A Few Musings about Anxiety

Anxiety is that uneasy feeling that all is not well or will not be well. There’s a song that goes “All shall be well, and all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.” Much of the time that sounds like it can’t possibly be true. Just look around. All is not well and most of the time seems to be moving in the direction of disintegration rather than wholeness.

We wish we could more fully embrace the admonition of Jesus to not worry (Matthew 6:25-34), but that is much more easily said than done. It seems that we have an inbuilt concern about lots of things that seem important that we can’t control, and that causes anxiety – the fear that all will not be well and that we will suffer.

Simply put, when we suffer from anxiety we are really dealing with control issues. We feel anxious when we experience ourselves as needing control over something over which we cannot have control, whether that is financial security for the future, being treated with consideration and kindness, staying healthy, having one’s children do well and not get hurt, our emotional responses to life, our reputation, when we will die, how we might get hurt physically or emotionally, etc., etc. The list goes on ad infinitum.

Since we experience our emotions in our physical bodies, many times our physical symptoms are trying to let us know that we are troubled emotionally, mentally, and perhaps spiritually, and are begging us to pay attention to what is going on in our souls. Physical symptoms are not always about emotional suffering, or course, but the more I understand about the interconnectedness of our bodies, souls, and spirits, the more I believe it is important to pay attention to physical symptoms and where they are in one’s body as indicators of soul suffering and see what they have to tell us. Same way with dreams, but that’s another subject!

Most of us are attracted to persons who seem non-anxious, who take life as it comes and don’t seem to get bent out of shape about what happens. While this can be evidence of one deadening one’s emotions so as not to feel the true impact, it can also be evidence of a person having come to terms with their own powerlessness to control life – everything outside of them – and are learning to just live it, taking life as it comes with the good and the unpleasant.

So what helps reduce anxiety?

  1. Honest acknowledgement of it, expressing one’s true feelings verbally or through journaling can help reduce its power, since our resistance to what is actually increases anxiety. Getting what one is feeling on the inside out of oneself into words or onto paper usually has a slowing down, calming effect. It also helps one know how anxious one really is. If getting real feelings out doesn’t reduce the anxiety, if the feelings intensify, then one is simply more anxious than one is wanting to acknowledge. This is one time when it is helpful to seek a safe space to explore what is going on, such talking with a counselor.
  2. Since anxiety is not caused by circumstances but by what one is believing, taking an honest look at the beliefs one is carrying around and living out of can be extremely helpful. For instance, if I believe I need others to think well of me in order for me to feel good about myself as a person, I will live with anxiety, since it is not possible to achieve that goal. “The truth will make you free”, Jesus and a lot of other people have said since. Freedom and anxiety don’t co-exist very well, so anything we do to seek truth can help reduce anxiety.
  3. The following goes right along with work on the points above Choosing to become more aware of one’s immediate emotional response to events or triggers and exercising the choice in the moment to “let go” rather than to “fight” one’s feelings helps reduce anxiety. This is counter intuitive, of course. That’s why it takes paying attention and practice choosing one’s response! Like Stephen Covey has said in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” We either defend against reality or we accept it. Reality is not our enemy. Our resistance to it is. When we choose to “allow” for what is really happening, our anxiety level goes down.

In other words, there is real hope for anxiety issues. I love working with anxiety because it is such a killer and because there is hope for real change.