My Afterlife Series ~ Dissing Anxiety

By Susan Keats, Contributor &  Seize-the-Day Propagandist

I don’t have much respect for anxiety. My own anxiety is ridiculously annoying. I was never an anxious person until that cancer diagnosis came from out of the blue. Now I worry about my health all the time. I have read that anxiety serves a purpose: to keep you aware of potential danger, but when you really think about it, anxiety just keeps you in a perpetual state of worry. That can’t be healthy, it just can’t. So I’m doing what I can to kick anxiety out of my head, out of my house, out of my life.

I was recently told about a person who will say, “shut up!” loudly, whenever her anxiety comes creeping along. I love that. I like the idea of telling the voice in my head, the one that keeps advising me to brood over the denial I’m obviously in, about the disease I probably have, to just SHUT UP. If I have to say it out loud, no problem, I’ve been caught talking to myself before. When you see me mumbling out of the corner of my mouth, just ignore me.

There are lots of external ways to deal with anxiety. Topping the list is exercise and eating lots of vegetables. Those can be counted on to cure all kinds of things. My most unique trick came from my friend LuAnn who introduced me to a Tibetan singing bowl. She and I went into a little shop full of metal bowls of all sizes, each with its own mallet that you use to gong the bowl. I was skeptical, but LuAnn said that as I gonged each one of these pretty bowls, I would find the one that resonated with me. She was right. I felt a beautiful sense of calm when I listened to the note, tone and vibration of one of the bowls that I held in my hand, so I bought it. I find that it only takes 3 gongs to bring about a peacefulness that never disappoints me. It’s a lovely thing, and its quick.

The thing I have found that quiets my anxiety best is anything that reminds me of the inner strength I have. Some people question whether or not they have inner strength. Maybe they haven’t had any reason to call upon it yet, but we all have it. Thing is, it just sits there politely and doesn’t speak up until its needed. Whiny anxiety over there has never considered being so solicitous. Once you call upon your inner strength, you will find that it has a roar that will leave you feeling empowered and capable, not vulnerable and fearful. It’s a pretty admirable character. I like it.

So, I seek out reminders that allow me to see my buddy, inner strength, sitting there on the bench…waving… I have a hat that my friend Ellen gave to me with a slogan that says “Fight Like A Girl.” I wore it throughout my illness and I still wear it when I need to feel feisty in the face of some new worry. I have some bracelets that I wear with sayings written on them that also remind me that I have a lot of inner strength. My husband fiddles with his wedding ring when he’s looking for his. It reminds him of his family and he finds that comforting and strengthening.

I need to work on finding some internal ways of calling up my inner strength. I like wearing my jewelry, my hat, gonging my bowl, but I’m now looking for that thing that kicks in automatically when my mind strays to that worrying place. What if I still have cancer? What if I have some other illness? What will happen to my family? Maybe I should look up symptoms? Or maybe I should just … SHUT UP.

How do you find your inner strength?


You may follow all of Susan's Afterlife stories here.

Susan-KeatsSusan Keats ~ In 2010 Susan received life-changing news after a routine mammogram. She had breast cancer. After plenty of tears, anxiety and soul searching, she finished treatments and is now entering a year of renewal, growth, and recovery. Susan hopes that those who are just stepping into the experience of illnesses or crises will find the same comfort and inspiration that she felt when others shared their experiences and wisdom with her. She is looking forward to rediscovering parts of herself that she had allowed to fall away. This is going to be a great year!

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30 Responses to My Afterlife Series ~ Dissing Anxiety

  1. Chris says:

    SHUT UP!!! Love that. Thank you, because anxiety is out there, waiting to seep into our minds and thoughts on a regular basis – whether for health reasons, as you describe or finances (job loss) or children, or whatever. It’s such a waste of time and energy. I like to save all that up for when its really needed! Wonderful post!

  2. Golda says:

    Susan, this was terrific and inspiring. I am a lot older and have spent a lifetime with anxiety over things large and small but it was not until last December when I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease that anxiety really hit me. Perspective now helps get rid of the anxiety over most of the small stuff. Exercise really does help since cardiac rehab has shown that I really do have more strength than I thought. I love classical music and sometimes just taking a few minutes when I hear something I really like, to listen and breathe slowly and deeply really helps.
    Thanks for your wonderful insights.

  3. Jill Thomas says:

    I love it! Shut up! Just bought my bracelet!

  4. Lori Wraase says:

    Hi Susan, I am the maker of the bracelet in your photo and I am also a cancer survivor. I made this bracelet for exactly this reason. I think we all have those little voices, I call them the what if monsters, in our heads and we just have to say SHUT UP or they will drive us crazy! Thanks for featuring my bracelet and I wish you a long, healthy, and happy life!


  5. Ivan Lippitz says:

    I think that what you described as a method to curb anxiety is distraction and imagination. That’s what I employ to curb anxiety. Everyone is usually able to find a distraction that works for them. Also the use of imagination works.

  6. Steve Saunders says:

    Dear Susan, I feel like you’re speaking right to me when I read your posts, very conversational, tight, and poignant as always. I wish it didn’t take cancer to cause such introspection and extra appreciation for the little and big stuff. Maybe that’s the only “good thing” about life-threatening events. We should all be able to appreciate the little and big stuff without having our life threatened, y’d think. But like Joni Mitchell said, “you don’t what you got till it’s gone.” I like really strong coffee alone in the silent outdoors to tamp onset anxiety. Keep on posting Susan Keats – don’t Shut Up!
    Steve Saunders, Kew Bridge, London U.K.

  7. Amy says:

    I read your post and now I’m saying, screaming, squawking “SHUT UP!” so often everyone on the bus thinks I have Tourette’s Syndrome.

    where do you get those gong thingees?

  8. Susan says:

    The smiles and laughs I’m getting from all of your comments are helping too! Thank you!

  9. LuAnne says:

    … “Once in the stillness, you will know” … Meditation is how to reach the “knowing” and silence the anxiety. Of course the bowls are pretty special too!! Thank you, my Dear. Love & miss you much…..

  10. shut up! this was good. You never cease to amaze me! We will get rid of the Anxiety monster…
    How do I? I read depressing books. Really, really sad but good books. If I immerse myself in the sufferings of others, I forget my own sadness and angst. Or I cry over a silly add. Whatever happened to those Pepsi puppy adds that helped through some really rough times?
    I will definitively, say shut up from now on. The problem, is realizing that what is going on is beatable… I mean the actual anxiety. Often, people around me are the ones that figure it out for me. sue… I need you around me.

  11. Ruth says:

    I REALLY enjoyed reading this in its entirety (now that I got past my lately winking connection to my computer service and could follow the link) – and I really appreciate ‘SHUT UP!’ I seem to talk to shut out my anxiety. Mine sometimes gets more powerful when it’s silent. I live alone most of the year now, first time in my life; so silence can be overly abundant! When knee jerk thought words that tell me I’m not good enough or to see myself through the eyes of others as the knee jerk in my head imagines they see me, I talk over them: words about what I (the I I) know I am thinking/doing/being to ground. Your sharing makes my ‘conversations’ feel all the more part of community. Thanks!

  12. Dorothy Frank says:

    Love this. So true that you don’t know you have inner strength until you’re tested. But obviously you have it. At the risk of being cliched, whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

  13. Mary says:

    So eloquent. Anxiety has been a crippling presence in my life for years and I have only recently identified it while learning from my daughter’s experience. I look forward to reading your blog again.

  14. Susan says:

    I should really try meditation. Anxiety is something we all experience and we all want to get rid of. I would love to hear more ideas about how people manage to rid themselves of it. Keep posting! Thanks everyone for what you have written so far. Good stuff!

  15. Janet says:

    Please shut up those voices that plague you, but do NOT shut up YOUR voice here. Your words were so comforting as I am an anxiety sufferer as well. Panic attacks are not nice things to deal with, however with deep breathing and visualizing myself in another situation/place can help at times. When it gets out of hand, good old western medicine works, however I try to place positive, calming thoughts first before I resort to the big hammer. I have been told that the average person has 60,000+ thoughts a day and that 80% of them are negative. I am working at tipping my balance to 20% negative and 80% positive. I had a friend pass away last year, and I realize her words are so true and have changed the verbs I use accordingly. Instead of saying “I have to” do something, I am changing to “I get to” do whatever it is, because not everyone “gets” to. Savor every moment. Realize that worry and anxiety are just negative forces that pull on your energy and can cause physical pain as well. Breathe deep and let it go. xo

  16. Pat McC says:

    Hi Susan,
    I don’t usually comment on your articles, but the comments seem to be important to you. The articles are simply wonderful. They give such an insight to everything you have gone through and still are. You are an inspiration to whomever they may help. Of course I do have the advantage of getting first hand information from Mom and often before it shows up on your blog. I continue my volunteer work at the ACS – into my 30th year now. I have passed along your website to a young friend who is courageously going through breast cancer treatment now. I hope they will be helpful to her. Love to the family. Pat

  17. nancy says:

    I have lots of people in my head. My daughter teases me that I have a whole village up there interacting like a movie on TV! I feel my “monster” is just my critique. She is just trying to help me by pointing out negatives and dangers, but indeed she takes over quieting the nurturer in me. Consequently,I try to tap into the mothering voice. I am very good at mothering my children. I would never stand still for someone bullying them and they have grown up sure of themselves and strong… Now I just have to learn to mother myself.

  18. Papa DT says:

    Great blog. Even trivial distractions help. My favorite ways: deep concentration and immersing myself in a can’t-put-it-down novel, especially mysteries. You’re someone to emulate.

  19. Papa DT says:

    You’re someone to emulate. Distractions of any sort are goo, even trivial ones. I like to jump into a novel, especially a mystery.

  20. I think for sure there will be a run-on Tibetan singing bowls, Shut Up bracelets and meditation pillows. We all here in this house, sit together every morning and chant/meditate for a mere 10 minutes. Each day the vibration goes deeper and the ‘habit energies’ shift accordingly. LuAnne said it best (scroll up for LuAnne).

  21. Nancy Isaacson says:

    Where’s the bowl shop? I could use some bowl banging now and then!

  22. Deborah Takiff Smith says:

    Good points! And you don’t have to have a disease to need ways to still anxiety. I’ve tried meditation and progressive relaxation: Think about your breath, or the moon, or one other thing, then relax each part of your body starting with toes, feet, fingers, hands, etc. When distracting thoughts interrupt, gently shoo them away and go back to your meditation. Breathe slowly and deeply, in and out. Maybe check out Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books on mindfulness and meditation, such as “Wherever You Go, There You Are” and “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness.” They sure helped me.

    I also like your husband’s technique of attaching calm thoughts to an object such as a ring, and then when you touch it you can access those calm thoughts quickly.

    And remind your brain, a day or an hour spent worrying a lot is a day or hour you’re not enjoying this blessed life you have. Maybe even let yourself stress for 10 minutes and then move on. Thanks, Sue Keats, for these reminders.

  23. Peter says:

    I really enjoyed what you wrote. I like to characterize our thoughts as mental holograms which hook us and bring our awareness inward–and pleasant thoughts can hook us as much as the anxious, scary and unpleasant thoughts. I totally agree with you: No point in getting stuck in the anxiety. It sounds like you are developing a strategy and an awareness that these thoughts come and go. in Buddhism thoughts are seen as ephemeral. The thoughts just drift into awareness and then disappear. They are transitory, yet unfortunately, can be powerful and scary. Saying “no” to ruminating, difficult thoughts becomes easier the more you say “shut up.” (Perhaps you might consider saying no to pleasant daydreams as well. Or at least be aware of these thoughts/daydreams and watch them emerge and then disappear. Lo and behold you’ll be an enlightened Buddha!) I look forward to your future postings. Peter, NYC, NY

  24. Susan says:

    You are all amazing and wonderful people. Thank you for your incredibly insightful comments. Susan

  25. Susan, I love this post! I’m not a cancer patient (just a dull-witted heart attack survivor!) but your observations are so true for any of us facing a serious diagnosis.

    Not only do I sometimes need to growl “SHUT UP!” to myself, but often feel the urge to say that to others in mid-whine. Cardiologists like to say that before a heart attack, every chest pain is just indigestion, but after a heart attack, every chest pain is another heart attack. And we do tend to ruminate on every twinge, bubble and squeak following a cardiac event. “Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911 again?” It’s absolutely exhausting and terrifying.

    But when we engage others in our angst, it can feel even worse as we continue this downward spiral of anxiety. I’m tempted to order Susan’s beautiful bracelets in bulk so I can pass them out . . . .

  26. Ooops – meant to say Lori’s beautiful bracelets! 😉

  27. Diane says:

    Yes, I totally agree, and love to say “shut up” to my many anxieties. Especially at night when trying to fall asleep! I use a lavender sachet and rest it on my pillow. Lavender last for years, just re-squeeze it to release the intense fragrance. I inhale the sweet fragrance and it helps me forget my bothersome thoughts.
    Like your sounding gong, it stimulates my senses.
    Walking outside also helps but a bit difficult at night. It’s especially great this time of year with everything coming alive!

  28. Jane G says:

    Susan… you are quite a bit younger than I am but you have taught me a lot. I love readng your blog. I do believe that we all have anxiety in our lives, not necessarily because of illness, but just as harmful, annoying and turbulent. As children, we were not allowed to say the words “shut up” in our house because “mom” thought we were directing it a person (probably right) but thinking back that person was probably causing the anxiety. Go figure. You would literally get slapped so IF you said it at all, it was only once. However, I love your insight into things and as I’ve told you before, I admire your strenth, both inner and outer. Now I want a Tibetan banging bowl. Am I allowed to bang it in the ear of the person causing the anxiety? (just kidding).

  29. Glen S says:

    The best cure for anxiety is prevention, sadly it doesn’t work like that. For myself, a great anxiety reducer is going out on my motorcycle. There is too much to be thinking about to give any attention to anything other than what your doing. It also can help take my mind off of my chronic pain.An added bonus is interacting with the enviroment you are traveling thru, the temperature changes, the smells and of course the scenery. Many riders refer to it as two wheeled therapy.
    There are some great safety courses out there and learning to ride can be a great confidence builder.

  30. Susan says:

    Don’t you just love Glen’s imagery of driving down an open road, just paying attention to sites and smells…I can see how that would clear out your mind. Keep those ideas coming! I think I’ll compile them into a list. Everyone has such good stuff to share. Susan

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