Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety
Anxiety Disorders affect roughly 40 million Americans according to the National Institute of Mental Health and women are 60% more likely to experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime than men. This means that anxiety disorders (Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Phobias, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) affect roughly one out of every five adults!
Statistics indicate that you or someone you know will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in life.
In my last post, I wrote that anxiety is often rooted in the false belief that we can/should be able to do everything on our own- but the realization that we cannot possibly control every circumstance, nor can we have complete confidence in our own strength, abilities, efforts, or relationships— creates tension. This tension may motivate us toward greater effort and discipline, but also may produce fear and anxiety we cannot manage properly.
We looked at Paul, who determined that his confidence (and ours) must be placed in Christ!
Self Confidence (our works, righteousness, efforts at control, even our abilities) will at some point let us down, falling short eventually. That is why confidence in the flesh produces anxiety, but confidence in Christ produces peace.
I know, some might push back on this, since science reveals that anxiety (the negative, counterproductive kind) is caused by many factors or a combination of them: genetics, abusive or traumatic experiences, the brain chemistry, even personality types. I do not dispute the science of these findings, but believe there is also a significant thought-driven component to the development of most anxiety disorders. This is why medication alone is usually unsuccessful in treating anxiety— it must be combined with counseling or therapy.
Yet before modern medicine, nearly 3,000 years ago, Solomon who was gifted by God with wisdom, wrote about the connection between our thoughts and their affect on our lives. Here are a few of his observations:
“…heartache crushes the spirit.” Prov 15:13
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” Prov 13:12
“A heart at peace gives life to the body…” Prov 14:30
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov 17:22) NIV
“A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Prov 18:14) NIV
Interestingly enough, it is science that is finally catching up to the truth revealed in Scripture!
The Hebrew word “lêb” or labe, translated to us as “heart,” refers to our feelings, will, and intellect— likewise relates to what we think, feel, or know to be true at the center or core of our being. Therefore, we cannot underscore enough the importance of the call to “Guard your heart for it is the well spring of life” (Prov 4:23). NIV
I have written about Taking Our Thoughts Captive ; how to actively guard our hearts and minds in Christ but here, I want to share how to break the cycle of anxious thoughts.
The cycle, simplified, goes something like this: Trigger / Situation (real or perceived threat) > Anticipation of negative outcome, hyper focus on problem > restlessness, frustration, worry > physical effects: sleeplessness, headaches, illnesses > more to worry about.
Since anxiety can be a cycle, let’s do some things to break the cycle and start a new habit or practice for dealing with triggers of anxiety. [adapted from The Coaching Habit, Michael Bugay Stanier]
Get out a pencil and paper and write…
When this happens: (List potential / typical triggers for your anxiety)
- unexpected bills
- concerns/issues regarding my children
- uncertainty about the future
- conflict with my spouse or a friend
- public speaking
- YOUR specific anxiety trigger:________________________.
Instead of: (My usual response to the trigger)
- hyper focus on the problem
- anticipate negative/catastrophic outcomes
- doubt that the answer will present itself in due time
- avoidance of _________
- YOUR typical response to a trigger: _______________________.
I will: (Change course, take a new approach)
- What I will DO: In the example of the unexpected bill, this may mean looking for ways to move money around, (dropping any unnecessary expenses- luxuries like manis/pedis, new clothes, those $4 cups of coffee, cable tv, costly sports and activities for the kids, even private school tuition. If it does not meet a physical need (food, water, shelter, etc) for you or your family- it can be CUT!
- How I will THINK: This is where we actively rejoice like Paul told the Philippians. I will think about all that God has done and provided until now. I will remember other instances of His faithfulness, I will search the Scriptures for reminders of His promises to supply all I need, and I will choose gratitude over dissatisfaction.
- Who I will TRUST: I will not put confidence in myself (confidence in the flesh) although I may take active steps towards wise stewardship of finances, my confidence does not rest in those steps, but in God’s faithfulness, provision, and goodness. I cast my cares upon Him because He will sustain me. Ps 55:22a
That’s it! Then comes His peace. It guards our hearts and minds in Christ- breaking the cycle of anxiety and giving us rest!
Please understand, banishing anxiety doesn’t mean we no longer care about an issue, but that we no longer carry it!
What will YOU do TODAY to banish anxiety from your heart? Will you take these steps to find peace?
“For God did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and sound mind.” I Timothy 1:7 (NIV)
Please reach out to me- I would love to hear if you plan to put these steps into practice and how it goes! I am already praying for you! And don’t forget to share this with your friends- we all have events and circumstances that have the potential to create anxiety in our lives, but that is not what God wants for us! He wants us to cast it on Him– demonstrate our confidence in Him and in return, He will give us the peace and rest we so desperately need!