My anxiety always flares in August.
Peter and I are both writing syllabi and course content. We are purchasing and organizing homeschool materials and activities. We are scrambling to finish house and garden projects. Then there is just the emotional anticipation of what is—for us—a HUGE transition back into our school-year lives.
Last week—as I was becoming increasingly irritable—Peter posted the following article on his blog. I might have taken it personally if it wasn’t written in response to his daily Bible reading. It was certainly timely for me to remember, review, and recommit to this important process for handling my negative emotion and stress. So, I re-post it here in the hopes that it will help you as well.
How do I move from anxiety to peace?
Guest post by Peter Worrall
An important starting place is to stay connected to other people. Feeling alone is a common symptom of anxiety, but acting on feelings of isolation—withdrawing from community, shutting others out, keeping our struggles to ourselves, lashing out in anger, pushing people away—only takes us deeper into darkness.
Instead, when we feel like the world is against us or like no one cares, we have to let our friends remain our friends, our spouse be our spouse, our parents be our parents, and our God be our God. We have to choose to remain in relationship—even if we don’t feel like it, and even when others make mistakes. Letting them hold our hand and walk with us through difficult times is a sign of great strength, not weakness.
Rest and Be Reasonable
The role of reason when dealing with our fears and anxieties is well-documented. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is predicated on the idea that relief that comes with understanding. It is very hard, though, to be rational when we have “flipped our lid,“ when our emotions are so heightened that much of our brain may have temporarily gone “off-line.“ In those moments of distress, it can be most helpful to take 15-20 minutes to remove ourselves and rest. Give the emotion some time to settle. Breathe. And then remind ourselves of the bedrock truths we can still accept—truths about who we are, others who care for us, and the God who loves. Remembering those truths will give us a foundation on which to build.
Acknowledge Feelings and Name Them
Stuffing feelings, ignoring them, or denying them only makes them more intense. Spontaneous release sometimes comes simply through the action of naming, or acknowledging, a feeling. It is as if the feeling has done its work in getting our attention. It has raised the alarm, and now it can leave.
A helpful step in acknowledging feelings can be to name the part of your body that is carrying the negative emotion. Stress is often carried in the shoulders; fear often tightens the chest; guilt and sadness turn the stomach into a concrete mixer. Don’t be surprised, though, if you find you are carrying your feelings in some unusual places like your throat, parts of your head, or even your legs.
In many cultures, men do not talk about their feelings as much as women. The result is both that men are often unaware of what they are feeling and they have no names for emotions. Scanning the body may help a man, in particular, to find his feelings and say, “My stomach is churning,” or “I feel tense across my shoulders.” These physical sensations are signs of an emotional response, and a good friend might be able to help give names to these physical symptoms like ‘sadness’ or ‘anxiety.’
Remember, we gain nothing by pretending the emotions don’t exist. When we ignore them, they will simply join with other unprocessed emotions stored in our beings and they may lead to more serious physical symptoms down the road.
Release the Feelings
Having named their feelings, some people are satisfied. As one therapist said to me, though, “If you have a sliver in your finger, is the goal to understand the sliver or to get rid of it?”
Negative feelings have a job to do, much like Sadness in the movie Inside Out. They are not evil in and of themselves. However, if we hang on to the negative emotions, if we milk them and feed them and let them send down roots, they can begin to dominate our range of emotional experience. Anxiety and fear, if they gain the upper hand, can suppress joy and peace.
To release my feelings, I ask myself if I have felt this feeling for long enough. I then decide to release the feeling. I act on my volition. I always have the power to make decisions. Also, my faith tells me, God wants to take on my negative emotions, so I decide to give them to Him. After making the decision to let go, I breathe out and relax my body. Usually, the feeling has lessened, or another feeling replaces the one I am processing.
The process doesn’t always “work” right away. Sometimes there is a blockage, and I need to release the blockage first. Sometimes I irrationally believe that my anxiety and fear helps me or gives me control.
Also, our emotions are not singular entities, which, once released, result in immediate clarity and peace. They exist more like an old CD changer: Once one emotion is released, another emotion rises up to take its place. It is healthy to subsequently process that next emotion…and the next.
Accounding to Jim Wilhoit (and others), gratitude is more effective at fighting anxiety and worry than drugs and therapy combined. Gratitude rewires the brain. We see the world differently when we continually give thanks.
Keeping a gratitude journal is a habit that will lead to a greater sense of well-being. In a daily journal list two or three things for which you are thankful. The sun might not come out from behind the rain clouds immediately, but eventually you will begin to see the silver lining.
Feed Your Mind
A person surrounded by dark colours, negative music, sinister television, and apocalyptic movies will see the world accordingly. It doesn’t mean that a person should focus the entirety of their day on ‘Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows,’ but there is a lot of positive still remaining in God’s world. His glory still shines all around us. Be intentional about seeing it and surrounding yourself with other sources that point out His power and declare His praise.
Several years ago, it was the noble acts of Frodo and Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings that helped me focus more positively. On the way to work, I would often listen to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, and I would feel quite heroic when I pulled up to teach my fifth grade class.
Seek a Mentor/Counselor
I have learned to manage my mental health by admitting when I need help. Initially, when a colleague at work suggested I talk to a counselor, I flatly refused. My pride told me, “Only screw-ups talk to people about their emotions.”
I was dead wrong. I was afraid I would be punished on my life insurance because I had a mental health diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety and Depression. Actually, though, I was credited with having the strength to do what I needed in order to stay healthy.
Because I followed the pattern of behavior listed above, I am now free from anxiety. I have a peace and a joy I never knew before. I have to maintain my positivity, though, by consistently processing my negative emotions. Seek out a mentor or mental health professional to coach you on the path to emotional freedom.
These practical steps come straight from Philippians in the Bible. They are revealed by God and are less effectively executed without a heart-deep relationship with Him. Central to God’s plan for emotional freedom is the assurance that ‘The Lord is Near.’ The body of believers we call the church should be our support network. The believer releases their negative feelings to God because He cares for them (1 Peter 5:7). Then the God of Peace, who dwells in the heart of the believer, guards their hearts with the peace of Jesus. I have experienced the peace of God replacing my fear. I would encourage you to seek God and walk on the path He has laid out for you. If you seek Him first, all these other things will be added to your experience of Him.
Note: There is a clinical anxiety (not circumstantial). Close work with a psychiatrist, as well as a pastor, would be recommended for chronic anxiety which is the result of body chemistry.
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
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