Anxiety

Anxiety and worry are seen by many as synonyms, but they are not. I don't set out here to discuss the different parts of the brain involved in each. Nor am I downplaying the effect of worrying. In my past, I suffered (undiagnosed) depression caused by a specific worry (business failed and house almost lost). I was brought out of it by hearing a comedian. I love humour but hadn't laughed (a sure sign something was wrong) in six months. That restored a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, and eventually, I emerged back into the world.

Anxiety does not necessarily relate to a specific challenge - it's often a case of more hypothetical issues. That is not to say both cannot exist at the same time, but the tools for tackling anxiety are quite different from those tackling worry. In many ways, it feels to me that worry is much more straightforward. If the issues causing worry can be dealt with (even if just by the passing of time), feelings will change.

We live in such an ever-increasing press of things to do we don't take adequate time for ourselves. By that, I don't mean time to do what we enjoy, although that may be part of it. I am thinking of quiet times. Now those who are Christians are probably thinking (as I once did) of times we set aside to read the Bible, meditate and pray. Indeed those are good things - but on their own can become dry and dare I say - boring.

I'm a little more fortunate than many - I had a stroke. That may seem like a strange thing to say, and I would never say a stroke is a good thing. However, being without my mind for 2.5 years meant I had to learn to think again.

Getting my mind back came with some ways of thinking I'd discovered weren't the most helpful, but I have now had the experience of two quite different ways of thinking. Now I am often aware that I don't fully appreciate a situation, where in the past I would have thought someone else didn't understand what seemed obvious to me. By asking more questions I get a wider understanding - often with help from those around.

One of the key things I've learned is to be calm (on the inside). Quiet times in my life fall into two main categories. The first is not so applicable to most - but has made a difference in my life. That is times when I do not actively think of anything. I try and shut the mind down, and at times can almost feel the brain cleaning up the mess I have made while thinking. This was recommended by a psychotherapist (and also in a book by a stroke survivor) and has made a difference, particularly as the day goes on. I still get words mixed up and so on, but I'm generally able to think relatively clearly until bedtime.

The second one is stillness in general. I used to think "having a quiet time" was enough. Now I understand that being at peace all the time is much nearer the ideal. Some are more naturally "stable" characters - others (including me) are more "volatile". When I look at the life of Jesus, He never raced through life. Even when a friend of His died, He didn't rush off to see him. He even stopped along the way to attend to a current issue for someone he didn't even know. When He did get there, He raised him back to life. I definitely need to be more stable.

A difficulty in considering anxiety is that an issue considered anxiously is usually largely hypothetical. Something will happen - but usually not the worst things we imagine. I have only learned in recent times how negative thoughts can lead to more negative outcomes - and vice versa.

Perhaps I'm a bit simplistic here (it wouldn't be the first time) but worrying about hypothetical issues doesn't mean they're not real - but we can't deal with them as we would tackle most challenges because they haven't happened yet - and probably won't in the way we imagine.

In the past, we didn't know with precision the different areas of the brain affected by anxiety and worry as we do today thanks to brain scans. We also "knew" more stability (even if some of it was an illusion). For example, generally, the main threat to families was illness and death, whereas today families are breaking up for many reasons, most of which make no sense to children.

While the media may suggest a plague of anxiety is sweeping today's society, you only have to read the Bible to find it's been around for millennia.

David, a man after God's own heart said: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts." His son wrote: "An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up". He also wrote: "So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigour are meaningless." These were two of the greatest men ever - yet both knew personal failure only too well.

Paul knew anxiety: "For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety."

He also knew that peace could overcome anxiety: "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 everything, 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."

Peter gave the ultimate antidote: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."

There are many people today offering advice on dealing with anxiety. Some of it is helpful, some less so - and most messages contain both elements. People who say "it's all in your mind" are probably well-meaning - and right. But it's the mind that is the battleground that must be won if we want to move forward and not be dragged into distractions that keep us from becoming our best.

I have known what it's like to be desperate to leave something behind, only to find myself drawn back, unable to resist. For me, it was trivial - nail-biting. Time and time again I'd say "No more", only to do it again. It might seem I'm comparing two different levels of issue - but the underlying issue is not being in charge of my own life. I felt weak and beaten every time - just like my Dad was the many times he tried to give up tobacco. I eventually said to God "I can't do it", and stopped trying. One day I noticed my nails had grown, much to my surprise.

That is NOT saying that ggivingup is the key for everyone in every situation. The key is to hear what will work for you. There may be several parts to it. It may include just stopping focussing on it as I did. I suspect it may require more than that, but the last two quotes (Peter and Paul) certainly give a key answer. God doesn't want any of us to be less than we can.

 

Last Modified

Last modified: 28 November 2020.