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Some thoughts from Pauline McKinnon

This page created 31 January 2011

By Pauline McKinnon, Psychotherapist and Author

Every few months I’m invited to contribute to the ADAVIC Newsletter.

In accepting this time, I thought it would be good to reflect a little on the progress of anxiety awareness over the years and indeed on ADAVIC itself in 2010 – as well as offering some suggestions for anxiety relief.

Close to three decades ago I published my success story of overcoming life-crippling anxiety.  The book was the first of its kind because in those years, anxiety was something to keep under wraps.  People just didn’t admit to feeling anxious, fearful, stressed, depressed …everyone was meant to be able to cope, happily, all the time.
In my own journey of effectively conquering fear (and that journey wasn’t always easy), I eventually had to learn to accept vulnerability. I still believe that is the greatest step to freedom and a lesson well worth noting.
Now as it happens, some of you reading this may not have even been born when my book was first released!  Throughout your growing years others have followed my footsteps and spoken out about their fears and feelings and today there are a wide range of supportive and helpful organisations and therapies available.  These are huge advantages for today’s anxiety sufferers.  And it’s no longer shameful to acknowledge negative feelings and the reactions that accompany them.  Well – that’s almost true; but not quite.  Each week as I meet new clients, I hear the voice of unhelpful shame continuing to keep lots of people stuck, without really admitting to or understanding and dealing with their anxiety.
So, despite billboards on the freeway reminding us about emotional problems, many still need to accept that we don’t have to cope, happily, all the time.  Being strong no matter what is a false belief because sometimes life is tough and expectations still remain high, in many cases higher now than ever before.  Anxiety, unfortunately, is alive and well within our world. 

This is where ADAVIC and all it offers shines as a remarkable organisation.  And I’ve watched ADAVIC grow, too!  It was probably around 15 years ago that Anna Kouloubos first approached me in my consulting practice.  Seeking help herself at that time, Anna also had the admirable ambition to open up a network where others could communicate, lessen their load and move towards freedom.

But look at ADAVIC today and all it provides!  You only need to pick up the phone or log on to their website to discover high tech communication, helpful staff, a range of consultants and information, regular workshops and presentations, and a comprehensive newsletter to keep its clientele up to date.  

I think Anna and I have a lot in common.  I think we both know how much courage it takes to acknowledge fear, to speak out about it, to challenge treatments that haven’t worked, to take risks in finding solutions – and most importantly, to hold out the hand of support to others.  In these ways, from little things, big things grow.  And in these ways, people can really help each other negotiate life and all its demands.

In understanding life – for that’s what anxiety issues are all about – the most reliable help always comes from the heart of those who have and are truly living those issues!  Yes, textbooks have their advantages.  And so do many years of study.  And pharmaceuticals provide a good crutch in desperate times.  However anxiety is powerfully linked to human dreams, beliefs, traditions, values, circumstances and choices and these matters inhabit first and foremost the spirit of the person, not the logic that surrounds his or her rational mind.  In dealing with anxiety, we need to forget about logic and allow our mind to truly   relax.  When that is achieved and we allow the spirit to come to understanding, then and only then, will anxiety and all its  trappings become truly mastered.  

My essential teaching is centred in mental rest, in helping people relax so fully that anxiety gradually recedes and can no longer dominate their lives, opening the way for understanding.  You can do that, too!  Here is a practical extract from my book to help you on your way.

Ten positive ideas to read and re-read (Extract from In Stillness Conquer Fear:  McKinnon P., John Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, 2008).

  • Each day set aside time to practice stillness meditation as I have described in the previous chapters.  Do not try to fit it into unsuitable times or rush the exercise.  It is impossible to achieve any kind of ease if you know the vegetables are going to boil dry, or that you should have left for work five minutes ago.  Remember, recognising physical tension and developing the habit of letting it go is the pathway to mental rest.  And it is the regular and deliberate introduction of times of effective stillness that provide the right conditions for the most favourable mental rest.
  • Cultivate an attitude of ease in your everyday life.  This will stem from the practice of stillness meditation, but in overcoming your fear you need to bear it in mind until it is the way you live.
  • Have the courage to say to yourself when you feel anxiety or panic symptoms arising:  ‘I am tense.  If I let the tension go, the feeling will pass.  If I hold on to the tension, the feeling will increase and persist.  The more I practise letting go, the less I will experience symptoms – and the less afraid I will be.’  If you adopt this attitude, you can feel the tension and fear drain away.
  • Let go into your fear.  To force and fight against it only stimulates the body’s reaction to fear.  And that is what you are trying to stop.  No matter what situation you are facing, think:  ‘I will do this and I will do it calmly and easily, letting go of    tension all the while.’  There is a vast difference between forcing yourself to do something and simply doing something with a sense of ease.  Keep in mind that you are easing your anxiety, not trying to control it.

  • Stay in the present moment!  Every time you begin to recall former situations where you were afraid, let those memories go.  People paralyse themselves even more into avoidance by recalling all the other times they have felt afraid or failed to   accomplish something.  Those memories keep fear alive and well.  Keep your focus upon success now, challenging yourself gently to move on.  With every success, no matter how small, there is a pleasant recollection to dwell upon, making the next time easier still.  And remember – others around you are scared too!
  • Keep going towards your purpose.  Every time you retreat in fear rather than relaxing, letting go and calmly making the distance, you feel you have failed again – and so your memory stores failure as a familiar outcome.  But, in the same way, the repetition of good things leads to familiarity where success becomes the outcome.  Like learning and practicing anything, the more we do it, the better and the easier it becomes.  Then we have success and feel triumphant – and confidence grows even more.
  • Learn to cultivate a positive attitude throughout your whole life.  For happiness, positive thinking should be the automatic response.  Negativity and the pessimism it produces are powerful, but, once a positive attitude becomes automatic, optimism will dominate.  Take every opportunity to make the positive work for you.  If confronted with a long queue, rather than considering its disadvantages, remind yourself that this is an opportunity to relax and release tension.  When stationary at a red traffic light, rather than continuing to grip the steering wheel, use the time to relax your whole body.  When disappointment occurs, rather than viewing it as a catastrophe, look for the advantage it may bring in other ways.  Read books on positive attitudes!
  • As soon as you feel remotely ready to meet a challenge, go for it!  But approach it with that same attitude of calm and ease.  Creative interests and absorbing hobbies, particularly when enjoyed among other people, are invaluable as distractions to place unreasonable anxiety where it belongs – in the background.  You might have an ambition to begin a new career, or to commence a course of study you once dreamed of.  Meet the challenge, and as you go from strength to strength, your life will become fuller and fear will be long forgotten.
  • Never give up; the worst is over.  Even if you have lived with high anxiety for a long time and a future without it seems beyond contemplation, you will soon prove it otherwise.
  • Remember!  It is the constant awareness of the tension within us that is the green light to freedom.

© Pauline McKinnon 2010

Pauline pioneered anxiety awareness and effective relief through her book titled ‘In Stillness Conquer Fear’.  The book and  accompanying audio CD’s are available through ADAVIC or by visiting

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