Autumn is a season of letting go, decay, preparation for the coming winter. The temperature cools, the days draw in. There are so many beautiful colours and textures all around us, and these seem heightened during Autumn. Suddenly, the tree’s seem to be brighter, the colours of nature more vibrant. How often do we stop and take a look at the leaves changing colours. How often do we see the tree’s letting go of their leaves, conkers and sweet chestnut cases dropping to the forest floor. There are opportunities all around us to take a mindful moment to connect to the world around us.
Recently, while walking in the woods I noticed the ground was covered in sweet chestnut cases. Luckily I had my robust walking boots on, or it would have been a proper painful and potentially anxiety provoking experience. If you have ever picked up a sweet chestnut case, you will know exactly the pain I am referring to. To really examine, explore and experience the sweet chestnut required picking up a case. I initially noticed the sharpness of the spiny case. They pricked my fingers, I found it easier to hold in the palm of my hand than in my fingertips. Anxiety can feel like the anticipation of or picking up of the prickly case, with a narrative running through thoughts such as: ‘I daren’t touch it’, ‘its painful’ ‘I can’t hold it’ ‘its going to hurt’ or it can be a defence mechanism, ‘if I make my outer self prickly and protected, nothing bad will happen’. Maybe this resonates with you as you read this, if you have ever had anxiety, it does me.
As I peep inside the sharp, prickly exterior, I notice the small, delicate, smooth chestnuts, encased in a soft, fluffy layer, such a difference to the external surface. I pick a chestnut out of the case, it was smooth, and yet rippled with a pointed tip.
There is a lot nature can share with us as humans, about the way we are, or our experiences. As I held the sweet chestnut and explored its different textures, I was reminded of a time when I had anxiety, so bad that my insides, deeply hidden, were soft and safe, sheltered from the outside world by using a natural prickly defence.
Conkers have a similar feel to sweet chestnuts. There is a subtle difference in texture of the spines of the case, they are more pliable, and soften with age, and inside, the shiny new glossy conker is a deep brown colour, smooth to the touch and has a lovely soft creamy white plateaux on the surface.
Finding fallen conkers reminds me of my childhood, walking home from school along a path that was lined with horse chestnut tree’s, the conkers dropping to the ground all around me. I couldn’t resist picking them up, the next one more shiny and smoother than the last, and then getting home with an pocket brimming to the top with conkers. I never played ‘conkers’ a game commonly played in the school playground when I was young, I just enjoyed collecting them, feeling them, taking them out of their prickly shells and exploring them.
This experience of connecting with nature, sweet chestnuts and conkers, reminded me of my journey with anxiety, it was only when I started to explore it, the anxiety, taking my prickly shell off and feeling the smooth, shiny, sometimes soft interior, that I noticed that my anxiety was a defence, something to protect me and keep me safe. This safe shell isn’t always needed, in fact, it can be exhausting keeping it on, but sometimes we get ourselves into a habit of keeping the shell on, sometimes without even realising we are doing it, and then wonder to ourselves, what am I anxious about? everyone can experience anxiety, its only when it gets to the point where it impacts on our lives, that we can greatly help ourselves by exploring it, in a compassionate way, dialogue with it, and see what appears.
I was once told ‘what we resist..persists’ and that is so true with anxiety. Have you ever thought ‘oh I feel anxious, I don’t like this feeling that something bad is going to happen in the future, so to remove the feeling, I won’t do the anxiety provoking task? for example, I wanted to go to the shop, but I felt anxious about going, I was thinking ‘I don’t want to feel anxious, so the solution is to not go to the shop’. Well, in some cases this is true, but also, the more I chose to avoid going to the shop, the more it re-affirmed that going to the shop would be anxiety provoking, it didn’t dispel the irrational thought, just fed it. I was at the point where I wasn’t leaving the house, at all… and yet I still felt anxious. The only thing that removed the anxiety (alongside therapy and grounding techniques – more on this later) was to say to the anxiety, ‘ok I hear you, and I understand you are trying to keep me safe, but I’m okay and I’m just going to go the shop, and if I still feel unsafe, I will come home’, and then leave the house and see that nothing bad would happen, challenging my thoughts and feelings while being compassionate towards myself. Its a slow process. I have come to the acknowledgement that my anxiety usually stems from fear, and irrational worrying thought about something, an anticipation or lack of awareness of my own burn out. I started with small achievable tasks, and built up from there. *I must point out here that everyone experiences anxiety for very personal reasons, and you might not know why you feel the way you do, I can also relate to this. What I found was that there was things in my environment, that I was experiencing, that was reminding me (subconsciously) of old trauma scripts. This is where seeking support, and help from someone else is so important to be able to figure the root of the anxious feeling if it isn’t always obvious.
I can imagine you reading this and thinking to yourself, ‘its not that easy’ well that is true, it takes time, it has taken me years, and I still at times find myself moving into a more ‘anxious’ way of being. It takes being compassionate and kind to yourself, trying things in small, slow, steady steps and getting support from others. Patience is key, and also, really searching for the root of the anxiety and exploring it, challenging it in an inquiring, inquisitive way – like looking at the sweet chestnuts or conkers. When we really know our own personal anxiety, and why it functions the way it does, then we can choose to make it our friend, and work with it, dialogue with it, not against it. Knowledge is power, such as finding things that work to help, not hinder us, tools we can use when we are feeling anxious.
Next time you are out in Autumn, see if you can find a sweet chestnut or conker and spend some time with it, explore its inner and outer case. I would love to hear how you get on. And remember…we all have anxiety, be kind to yourself and take small, slow, steady, steps.
If anything mentioned in this blogpost resonates with you, and you would like to talk to me about it, I would be happy to hear from you.