Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength — carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.
Corrie ten Boom
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
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Everyone experiences anxiety at times throughout their life. Sometimes anxiety threatens to overwhelm us and we feel like we can no longer cope with the challenges life brings our way. At these times medications are an option but, in addition to taking the edge off the anxiety, they usually numb your emotions and have numerous side effects. They also do not get to the root of the anxiety—what is causing the problem and why. For this reason medications should not be a first-line option.
Here’s a list of things to try before you fizzle:
Ask for a second opinion – Call or text a friend or family member and run through your worries with them. Saying them aloud to someone else can help you see them clearly for what they are. Is it finances, your health, a relationship, or your work that is causing the angst? Verbalize the worry and be aware of something called catastrophizing, which happens when our minds immediately go to the worst-case scenario. Is your worry or fear a reality? Very seldom are things as bad as they seem. In fact, according to one study, 85% of the things we worry about never happen.
Write a prayer journal – It can also help to write your fears, worries, and anxieties on paper. We suggest including this in something called a prayer journal and writing it as if you’re having a conversation with God. Also include gratitude therapy and write at least 5 to 10 things you are thankful for and why. Doing this on a regular basis has been scientifically proven to improve mental health, including anxiety.
Prayer – Prayer should never be discounted in the battle against anxiety. Bring everything to the One who handles and controls all things. Combining deep breathing, meditation, and prayer has many benefits. Create habitual prayer locations—do you walk a certain hall at work, drive a certain road on a daily basis, or have a certain morning ritual (such as taking a shower or coffee on the porch)? Make that your time to thank God and hold your worries up to Him.
Stay in your time zone – Anxiety is an anticipatory or future-oriented state of mind. Instead of worrying about what’s going to happen, reel yourself back to the present. Ask yourself: What’s happening right now? Am I safe? Is there something I need to do immediately? Furthermore, is there anything I even can do about the issue? Do your best in the moment and leave tomorrow to tomorrow.
Life is full of uncertainties. Does your anxiety serve as a type of self-protection, a preemptive armor perhaps? Do we think if we “worst-case-scenario” everything we in some way guard against it happening? This kind of thinking is stressful and prevents us from living in and enjoying the present.
Relabel – Worries, stress, and anxiety can bring on a panic attack. These can often make you feel like you’re dying or having a heart attack. Remind yourself: “I’m having a panic attack, but it’s harmless, it’s temporary, and there’s nothing I need to do.” Plus, keep in mind that a panic attack is really the opposite sign of impending death — your body is activating its fight-or-flight response, the system that’s going to keep you alive. Positive self-talk during a panic attack can be helpful, as can distraction, exercise, or something as simple as chewing gum.
Another point to be aware of: instead of labeling places, people, or events that cause anxiety, such as, “church gives me anxiety” or, “crowds give me anxiety,” rather say, “I suffer from anxiety and it shows up in church.” This separates the event from your anxiety. This awareness causes a subtle shift in your brain and can open a door to healing.
Fact check – People with anxiety often fixate on worst-case scenarios. To combat these worries, think about how realistic they are. Say you’re nervous about a work interview or a presentation at school, work, or church. Rather than think, “I just know I’m not going to do well,” say, “I’m nervous, but I’m prepared. Some things will go well, and some may not.” Honestly, even if things do not go well, no one will think any less of you and that’s a fact. Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts. This is also about telling yourself the truth. Is it really the end of the world? Is it really that terrible or horrible? What is the objective truth about this situation? Sometimes another’s opinion on the matter can be helpful.
Deep breathe – Deep breathing helps you calm down. While you may have heard about specific breathing exercises, you don’t need to worry so much about counting out a certain number of breaths. Instead just focus on evenly inhaling and exhaling. This will help slow and re-center your mind. If you do like numbers try “boxed breathing” – 4, 4, 4, 4. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, and repeat. Deep breathing actually reduces cortisol, one of the main stress hormones produced during times of fear and anxiety. Reduce cortisol, induce calm.
One therapist encourages those suffering from anxiety to breathe in a Bible verse and exhale gratitude. Make a list of verses that embody God’s care and protection over you, for example. When you deep breathe, whisper or think the verse as you breathe in. Hold the breath, then exhale slowly and as you exhale, whisper a gratitude. This has numerous healthy side benefits including Bible memorization.
Do something – Stand up, go on a walk, take out the trash — any action that interrupts your train of thought helps you regain a sense of control. More vigorous exercise has many proven benefits both for anxiety and depression. It can provide a distraction; it also produces a flood of endorphins which results in a sense of wellbeing.
Straighten up – When we are anxious, we protect our upper body — where our heart and lungs are located — by hunching over. For an immediate physical antidote to this natural reaction, pull your shoulders back, stand or sit with your feet apart, and open your chest. This helps your body start to sense that it’s back in control. Combine sitting up straight with deep breathing and prayer.
Stay away from sugar – It may be tempting to reach for something sweet when you’re stressed, but that chocolate bar can do more harm than good. Research shows that eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead of reaching into the candy bowl, drink a glass of water or eat protein, which will provide a slow energy your body can use to recover. Low carb diets have also proven benefits in preventing panic attacks, among a plethora of other things.
Try a social media fast – News feeds and current events do not exactly encourage calm contemplation of the world around us. You may feel it’s important to stay informed but a steady diet of tragedy, impending catastrophe, and warnings of world wars and destruction only serve to heighten anxiety. Try taking a break from this limbic system assault.
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The points listed above will take commitment, a concentrated effort, and daily practice but even at that, they don’t necessarily address the underlying cause of anxiety. To take a deeper look, we encourage someone suffering from anxiety to consider prayerfully what the stakes ultimately are. Another word for anxiety is fear. It is useful to ask where that fear is coming from. What happened in your life to plant that root of fear? Were there specific events, words spoken, or actions taken that distorted your view or affected your perception of those things that now cause anxiety? In other words, what is your anxiety trying to teach you?
At times our childhood comes back to haunt us—past abuse can easily plant feelings of fear and distrust and thus cause anxieties that have far-reaching and lifelong effects. Being involved in a motor vehicle accident can change a confident driver into an anxious driver. If we’ve been verbally cut down by a trusted parent, friend, or confidant at some point in our life, we may easily fear a future attack and thus keep our thoughts to ourselves. Situations that require vulnerability may cause extreme anxiety because of past experience when we were made fun of or mocked for exposing our emotions and feelings.
Then, how acquainted are you with your inner critic? In order to overcome anxiety, we need to be familiar and conversant with this part of our self. The inner critic is the cause of much anxiety in our lives. It’s the voice that says, “don’t go there, do that, or say it, because you’re too dumb, you won’t get it right, you can’t do it.”
There is no magic bullet or easy fix for anxiety. As with anything in mental health, it will take a combination approach of following the points listed here in this article as well as seeking to understand the underlying cause. Often that insight gives us the ability to “reframe” the story we’ve been telling ourselves about what happened. Insight can also lead to recognition of anxiety triggers which in turn can give us power to replace our previous avoidant behaviors with healthy ones.
One last thing. Sometimes our fears and anxieties simply need to be faced. In exposure therapy we are asked to confront a small part of our fear at a time. For example: we take part in a small crowd for a short time; the next time an opportunity comes, we make ourselves enter into a larger crowd and stay a bit longer. This way, over time, we face the tyrant in our life and gain small victories in the battle against anxiety. The promised land won’t come easy but it’s there and it’s attainable. With God’s help we can experience relief from this besetting affliction.
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