst thing in the world that can happen, where does that leave our anxiety?

From a buddhist perspective, there’s no birth or death, as ultimately there is no fixed self. We are just little waves that go back to being the sea again. But other traditions will say something else. Find out what resonates with you.

In the Ted Talk by Ric Elias, “Three things I learned while my plane crashed,” he speaks from the unique perspective of facing death as his plane crashed in the Hudson River.  He observed “And as we’re coming down, I had a sense of, wow, dying is not scary. It’s almost like we’ve been preparing for it our whole lives.”

Others who’ve had near death experiences have also recounted how ultimately peaceful the experience of dying actually was.

So imagine that, if the thing we are most scared of in this life, is actually not frightening at all? Maybe this would mean we could just get on with living?

So I invite you to cosy up to that grim reaper and make peace with him. He’s just doing his job. It’s not about being fair or not. It’s just what happens and it happens to us all.

And to sing us out on a cheery note, I’m going to leave you with a jolly spanish song called ‘Vas a morir’ – You’re going to die. Enjoy. Oh and happy new year!









Anxious during the holiday season? The question is: to fight or accept?

Anxious during the holiday season? The question is: to fight or accept?


I hate it when people ask me, “are you looking forward to christmas?”

In all honesty, it’s been a long time since I looked forward to anything, what with the future being heavily laced with fear and dread. But Christmas in particular gets my mind doing loop the loops as I imagine myself free falling, without a parachute landing unceremoniously on top of a brightly lit christmas tree.

At which point all around point and laugh at just what a loser I must be to have done such a ridiculous act.

That’s just how imaginative the anxious mind can be, creating an entirely catastrophic outcome to a seemingly inocuous event (don’t even get me started on weddings or other large family gatherings).

But this is just how things roll between my ears. And as hard as I try to fight it, it would seem right now that’s how I’m wired.

So I reckon I have two options: Fight it or accept it.

Ok, so I’m going to tell you about my experience of both approaches.

  1. Fighting

This must be the brave, plucky approach right? Because fighting is brave, or that’s what we’re told. In my case fighting means the following: denying I’m feeling in a particular way and putting a shiny spin on it.

“No, no, I’m not anxious, or depressed. No, I’m actually feeling quite positive and it’s really just only positive thoughts that I’m thinking right now. Yes, yes, that’s right. I’m super chipper and totally in control of myself and my surroundings.”

This approach takes a lot of effort and generally ends with me having a migraine. So in my mind (albeit an anxious one), any such approach that brings on headaches is not cool and not generally good for my health.

2. Accepting

Accepting the incessant outpourings of the anxious mind (or the scary physical sensations for that matter) is not an easy task. After all what does it mean to accept? In a way it’s to say yes to whatever appears, be it a thought or a sensation. But saying yes in a soft, gentle way, not saying yes with a mental sledgerhammer.

It actually doesn’t really matter what the anxious thought is saying, if you pay attention to the energy form it takes, there’s a sharpness and aggressivity to it. Or it might be like a crying hysterical child, as more often that not, it is our crying, hysterical child that wants to be heard.

So what happens if you take a hysterical child and you try and slap it into silence? It cries some more, right? What’s the approach that will probably get that infant to quieten of its own natural accord? Cradling it? Asking it what it needs? Not judging it? Rocking it gently until it stops crying.

But this can take some time. The baby might calm down and then start crying again a few moments later. Doesn’t mean it’s been a big, acceptance failure, just that your anxious baby just needs a bit more TLC.

For me, acceptance is both the softest and the bravest approach and is the path through anxiety I will be trying to remember to take this festive season (in between occasionally slapping myself about with a mental sledgehammer, before eventually remembering to accept that as well).

I invite you to join me.

For more strategies for acceptance try Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach