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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










Must read books for the anxious mind

Must read books for the anxious mind

Ok I’m going to start here with a bit of a caveat. Endless reading of self help books is not the answer to beating anxiety (if indeed it has to be beaten). So while these books have got amazing insights and handy tools, there’s nothing like a roaring good read of fiction to capture the an overactive imagination and lead it, even if only temporarily, out of the anxiety loop.

But here are a few books that have given me some ‘aha’ moments, shifted my perception or just gladdened my heart.

  1. Thich Nhat Hanh – Fear: Essential wisdom for getting through the storm

Really I’d recommend any book by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese zen buddhist monk, nobel peace prize nominee and prolific writer of books about mindfulness. But seeing as I’m writing about anxiety, it seems right that I mention his book called ‘Fear’ in which he shows us that by looking deeply and embracing our whole experience with acceptance, love and understanding, we can go beyond fear and anxiety to find fearlessness and inner peace. It includes some helpful mindfulness based exercises and is written with simplicity and love.   

thich nhat hanh book

  1. Tara Brach – Radical Acceptance

I came across Tara Brach being interviewed one day and she emanated such an aura of love and peace that I knew I wanted to know more. Turns out she’s a buddhist teacher and psychologist and has written a couple of books, the first being ‘Radical Acceptance’. From the title it’s fairly clear that it’s about accepting rather than trying to change those difficult emotions and she uses case studies of past patients to illustrate the principles, plus a bunch of guided meditations.


  1. Feeling Good – The New mood therapy by David D. Burns

This was the book that first introduced me to the concept of CBT and awakened me to the possibility that what I was thinking wasn’t necessarily true. I found it a really useful tool and has loads of great exercises. It’s one of the forefathers of the self help books and is a classic.

new mood

4. Anxiety as an ally: How I Turned a Worried Mind into My Best Friend – Dan Rykart

Sometimes rather than a professional with their perfect, anxiety free life telling you what to do to feel better, it’s reassuring to hear from someone who’s been there, done that and got the t-shirt. Dan Rykart’s book charts in a journal style his life from sudden onset of panic attacks in 2003 to using anxiety as his ally.


5. Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks – Barry McDonagh

Barry McDonagh, psychology graduate, author and one time sufferer of panic attacks has come up with a no-holds-bar technique to move through anxiety which he shares in this second book.

I haven’t read this book as I don’t tend to have panic attacks, but the reviews are good and it looks like it’s worth a read.  


6. The Mindful Way Through Anxiety: Break Free from Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life – Susan M. Orsillo, Lizabeth Roemer 

I really believe that mindfulness is a useful tool not just for anxiety, but for life in general. So it was great to find a book that refines the approach to people with anxiety. I read it a few years ago and found it useful and lent it to a friend who’d been having some life limiting anxiety episodes and says it’s changed his life.

mindful way through anxiety

Find your flow out of anxiety

Find your flow out of anxiety

For many people who’ve had anxiety for a while, life becomes a game of hide and seek – hiding away from anything that might bring on an attack and seeking out situations where you feel safe from harm. The only trouble is that those safe places over time become fewer and farther between and the sofa or the duvet is the only sanctuary.

Avoid Avoidance

Avoidance is generally accepted as anxiety’s ingenious trick to bed down and get rooted in your psyche. It temporarily feels good not to have done that presentation in front of the whole company or not to have gone to that school reunion, but the end result is that your world of possibilities has shrunk to a suffocating prison. Not even the most anxious of us want that, right?


You are not defined by your anxiety

But it’s also very easy to make all the activities you still do be about feeling less anxious. So in my case. ‘Right – yoga. Yes that’s good for destressing. I should do that to be less anxious’. Somehow it just takes the joy out of things (particularly like me when I spend half the class worrying about what I’m going to say to everyone afterwards and will they notice that I’m still feeling anxious instead of calm and serene).

Silly your way out of anxiety


So my wish for you is to rediscover your joy or find a new one. But not in a functional way to ‘feel better’, but for the simple pleasure of doing it.

Maybe it is something you did when you were a child that to your adult self seems silly and daft. But quite frankly at this juncture in our anxious lives – the sillier the better. Silly is good. Silly is therapeutic and freeing.

I am at my happiest when I’m at my silliest and at my most miserable when I’m trying to appear normal, whatever ‘normal’ is.

If you’re silly in public you get the added benefit of ‘shame busting’ and boy does that feel good. I’ll never forget being forced to take the stage in an open mic evening, choosing to sing ‘New York, New York’ acapella. I forgot the words but kept going, soon realizing how great it felt to do it really badly and not give a shit.

But do something where it doesn’t matter how you do it. Just lose yourself in the act and flow into a new space of mind and being. And if you laugh or get laughed at the process, more’s the better.

But expand, don’t contract. We are expansive beings if we allow ourselves to be.  

Just give yourself the permission to flow.



Holistic approaches to help with anxiety

Holistic approaches to help with anxiety

Since realising that the pharmaceutical approach wasn’t for me I’ve tried out a whole bunch of holistic therapies in a bid to sort out my anxiety. Most medical doctors will say they’re a lot of stuff and nonsense and some of them probably are, but from my personal experience, a few can really alleviate the symptoms if not necessarily leading to permanent ‘cure’. Here are the one’s I’ve tried.

holistic treatment for anxiety

  1. Reikireiki - holistic treatment for anxiety

More than anything I’ve ever tried, I’ve really found reiki to have the most instant and profound effect. Meaning ‘Universal Life Energy’ in Japanese, it is a type of healing energy that working through the chakra system (energetic centres throughout the body), unblocking and bringing balance to what can be the rather choppy waters of an anxiety sufferer.

You can learn to do it on yourself through a series of attunements, but I’ve found it much more effective receiving it from a trained practitioner. I’ve gone into a session feeling pretty close to the edge and come out renewed and vibrationally different. If I could afford to have it every day I would!

  1. Massagemassage - holistic treatment for anxiety

One of the side effects of chronic anxiety is muscle tension, so what better way to loosen up those tight muscles than a decent massage. Not only that, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system – the opposite to fight or flight, lowers blood pressure and is a good detox to the body. For extra anti-anxiety benefit, why not try an aromatherapy massage with essential oils such as lavender and ylang ylang.

  1. Reflexologyreflexology - holistic treatment for anxiety

One of the few times I’ve managed to totally switch off and nod off into a dribbling slumber, was during a reflexology session. Reflexology is a therapy focussing on points found in the feet (but also the hands and ears) that reflect areas, organs and systems of the body. Most anxiety sufferers will jump off the massage couch when the therapist touches the spot corresponding to their adrenals which tend to be sensitive in chronic stress. For maximum results, it’s worth investing in a series of treatments as the effects are cumulative.

  1. Acupuncture/ Traditional Chinese Medicineacupuncture - holistic treatment for anxiety

Acupuncture is an ancient form of medicine coming originally from China. It’s based on the principle that we have an energetic life force called Chi or Qi that’s vital to good health. Unfortunately, it can become blocked and so fine needles are placed in a network of points around the body to get this energy back into balance again.

Some traditional chinese medicine practitioners also think in terms of elements which have things such as organs, health conditions and emotions associated with them. My element is water and guess what the emotion is: you guessed it fear.

Again you have to treat acupuncture as an investment. It may not help over night, but I do believe with persistence over time, it will help to bring your system back into balance again and ease anxiety symptoms.

  1. Bach Flower Remedies

bach-flower-remedies - holistic treatment for anxiety

I remember when I first heard of Bach Flower Remedies, I was like ‘So this dude went wandering out in his garden in England, had a chat with the flowers who then told him how they could help all these mental malaises – yeah right!’

It just seemed so unbelievable at the time. But anyway, fast forward twenty years and now everything seems within the realms of possibility and it’s true, Bach flowers, in which different flowers are said to help with various emotional imbalances, have given me some respite in the past. The best thing is to get a consultation with a trained Bach Flower therapist who will make up a mixture to suit your own unique needs.  



If you are looking for a holistic treatment for anxiety I hope some of these methods inspire you. Let me know in the comments what has worked for you or if you think this is just a bunch of new age crap.

What is anxiety?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety mental health symbol isolated on white. Mental disorder icon designWhat is anxiety?

A common misconception about anxiety is that fear is bad, whereas we are biologically programmed to feel fear in order to protect us from bad things happening. If we didn’t experience fear from time to time, we’d never know when to proceed with caution in dangerous situations and we’d get hurt.

The trouble is that with anxiety, that fear mechanism has become oversensitized so that in the case of conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder it’s on constant loop or in panic attacks can lead to someone thinking they are going to die when there is no danger at all.

Either way it sucks as when it happens over a long period of time, it’s often accompanied by depression, social isolation, difficulties at work and in relationships.

This blog, written by an anxiety sufferer, seeks to give some handy pointers to steps that can be taken before turning to prescription medication, but in the end it’s up to you to find your own way of what works for you.

But just remember you are not alone. 1 in 5 of the population in the US and approximately 60 million people in the European Union suffer from anxiety. So while your nearest and dearest may not understand you, there’s vast swathes of the population that do.