A thin stream of fear

Trafalgar Falls, Dominica, March 2010

Trafalgar Falls, Dominica, March 2010

“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” — Arthur Somers Roche

Waterfalls start out a lot smaller and more quiet than they end up. If you’ve ever stood at the foot of a fairly large waterfall, you know the kind of power it can generate as the water flows along, accumulating volume before taking that steep downward plunge.

You’ve probably noticed that I love metaphors. I think Roche came up with a vivid image that illustrates what anxiety can do to us. It’s impossible to keep worrisome thoughts totally out of our minds, but if we allow them to meander here and there, they will pick up momentum and strength as they go along. Soon the objects of our worry multiply. We can even end up worrying too much about worrying too much. Then, if we’re not careful, the cumulative anxiety can take on a force of its own, destructive and impossible to stop.

A bit of anxiety can be useful, if we transform it into a healthy degree of caution. But reining it in can be a real challenge. I’ve been dealing with all kinds of anxiety lately, much of it justified, and I’ve had to evolve ever-increasing coping strategies for keeping it at bay. Reading, prayer, music, singing, writing, walking and working outdoors are all formidable defenses for me. What works best for you?

41 Comments

  1. Knitting or crochet whilst listening to an audiobook is helpful – especially at 2am when all that anxiety is tumbling through my mind preventing me from sleeping.

    • I used to love crochet when I was younger. I was never very good at it, and mostly made “granny squares” and scarves, but I found to so relaxing. I think it would be perfect for listening to an audiobook. Perhaps I’ll take it back up one day.

      • You should give it a go – I only learned about 4 years ago, but really love the creativity.

        • That’s one of those things I told myself I’d do again when I got older, and I guess that means now! Or soon…

  2. Joyce McGirr

    It can grip you and I find that getting outside helps-walking near the water, sitting near the water and reading, calling someone to talk all keeps you centered and outside of yourself as well.

    • Joyce, the water really does make a difference, doesn’t it? Amazingly calming. I do find that talking with someone can help immensely. The other night I called a close friend with whom I had not spoken in a long while, simply because I had not made time for it, and it was so refreshing. I told her I needed “a dispatch from the mother ship” by which I meant “the world as I used to know it” or perhaps “the world as I imagine it exists for everyone else– until I get a reality check.” 🙂

  3. Good morning, Julia! After sleeping poorly last night, I feel confident in saying that fears can stimulate one’s creativity. That said, why not choose to create something constructive, even if merely fanciful or entertaining. It’s been said that comedians and artists are often “tormented” beings, yet they bring unique persective to many others and enrich our lives. Last night I came up with a workable method to assemble a stereo equipment rack that I’d designed and pre-assembled without all of the correct pieces (some pieces were place-holders), and now I know how to replace the placeholders with the actual shelves without completely disassembling my work so far … and my solution involves raspberries.
    Hmm, sounds catchy: “when live gives you raspberries … make furniture!”
    Well, no, perhaps my new motto needs a little work….
    Love to you!

    • Susan, I do agree that creativity seems closely linked with various forms of mental angst. AND that it’s far to easy to romanticize such pain when we see artists translate it so skillfully. I am totally intrigued at the connection between furniture and raspberries…perhaps a crate of some sort? I made what I jokingly called a “fruit condo” with two small mandarin crates which I stacked to protect fresh fruit in transit from one home to another, when we first started this back-and-forth existence. But furniture; that’s something I had not thought of — yet! Thanks for the love, which is welcomed and returned. 🙂

  4. Love this quote. I struggle with a mind form of chronic anxiety but use many of the defenses you listed to keep it at bay. Good advice. It does work. Keep on hanging on. Hugs.

    • I’m glad you like the quote, Marlene. I think we live in an age that is riddled with anxiety, and I must say, fear often seems reasonable BUT we cannot allow it to call the tune. Today my personal agenda included “reading” and “music” and “working outside” along with knocking out several pending items on our “to-do” list. We are hanging on! Thanks for being here with us.

      • That’s a good way to spend the day. I’ve already made a priority list, watered front and back, had breakfast and am reading priority e-mail. The rest waits till after I’ve finished sewing curtains. I’ve figured out that’s what’s irritating me the most so they will be done in the next few day. 🙂 I hope. The to do list always seems to get longer rather than shorter.:(

        • That’s the thing about a to-do list. Give it a few inches and it ends up being several pages long. Still, I have to make them, if only to figure out what I can safely ignore for a few more days, hee-hee. I agree with you, I like to do the most irritating thing. I’m about to go scrub a kitchen sink that’s getting on my nerves big time. I love doing anything for which I can see instant results. I totally admire you for sewing curtains. Back in the day I did that sort of thing, but my sewing machine finally gave out and I can’t justify buying a new one I’ll never have time to use much. The one I have works just well enough to do some very uneven mending when I need something that can’t be easily mended by hand.

          • I have a new machine that I bought 3 years ago. Still use the old one all the time. They don’t make them like they used to. I’m just shortening old lace curtains I’ve had for 20 years. There is a plus side to being a mini hoarder. :))

            • That’s what my Mama always said about her old sewing machine. She had one that looked like this, and she made the most amazing things on it. It had only two stitches: forward and backward. She had to attach a large box-shaped gizmo to make buttonholes. When I was about 12 years old, she got a beautiful, deluxe new “Golden Touch and Sew” that came in a large wooden cabinet, decorative, into which the machine would flip down when not in use and the cabinet would look like any other piece of furniture. Still, she complained that it didn’t work like her old one, and she never really got over missing it, and kept saying she was going to go back to it. I think she had traded it in, though.

              • Singer had a long run of making bad machines and I’m not sure that ever ended. Now, almost every machine is made in the same factory in China and different labels are put on them. Even Pfaff and Viking. Quality has gone out the window. I’m still trying to find out if Bernina is still made in Switzerland but their parts would come from China so there you have it. Built in obsolescence. Sad. I still have my mother’s old Pfaff but have yet to try and sew on it. Soon. I fully understand your mother’s frustration.

                • Wow. It is sad, isn’t it? When everything becomes so globalized that regional strengths and flavors start to disappear. I love how small the world is becoming, but I miss the individual traits that seem to be vanishing. It’s at once comforting and yet a bit disappointing how much alike every place seems now. Even things such as individual department stores (which seemed to have their own personality long ago) are feel much the same now. Or maybe I’m just showing my age! 😀

                  • I’m with you on this one. I love the diversity. I would not want to travel half way around the world to eat a big mac. 😦 I like the differences. Why are people so frightened by them? Skilled craftsmanship is expensive and every one wants it cheap. Then again I paid a great deal of money for a machine I want to drop off a balcony every time I use it. I can’t even sell it in good conscience.

                    • Yep, paying a lot of money for something is, sadly, no guarantee of getting a good product. Maybe you can sell it with a disclaimer that you think it’s terrible but someone else might have better luck with it. 😀 BTW with respect to this post, in order not to feel like a hypocrite, I must admit we once went to McDonald’s in Paris (on the Champs-Elysee as I recall). I’m sure it was mostly my imagination, but even McDonald’s tasted better there. But nowhere near as good as the picnic food we got in the little shops of Rue Cler.

                    • I’m sure the food tasted better at their McDonald’s. They probably used real meat and other quality ingredients. 🙂 Or maybe it was the cooks.

                    • I do think they know something about cooking that I can’t seem to learn. A handy excuse to go back there if ever we can!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, your words and your photos are always so uplifting. I so look forward to Monday’s and Thursday’s because you’re there, dependable and always with a spiritual gift! I think that if we master building our wall of security, but yet have vents to allow reality in, and windows that allow sunlight and happy thoughts to filter in, we will have created an environment for survival! Does that make sense? I share the same defenses that you listed. Someone once commented to me, “You smile a lot!” I accepted that as a compliment. I think of you and your family so many times in the course of any day. Hey, let’s walk on some sunshine, my friend!☀️💛

    • Sheila, yes, that makes perfect sense. I think smiling is a wonderful and contagious way to add happiness to the world. As for walking on sunshine, OUCH! it got a bit too hot for my feet this week and I wimped out on my nightly walk Saturday. This heat has been oppressive. But I do like to enjoy the sunshine from inside the air conditioned house. I am no fan of air conditioning in general, but this week I’ve been SO grateful for it! Meet me on the Verandah tonight with an extra-icy pitcher of tea, but let’s wait until it cools down just a bit…

  6. Amy

    I have been dwelling a lot on what hampers a person. What fears or anxieties keep them from forgetting the past and moving forward. I have long thought that I would write a book about how to like yourself, something I am not very good at, but then I realize there are a TON of those books out already. I think there should be a book on how a person can be the thing that prevents anxiety in a person. I am not sure what that person is yet or how to get there but I think when I figure it out I stand to make a lot of people happy and a pile of money. In the mean time I think you have hit on all the answers for reliving fear and doubt or worry. Read the Bible, pray, drink lots of tea and watch plenty of Hallmark. 🙂
    Praying you are well my friend. Love you.

    • Amy, I think you are already pretty good at calming the anxiety. Having been the first person (other than Matt) to see me face to face in what was unquestionably the scariest night of my entire life, I can say first hand that you and Stephen (with his patient directions to the hospital when I was scared to drive there after dark) helped me survive that night. I think generalized anxiety is increasingly common in this world, and unfortunately, there’s often a reasonable basis for it. Having said that, though, I agree with you that people who know how to ease our spirits are much-needed in today’s world. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Just being there is a huge part of it. Love you.

  7. Ann

    Julia, what powerful imagery in today’s blog. Even if anxiety is warrented, it is so unproductive. I have a guided relaxation CD that I use when deeply upset. Other times, getting out of the house and doing just about anything helps. Sometimes I just tell myself to ‘stop it’ .

    Where is your ‘happy place’? Go there and rest🌅🌅🏝🌌🌌

    • Thank you, Ann. Boomdeeville is my famous online “happy place” (along with several other blogs that always leave me smiling) but I have lots of real-world ones, too. Anyplace where there are flowers, critters, babies, cups of tea and books are happy places for me. The library never fails to lift my spirits. Sunday worship with our Denbigh family is another happy place. So I’m lucky to have so many places. Making time for them all is the challenge I need to prioritize…BTW speaking of CDs, a friend gave me a CD years ago that had very relaxing music…almost more sounds than music, really…that was said to promote delta-wave sleep. It really worked for me at a time when Matt’s health was very poor and I was having a hard time sleeping. I put it on an MP3 player and wore it all night long. By morning the battery would always be too low to keep playing, but it did the trick. I need to find that CD and try it again.

  8. Julia, it’s hard to stop that flow. We just visited several incredible waterfalls this week, so as I’m reading your words, I’m hearing and seeing the power of the falls. I’ve struggled with anxiety over the years, but have gotten much better as I age. That said, a certain trigger can kick things off again. Knowing all that you’re going through, I’m glad to hear that you’ve found so many healthy ways to ease your emotional burdens. Arms around you.

    • Thank you, Alys. Those triggers can be sneaky, can’t they? But life is good, no matter what, and that helps. 😀 Oops! That’s you on Skype, right now!! MUST RUN!!!

      • And we Skyped…and it was good. Arms around you, Julia. xo

        • ❤ 🙂 ❤

  9. Judy from Pennsylvania

    From what I hear others say, anxiety and stress are commonplace now. Maybe they’re a side effect of modern life with all its pressures and awarenesses. I wonder if we were meant to be so hyper connected to everything going on in the world. Our buckets are overflowing with too much information.

    When personal anxieties build up in me, I’ve found several ways that help to dissolve them: praying, talking about it with my husband or other close friend, listening to meditative music (some of my favorites are http://ruthfazal.com/instrumental-violin-soaking/) while doing artwork, taking walks with the dog, working in the yard, and even doing some energetic solo dancing to old rock and roll songs (don’t tell the grandchildren!). And last but not least, staying away from all the loud, wrenching drama that the television spews out if you don’t rein it in.

    And having a little chocolate. Definitely a help, chocolate!

    • Judy, I agree. I don’t think our brains have evolved as quickly as the technology has, and our souls have probably always known better than to try to keep up. You have some of my favorite coping mechanisms. I forgot to mention chocolate! No surprise to some of us when the scientists started talking about it as a guaranteed mood-lifter. And regarding the “energetic solo dancing to old rock and roll songs” — you are not alone! That is my favorite indoor exercise. If you are old enough to remember the golden years of rock (mid to late 70’s, in my opinion, give or take a few stellar artists and groups on either side of that era) you have some great motivation to get your feet moving. I won’t tell your grandchildren! Mine already know, but are too young to tell on me (except that Megan heard– and taped– Grady was singing “Yellow Submarine” from memory after I left from my last visit there, in January! 😀 )

  10. Sheila

    Good Sunday morning, my friend. ☕️ My comment of a few days ago evaporated between me and thee, but “not to worry”! 😘 I mentioned that Monday’s and Thursday’s are my better days because of your words and photos here at Defeat Despair! Thank you for giving to us that special part of you that is truly a gift, your beautiful, inspiring words. 💛🙏

    • Sheila, your comment did not evaporate, it just got sucked into the vortex of my black hole of good intentions. I’m way behind all the time lately, but sooner or later I will get to each and every comment, I promise! I appreciate people for being so patient with me for taking so long to respond…Thank YOU for being here!! BTW loved the photos of Jack with his surprise!

      • Sheila

        NEVER to worry…. just want you to know that I’m always close, slow, and will REPLY!

        • Slow works for me. The other day I was complaining to Jeff about how slow I was, and he said, “You are not slow, you are just thorough.” 😀

          • Sheila

            😘💤

  11. LB

    Julia, your anxiety is understandable (to say the least). I wish I could ease your burdens, somehow, but know that I am, we are all, with you. XO

    • Thank you, Laurie. That means a great deal to me, and it does console.

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