Browsed by
Tag: anxiety as an ally

Five ways to stay sane and anxiety free with your family

Five ways to stay sane and anxiety free with your family

There’s something about spending time with my family that brings out the worst in me. I arrive all zen-like, filled with intentions of gliding through my time back in my childhood home. But somehow, my 30-something-self gets sucked back into being an angst-ridden adolescent, with the patience of a demon and the monosyllabic vernacular of Kevin the Teenager.

And yet, before I’d arrived it was all going so well. I’d been going through a good stretch, with minor blips of anxiety and ‘out-of-sortness’, but with my new found best friend of radical acceptance, it was always short lived and life soon got back to normal again.


But there’s something about being in the family home that pulls the rug from underneath my semi-enlightened feet. Or in the words of spiritual teacher Ram Dass:

Think you’re enlightened? Spend a week with your family

For one there’s the delicate dance of fitting into parents’ well-furrowed routines. In my house that means hour upon hour of telly watching in the evening. In my own home I barely turn on the TV, and after the first couple of hours of soap opera followed by Reality TV, I literally feel my good vibes evaporate and boredom starts to seep in.

And speaking personally, boredom is like a ticking time bomb for my anxiety. My mind starts to get all circular, obsessing about how I can feel uncomfortable feelings arising. Then the guilt starts. Why can’t I just zone out watching TV like other people do with their families? Why am I the only one incapable of relaxing?

And then the withdrawal starts. I can literally feel myself losing the ability to interact like a human being, preferring to nod and grunt in agreement.


So what to do?

  1. Acceptance

I think as ever acceptance is key. Fighting with oneself never leads anywhere helpful. In this instance, it’s accepting that you are spending some time in a place where your normal activities have been suspended and you must adapt to the rhythm of others. Accept that being here brings up uncomfortable emotions and try not to identify with them

2. Remember impermanence

Impermanence has a multi-pronged use for me when I’m back at home and falling into the funk. I remember both that I won’t feel like this forever, nor will my parents be here forever. Everything is fleeting and impermanent, which usually brings me back with a jolt to the here and now.

3. Observe your stories

When I come home I’m always looking for signs to support the story I have that I’m a disappointment to my parents. While there could be a grain of truth in it, most of it is in my head. And even if it were true, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because our parents’ disappointment is beyond our control and mostly comes out of their overwhelming desire for us to be happy. So observe what stories play out in your head, try not to act on them and be open to the possibility that a new way is possible.


4. Be kind to yourself

In buddhism an analogy that is used is that of the second arrow. The first arrow is the initial painful event and the second arrow refers to how we choose to react to it. In my case, if I’m feeling anxious or miserable, I then tend to judge myself and feel guilty. That is the second arrow and is actually the one that causes the most distress. So once again it all comes back to acceptance and self compassion.

5. Get some boundaries

Whatever it is that keeps you on the straight and narrow, don’t let it completely slide when back at home.  Be it exercise, yoga, meditation, dancing or whatever – try to factor it into your stay, even if your family thinks you’re crazy for doing it.



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