Some Thoughts About Anxiety
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives…”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
In the midst of the beauty of autumn, when the leafy veil of summer begins to drop to the ground and summons our bamboo rakes and hooded sweatshirts, I have – as I have grown older – begun to experience a vague sense of anxiety and a nagging feeling of urgency about the passage of days. There’s been a cold, wet ending to summer and the start of fall; I’ve hung out inside; haven’t diverted much of my attention by creating any art; I put off painting the gutters, mending the deck, and I have spent more time in the company of my thoughts than I have in a relationship with action.
But then I went surf-fishing last week for the first time in my life, and standing in the restless hem of the ocean, the sky gray, the breeze full and frigid, was reminded once again – how many chances am I going to get – of the wonder and the gift of life. And, home – the shadow of anxiety washed out to sea – I decided to share some thoughts this week, for whatever value they may have to others, about my experience with this outcropping of anxiety.
Some of my feelings of urgency and stress that arise in the fall are the result, I think, of having lived my entire life with a bent for procrastination in northern climates where the leisurely pace of a summer is rapidly brushed aside by a sudden awareness of fading light and the pending needs for the winterization of the house, the yard, and the cars.
Another prompt I suspect is the result of the regretful feelings I have about how my “absolutely committed to” intentions for this past summer were not addressed at all or were only partially completed.
A portion of the anxiety, I’m certain, was born in the conditioning of having returned to school year after year at the beginning of autumn (including college, graduate school and all of the years of raising four children.) The scaffolding of structure, commitment, and learning tied to those educational experiences remains assembled around the expectations I have for myself whenever the page of September is turned and I have not begun to stride down some new path of learning or accomplishment.
And part of the scratchy unease of autumn is assuredly related to anniversaries. As much as I love and look forward to the holidays that lay ahead, they will also become markers for the ones left behind, the holidays from which the experiences, events, and beings I so cared about will rise unexpectedly in any moment and start their seasonal wanderings through my memories.
And then there is time itself. I’m coming to know the look of its edges.
I’ve learned several things about my feelings of anxiety over the years.
- Foremost I have learned that few of my feelings are as exceptional and rare as I have sometimes believed. We are all so very much the same. Our minds have a way of over-dramatizing our negative experiences and feelings and turning them into sources of needless stress in the otherwise calm of a day. I can think back and realize that when I have dwelled – even for the briefest of times – on the small and insignificant things and anxieties that have occurred in my life, that they eventually came to take up the same amount of mental space of things that were really significant. These inclinations to exaggerate negative and doubtful feelings and the experience of anxiety sometimes undercut my ability to recognize my own self-worth and I believe they interfere with the natural path of healing and resiliency.
- Occasional sadness is a natural part of being human and, when not constant or related to clinical depression, can be helpful and confer some advantages when we allow ourselves to openly experience and learn from these feelings and their interplay with anxiety.
- We all have intentions and desires that will go unrealized – it’s a part of living – not the hallmark of failure and inadequacy. We are too hard on ourselves; too unforgiving.
- Procrastination has frequently fueled my sense of urgency; often built the fire under my feelings of anxiety. I’m still intent on learning this – Never needlessly put off anything that will cause you to feel anxiety, stress, or that will cost you money.
- The most harm ever done by my feeling anxious or stressed has been done to myself.
Autumn arrives with change in its hands, promise in its arms, and emotions in its heart. There is much undone – as there will always be. And I look at my feelings of urgency, the regrets I have; my sense of anxiety about the passage of time. And I remind myself – we become most accomplished at those things we practice.
Anxiety, worry, regret, guilt, anger, fear, shame, doubt – all of the shadowed feelings we could possibly reach for, are at our fingertips. They are there for us to practice, to hone our skills as a way of being; as a way of feeling – as a way of experiencing our lives.
“How we spend our days is, course, how we spend our lives.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
I – we – have choices. I could practice my worry and quilt about my lists into a state of panic I suppose. I could polish my regrets and doubts into a blinding shine. I could ruminate about time and the days ahead with such intensity that the beauty and grace that is constantly offered up in the midst of the ordinary hardships of life, will pass unnoticed.
Or – and in the spirit of October I’ll share a quote from Frankenstein’s “monster”– we can look out upon the wonder of changing seasons, our life, our next breath, the unknown, and ask ourselves,
“And now with the world before me, whither should I bend my steps?”
Mary Shelly, Frankenstein
Where do you want days and your steps to lead you?
All the best of the season before us!