Updated: Sep 28, 2020
I looked at her and wondered why she was behaving like that, this woman who is normally so collected and liked. But she wasn’t the only one. It is strange times and our adversaries are invisible, no wonder so many of us are anxious, the world we knew a few months ago has changed dramatically.
And then there’s Climate Change, the ignored elephant in the room. Extinction, ignored too. The trouble is both are surreal, unless you are severely afflicted by either. The virus is too small and the effects of fossil fuels are too large to grasp, but both need to be faced if they are not to undo us, and that’s what causes such deep anxiety.
She snorted at me when I was calmly, politely diverting traffic from the road we were blocking as we unloaded our piano from the storage lorry. As I waved my hands most people got it and drove one minute to the other route in, but a small minority reacted, anxiety, even anger writ across their faces.
But how to unpick anxiety? It seems so engrained, it’s in your chest, in your mind, in your limbs, it affects your sleep, which turns you into a zombie, which diminishes your day and your life experience. And so this woman to whom we’d given two bottles of wine when she was going through two difficult periods, this woman who always stopped to talk to us, who twinkles, whose smile is normally so bright, here she was filled with rage. And aiming it at me.
I smiled, assured her there was an easy solution, but ignoring me she shot down the road. As had a few others in that same state. And each time I watched them return, having had to reverse uphill, shunting each other, one against the other, chugging backwards, muddled together and getting angrier as they performed that awkward motor dance. But I had warned them.
Anxiety. That’s what drove them down that hill. And I had the choice to either let their mood slip into me or not and, thankfully, I averted it and was able to maintain my equilibrium. Yet not last night. 5am, bursting to go to the loo, I returned to bed, but could I unwind? No. My heart beat fast. I was sweating. I couldn’t get comfortable. I tried all the tricks in the book, told myself the thoughts rampaging through my mind could be attended to in the morning; but no, I failed. Eventually, after an hour and a half of mind-clogging tossing and turning, I got up and walked around the garden.
Watching the unseen sun light the eastern sky, watching the birds gradually come to life, seeing the clouds in the distance become visible, I felt calmer. The long list of interlinked and vital tasks, each unable to be done until the previous has been completed, didn’t seem as large and as insurmountable.
So how to do this when its most needed, in my case at 5am, in her case, when she heard my warning? It’s not easy. It takes time. You must work at it, each day, week after week, months at a time, and then it starts to have an influence on your being. Some people find listening to gentle music helps, others prefer to do something active, walking, cycling, model making, knitting. Others meditate, do yoga, sing or chant.
I tend to write, to walk when I have the energy, but I also know that a certain calmness enters my psyche when I am acutely sensually aware of my immediate environment. I listen, I smell, I feel, I look and I let these impressions take me from my raving thoughts and gradually they do and the tranquility which heals the anxiety arises. But I have to do it each day otherwise my mind soon forgets the route into this delightful place of calm where our wondrous brain meets the body, meets the world.