One of my favorite quotes about anxiety was from Jodi Picoult who said, “Anxiety is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you very far.”
I’m sure you can relate to this. Anxiety is like a leach that drains all of your energy, takes all of your focus, and in the end, it gives you nothing in return.
The truth is that anxiety is a major issue right now in the United States.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
-The United States is the most anxious nation in the world.
-Over 18% of adults suffer from anxiety in a given year.
-From 1997-2004, Americans doubled their spending on anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Vallium from $900 million to $2.1 billion.
-Stress related ailments cost the nation $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity.
The irony in all of this is that the United States is by many believed to be the safest country in the world. For example, we have a system in place for food and drug regulation, as a whole we have more residual income then many other countries, and we don’t have to worry nearly as much about basic necessities as other nations.
So what’s causing all of this anxiety?
According to Taylor Clark who interviewed several psychologists and neuroscientists, there are 3 common themes that popped up in his conversations:
1) Less Human Interaction due to advances in technology that have replaced “real” human contact. Examples: Phones (texting), television, and computers.
2) The increase in the amount of nerve racking information we are bombarded with each day.
3) Our attitudes towards our emotions. We are led to believe that our emotions, especially the ones that don’t feel good, are bad and must be suppressed or removed by any means possible.
What can you do about your own anxiety?
1. Accept and Acknowledge All Of Your Emotions.
Like I mentioned above, our society is riddled with ways to suppress our emotions and while these temporarily may help us feel better, the emotion typically comes back with a stronger response.
It’s important that you learn to accept your emotions. According to Psychology Today this means:
-Being consciously aware of how you feel throughout the day.
-Acknowledging your emotions when they come up.
-Restructuring your thoughts with that understanding that your anxiety no matter how uncomfortable it may feel at times, will not kill you or endanger you.
2. Identify The Source and Type Of The Anxiety.
There are a number of different anxieties out there and its important to know which one you might have. The reason for this is because not all anxieties are treated in the same way.
If your looking for a guide to see which one you might have, check out this article from the National Institute of Mental Health by clicking here.
Equally important besides identifying the type of anxiety you have is also seeing what the origin of the anxiety is. For you, maybe the anxiety might be mild and can traced to something intrinsic such as high internal expectations.
For others, the anxiety might be severe and can be traced back to a traumatic experience growing up, stress in a particular relationship, or even abuse.
The important thing here is to try and understand what the underlying cause is.
3. Use Cognitive Restructuring.
According to the University of Michigan Psychiatry, cognitive restructuring can be helpful for anxiety and panic disorders.
First, let me give you a brief explanation of how anxiety and panic attacks typically work.
Anxiety or panic attacks usually start as an over exaggerated misconception about a situation or experience that is usually false or highly inaccurate. The result of such thoughts triggers a natural fear response that over time becomes greater, eventually interfering with our normal day to day activities.
For example, I suffered from social anxiety (in addition to separation anxiety) because of an experience in High School I had where I was publicly humiliated as a joke by my friends. It wasn’t meant to be an intentional act of harm but it hurt me anyways.
What happened as a result of this was that I started to believe that all social situations, especially ones similar to the situation I was humiliated in, were negative. So I avoided them and my fear of them only grew.
You see, the experiences that we perceive as traumatic are stored in our memory and become connected with the same emotions that we had at the time.
So, whenever you’re in a situation that resembles the memory you had, it also triggers a similar fear response. This literally creates a cycle of fear where you become afraid of fear itself. The result of our behavior also reinforces the fear making it even greater.
Cognitive restructuring works by restructuring your thoughts to become more accurate with the objective reality.
According to Psychology Today, there are four main steps:
1) Recognize and keep track when you’re having negative thoughts.
2) Make two columns, in one column put the thoughts that you are worried about and in the other, list the actual outcome (whether you thought something would happen or not). Compare and see how accurate you were (usually always inaccurate).
3) Test your thoughts. For example, if your thought is that you have no time to do something. The following week test that thought and give yourself some time to do anything other than what you think you couldn’t do and see if you were able to do it.
4) Evaluate the thought. Write a thought down that you have and make two columns, in one column put objective evidence that supports your thought and in the other put objective evidence that doesn’t support your thought. Compare and see whether your worrisome thoughts are really objective or not.
4. Accept What You Can’t Control
Letting go of control is one of the most liberating things we can do as a Christian because we are never truly letting go, we are just giving up our control to the one who is in control!
Here is a good story I read to help give you some perspective on this. Imagine if you were on vacation and you just remembered that all of your flowers needed to be watered but there was nothing you could do since there was no one available to water them.
A person with worry and anxiety would constantly think about those flowers and go over in their head every imaginable situation that could happen.
But would any of that worry actually water your flowers? Of course not but its hard to see how ridiculous our thoughts can be when we get so focused on them.
Learn to control the things that God asks, mainly your relationship with Him and your relationship with others, and let God take care of the rest.
5. Pray About It
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
God knows how tough anxiety can be on you and He does have the power to heal your heavy heart and mind. Prayer is especially important because it gives us a chance to focus on God which can be very hard for someone struggling with anxiety.
From my experience, if you suffer from anxiety you really have to make almost a moment to moment effort to focus on God. It is very hard at first and requires a lot of effort to do it because your so conditioned to react a certain way. However, over time, little by little, it gets better as God helps you through it.
6. Know That It Will Get Better
Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
I know how hard it is to think that your anxiety will never get any better when your right in the thick of it. But, for someone who suffered from severe anxiety to the point where I isolated myself from the world, I can assure you that there is hope for you. I’ll leave you with a vision I had from God that helped me in some of my most difficult times.
Imagine yourself and Jesus walking side by side and He is holding your hand. You turn to Him and say, “I can’t do this.” He turns back and said, “We’ll do it together.”
In summary, perhaps we as a society just need to get back to the more simple joys of life. Spending more time with family, connecting in person as opposed to over a computer monitor, and learning to accept and be thankful for our God given emotions. Always remember…”don’t take your thoughts too seriously.”
In what ways do you struggle with anxiety? Have any methods been helpful for you?