ANXIETY and A Story About Turtles

by Shoshona Pascoe

A Turtle Story:

Last year I had the good fortune of spending a week in Mexico by the sea and was introduced to turtle release. The local fishermen gather the turtle eggs after they are laid in the sand to protect them from predators. They are kept safe, in boxes in sand, for the incubation period and then released to the ocean as they hatch. But not right into the ocean. I listened carefully to the instructions:

Place each little turtle behind this line in the sand and watch them dash to the water's edge. The line in the sand was the important part.

There was a festive atmosphere as onlookers cheered for their favorite. Not all of them made it. I had an urge to "help" as some turtles exhausted themselves short of the needed distance. The fact is they needed to exert that much effort, go that far, to cultivate the needed strength for their survival in the ocean. For them to avoid the necessary passage would not be help at all.

Nature's wisdom has always been a template for me as I seek to understand human suffering and struggle, satisfaction and well-being. The turtles' task made a lasting impression upon me. As we encounter the challenges of our particular life situation, we meet a demand, a task, which offers us a new ocean to effort towards. As humans, fear is a natural component as we find ourselves in new or uncomfortable territory. Yet fear also calls forth resources that never were needed before, and potentially builds new resilience, strength and wisdom. The turtles' race to the sea excited me, as they called forth energy from every cell, knowing what was needed for their life to unfold.

Fear, Anxiety, and Worry:

I recently came upon the Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety by John P. Forsyth, Ph.D and Georg H. Eifert, Ph.D. and found a welcome addition to the ideas available for coping with fearful and anxious states. Rather than another set of tools to cultivate, the authors offer a new way to be in relationship to these uncomfortable states; from this new stance practices and tools are more effective. For the sake of simplicity I will be referring to the continuum from worry to panic as Anxiety but please note that this approach applies to each particular manifestation of fearful experience.

Fear as the Teacher, Not the Enemy:

An authentic life has pain and struggle. When the approach to managing Anxiety is to avoid and escape from the uncomfortable feelings, this often creates anxiety about the anxiety. Fear of another panic attack can stimulate the very thing you are trying to avoid. What would it be like to soften your attitude about having Anxiety? What if Anxiety, though uncomfortable, is part of a process that will change into something more manageable if we give up the struggle against it? Underneath Anxiety may be some pain or concern, perhaps similar to growing pains. Accepting the pain, the Anxiety, without judging it is the softening that allows movement through it.

Anxiety is composed of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. There are many ways to be in relationship to these changing states. Skills that work with controlling thoughts or working with breath to move through Anxiety are very valuable. What I am suggesting here in terms of an attitude shift is by bringing a kind and accepting response to Anxiety, in contrast to an attitude of alarm and need to control and fix, we open to a deeper and perhaps more sustainable plan to surf the waves of discomfort more quickly and in a more lasting way. Meanwhile, we are not waiting to have a satisfying life. We are building and living our lives instead of first waiting for Anxiety to retreat.

Active vs. Passive Acceptance

Accepting your Anxiety is not at all about putting up with a limitation, or giving up effort to be more at ease. In the struggle to change the Anxiety, or a harsh dislike of it, we unknowingly keep ourselves stuck, perhaps creating more worry, fear and rigidity. The ability to be with Anxiety, breathing with it and inquiring into it, opens up inner resources, not unlike the tiny turtles in touch with their survival needs. They have a lot at stake! If I was scrambling on tiny legs across a great expanse of endless sand to get somewhere I had no notion of, you can bet I would be filled with Anxiety! These little teachers embody for me how to keep taking the next steps in our lives, trusting in the process, and using every ounce of available energy to be fully alive and active in that quest.

For more information about this model, including practices and exercises for inquiry, you might want to visit their website:

©2005-2015 Shoshona Pascoe, Chinn Street Counseling Center; all rights reserved.