Three Ways to Tackle Anxiety

Everyone worries, but not everyone worries the same way. Everyone worries but not everyone is affected the same way. Some are more affected by events, or external issues or circumstances, some more so by negative thoughts, personal flaws, or wounds old and new. And when things happen in our world and in our community and in our personal lives the worries can pile up. My goal for this vignette is not to provide a way to eradicate all your anxieties, as wonderful as that sounds, for that would be aiming too high for a mere article. However, all of us can feel better if we can reduce the size or the intensity of the pile of worries. And that seems like a reachable and helpful goal.  

1.       Find a way to get at least some of those swirling thoughts out of your head. You know, the more that you ruminate on your anxieties that it doesn’t help. In fact, they grow, don’t they? They seem to take on a life of their own, as your mind finds ways to add to the possibilities of things getting worse. One thing that can stop the train this runaway train is to get it out – by talking to someone or journaling. Let me provide a couple guidelines for talking with someone, because not all talking is productive talking. First, let’s address the person you chose. If possible, choose someone you believe can listen without giving advice or minimizing your feelings or perspective. And also be wary of someone who will amp up your emotions by joining you too strongly, if you know what I mean. Choosing a safe person is more than we can get into fully here, so I would recommend a resource such as Boundaries or Safe People by Henry Cloud. Also, if talking to someone becomes venting, then you are simply reproducing the same internal ruminating that you do in your head. So, that’s not what I am referring to. The point is about processing your thoughts and feelings. But this may take some work so keep at it. The art of effective journaling could be a separate article all its own. But for now, think of it as a dialogue with yourself. Ask yourself probing questions (which does not mean beating yourself up, by the way) and try to play the role of that safe friend – with yourself.

2.       Stop trying to make yourself stop worrying! Here’s another strategy that mostly works against you, right? But like ruminating, it’s hard to break. When you engage in this you have actually increased your own anxiety. One reason we do this is because we want to stop, of course. But really it is because we believe that we are doing something wrong or bad. And there’s the problem. We have been confused about the relationship between two elements. One is that we naturally and rightly work hard to address our concerns, such as solve problems and help or protect loved ones. The other has to do with trust. This is the reason that the Bible tells us to not be anxious. It is not saying that we should have no concern for the things that are important and not want to protect our loved ones. The point is that we should bring our concerns to the one whom we can trust. I Peter 5:7 tells us to “cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” If you can shift to viewing your anxieties as concerns and then work on bringing them to God, you can then let go of seeing them as bad and won’t feel such a need to try to stop yourself. Also, I would suggest incorporating this approach into your journaling and try journaling to God as well.

3.       Be proactive. We just clarified that often our anxieties are concerns about real issues or problems. And likely we invest our emotional energy in worrying about them because at some level they feel overwhelming or unsolvable. That’s one big reason of course for bringing them to God, the One for whom nothing is too big. This brings us back to my original purpose, of not trying to eliminate all worry but to reduce the intensity or amount. The way to go about this is to be systematic. Sit down and write out (there’s that writing again) a list of your concerns/anxieties. The go back through them and rank them according to the intensity of the worry. Next, go through your list and mark the ones that are in your sphere of influence, meaning the ones you feel you have the power to address. Then look over your list again and mark the ones that you could take on if you had some help. Now, I bet your already know what I am about to propose. Take the ones that are left, the ones that don’t belong in your sphere of influence and you could not address even if you had help and hand those to God (point number two). Next take the ones marked that you could address with help. Choose one and match it with an appropriate person who could do the helping and ask for their help. Lastly, look over your list of items you marked that are in your sphere of influence. Notice the rankings you gave them of their intensity. I am going to suggest that it may not be best to try and tackle the highest ranking one first; that may overtax you just when you are attempting to lower your anxiety level. So, choose something else, something that feels doable. And now, let’s reevaluate. Have you seen some progress? Turned some things over to God, got help with something and reduced your list of concerns that were weighing you down?

In summary, get the anxieties out somehow, be more gracious to yourself about your worrying and pare down that burdensome list of worries you carry around. Remember, we all process our experiences uniquely and we all need to be connected to others. Hope it helps!

Matt W.  Sandford, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

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