It feels familiar, kind of like hunger pangs that signal it’s time to eat. Only this isn’t hunger. It is more nebulous, sometimes difficult to identify with any degree of certainty. It lingers. It whispers. It requires action.
It is anxiety. Anxiety is the distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. Because it doesn’t present the same for everyone, it is easily overlooked and explained away, especially by the one experiencing it.
To some degree, we all experience anxiety. It isn’t the universal experience that makes anxiety a problem. It is what is done with it that makes it a problem. Paul makes this recommendation in his letter to the believers in Philippi:
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Philippians 4:6
Prayer is an excellent choice to relieve anxiety. But first, I have to be willing and able to recognize my experience as anxiety. Initially, I respond in a different, less helpful way; a dysfunctional way, if you will.
Denial. I deny that I am anxious. I just don’t like to travel, drive, shop, ride the bus, go on an elevator. I like to walk up ten flights of stairs because it is good for me. I like the comfort of my home so I stay there. Rather than face the uneasiness in my mind, I deny it is there.
Anesthetize. I numb myself so I can’t feel the anxiety or at least not as deeply. Many types of anesthesia are available to us. Gaming, alcohol, drugs, sleep, sex, religion, activity, sports, food — anything to keep my mind from feeling. I attempt to silence the uneasiness in my mind by covering it over with something more powerful.
So how does a person overcome anxiety? The first step seems obvious and yet it is perhaps the most difficult. Admit it’s there. Identify the uneasiness that lingers when considering certain activities. Simply admit it is present.
Sit with it for a bit and ask the question: What danger lurks here? What misfortune might I experience? Is it failure? Looking stupid? Bodily harm? Getting lost? Being alone? Rejection? Isolation? Abandonment? Shame? Exposure?
As the source of anxiety comes into focus, be honest about how you have dealt with it in the past. Ask Jesus where he fits into this picture. How does his presence speak to your anxiety?
Follow Paul’s advice: . . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9
As a person who has suffered with and overcome anxiety on many levels, I in no way want to minimize the difficulty of living free from anxiety. I know how debilitating it is. I know how long it takes to cut free from the entanglements. I know that praying more, reading the Bible more and meditating on scripture is difficult if not impossible at times.
I also know there is hope. There is life after anxiety. It is possible to greet each day with eagerness and expectation of good rather than evil. There are strategies that work, that provide lasting relief.
If you are one who struggles with anxiety, don’t try to do it alone. Reach out to a trusted spiritual advisor, seek professional counseling, ask for help. Begin the journey today to experiencing the peace that is beyond all understanding.