Anxiety and Me and the God Who Gets It.

By Lenae Moore
In Hope & Healing
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My throat felt closed off, my shoulders were tight, and my stomach was churning. My thoughts alternately whirled by too fast to catch and so slow that I felt stupid. What was happening to me? Normally I’m an even-keeled, calm and sensible person, but for several weeks I felt like my mind and my body were conspiring against me.

In the last few years, our world has faced tragedy after horror after unthinkable disaster, and we are all dealing with some level of post-traumatic stress as a result. Anxiety had never been a part of my experience but in the last two years, I have found myself learning what the symptoms are in my body and mind and how best to handle them in loving, grace-filled ways. We can’t stop anxiety from touching us, especially when we are chemically or emotionally more prone to experience it, but we can learn how to quickly recognize it and take it to our Father God.

Anxiety has spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental components, and in order to respond appropriately, we need to have strategies that involve all those dimensions. This is one of the things that makes anxiety (and its frequent companion, depression) so difficult to understand, as there are so many possible causes and coping techniques. We’re going to explore these in greater depth on June 25 at IBC's Coping with Anxiety workshop but let’s do a quick scan here.

Spiritual – Ephesians 6:12 tells us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We know that we have an enemy who wants to distract, discourage, and discombobulate God’s people to thwart God’s plans, and we must make sure that our focus stays on our Father and not on our anxious states. Pastor Barry has taught us a powerful prayer to pray in these moments: “Holy Spirit, I am weak but You are strong. Be strong in me.” Repeating this out loud gives us the added benefit of being able to focus on hearing the words as well as thinking them and gives us a chance to center our swirling thoughts on this truth while the Spirit does His work. I also love having favorite Scriptures printed out that promise God’s faithfulness. What are some of the ways that you remind yourself of God’s faithfulness during your moments of anxiety?

Physical – When we perceive a threat, our bodies start preparing for battle, even before our brain has time to consciously evaluate the situation. Our brains’ amygdala starts sending out the alarm, and the sympathetic nervous system responds by releasing stress signals that redirect our resources to survival mode. Blood flow decreases to the parts of our brain that make decisions and increases to our large muscle groups and our hearts and lungs. We are primed for fight, flight or freeze – and this can all be triggered by reading a news story, a conversation with our boss, or an argument with a loved one! In these moments, we have to get our body out of the stress response so we can get our brains’ judgment centers back on line. A great way to do that is “box breathing” – inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds. (I find that I need a longer exhale, but “quadrilateral breathing” doesn’t have the same ring! Find the count that works for you.) This slows down your breathing, which slows down your heart, which slows down the cortisol pumping through your body and gives you a chance to regroup. What techniques have you found that slow down your body’s stress response?

Emotional – Once our bodies have begun exiting Code Red mode, we can begin to sift through what we’re feeling. Anger, fear, sadness, unease – all of these guide us to what may have triggered the response. It may take some digging – anger is a master of disguise and either can hide behind another emotion or can act as a mask to cover a more vulnerable reaction. Once we identify the emotion(s) that we are experiencing, we can remind ourselves that emotions are temporary and can experience them without getting sucked under. They can also point us to the subconscious mental elements of our anxious response. What are your go-to emotions and are there other emotions hiding behind them?

Mental – Although we don’t often stop to realize it, most of our responses to life and the emotions we feel begin with some subconscious interpretation of what our senses tell us. Brené Brown calls this “the story I tell myself” because it frequently is a snap judgment of why something happened and leaves out a lot of unknown truth. So a curt response from a coworker becomes They think I bombed the presentation and ruined our chance of getting this account and misses that the other person just got some bad news about a family member’s medical condition and was distracted when you spoke. Once our body has begun to leave the emergency state, we can ask, “What story am I telling myself? What threat am I perceiving and is it actually a threat? What do I think I need in this moment?” Yesterday my answer was I must get everything on my list done early and well – and there is something powerful about naming that belief out loud. Once I form the words, I’m able to articulate the falsehood – not everything on my list was critical, and some of it could be done without full effort. There were also some things that should be delegated to someone else, or the timeline should be renegotiated. Regardless, I was okay no matter how my task list progressed, but my thoughts in the moment were lying to me and telling my body there was a crisis. Taking these thoughts to our good Father can help us see the falsehood and the dysfunction and can bring healing in the moment, and often, healing in the deeper wounds of our lives. What story often underlies your stress response?

As we become more proficient at identifying the symptoms of anxiety and moving through the steps to calm down our body’s emergency responses and sift through our thoughts and feelings, we will find that God always shows up and will always lead us into truth and wholeness. Philippians 4:19 is a great Scripture to hold onto – “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Our need for safety, for reassurance, for peace, for wisdom – He has it all and He will be right there with us in those moments of overwhelming anxiety.

Our good God has provided what we need, and He will meet us in the anxiety and worry. He promises that when we do that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) We have to practice looking for him and training our hearts and spirits to listen for His leading, and that is easiest to do while walking with others doing the same thing. Peace sounds better to me than anxiety, so I’m working hard to learn this lesson!

On June 25th we’re going to meet together after the 10:45 service to explore anxiety in more detail and to learn how we can respond to these thoughts and feelings with the truth and with compassion. Come join me as we talk through what makes us anxious and how to choose peace.

More event details and registration can be found here.

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