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Four Terrible Ways to Fight Anxiety (and One That Works)

worry

A sumo wrestler was sitting on my chest and he wouldn’t get off. He was big and ugly. It was painful.

It had all started that morning while driving in to work. It was just a slight tightness at first… I was tense. Then it felt like my shirt had shrunk a few sizes. Then my chest and back felt tight, like I had been carrying weights and the weight vest kept shrinking. By the time I made it up the stairs to my office, I was sweating. When I reached my hand out to open the door, it felt like I would die if I just touched it. The sumo wrestler sat down.

So I gave up on going to work. I walked outside and walked around the block. I splashed cold water in my face and gave myself a pep talk. I walked back in to face the door one more time. Hello sumo.

This was anxiety. Do you know it?

Maybe not the sumo on your chest kind… but maybe the tightness in your shoulders kind, or the lay awake staring at the ceiling kind, or the slight twitch kind, or the snap at your spouse for no good reason kind, or the pretend you’re totally relaxed when you’re totally not kind.

I know each of these varietals of stress well. You see some people are a connoisseur of wine or a collector of furniture… I’m a connoisseur of fine anxieties. (What a terrible hobby) Like a fine wine, each anxiety has a nuance all its own… a unique bouquet to savor (endure). Some anxieties are more nagging, others more acute. Some are driven by family, others by work, still others by the future. Some bathe over you in waves covering your shoulders and back, while others just sit like a baseball sized stone in your gut.

I know anxiety well… and let me tell you: anxiety sucks.

I mean, at least other sins have the deception of being fun while you’re in them… anxiety is just awful from start to finish. There’s no joy in anxiety, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.

So with that in mind, here’s four terrible ways to fight anxiety (and one that actually works).

a. Eat

Eat food – Sweet food. Salty food. Crunchy stuff. Gummy stuff. Chocolate. I prefer taco bell, but we’ve talked about that before. Just eat your feelings. You can find comfort in food. Just take a bite and mmmm, then one more and ohhh.

I’m feeling a little better just thinking about food… aren’t you? Aren’t we all?

But the problem always is that you can’t eat or drink enough to fix it. So you eat, then eat some more. It’s not better, it’s just numb. A small distraction. You’re not fighting anxiety when you eat your feelings, you’re just temporarily pretending to ignore it.

b. Waste time (preferably on the internet)

If I’m Satan, I think that I absolutely LOVE IT when people try to deal with anxiety by wasting time. Television, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, that blog you love reading that’s sortof productive but not really productive right now and you’re totally not reading it to be productive right now. (Wait, are you doing that now?)

Distract yourself. Don’t do the thing you’re supposed to do. Don’t be alone with your thoughts to deal with your fears – that sounds horrible…definitely don’t do that. Look at Facebook a little longer. Like one more picture on Instagram. Favorite one last tweet. Oops. Now the day is over… now it’s so late… time to go to bed.

Your anxiety is never fooled. You can’t trick your anxiety by not thinking about it for 10 minutes. Your anxiety and the issues that cause it are patient. They will wait for you. They can wait all night if that’s what you prefer. “No,” your anxiety says, “I don’t mind if you check Twitter first, go right ahead. I’ll be waiting when you finish. Take as much time as you need.” (Apparently your anxiety has great manners and an open schedule.)

c. Work harder

This one is tricky because: what is a great way to solve your problems? Work on them.

Here’s the problem though. If you’re anxious about money and you work hard and earn more money: your anxiety will go away for a little bit. But then you’ll get used to what you have and you will want even more money. And the anxiety will come rolling back in.

If you are worried about popularity and then gain popularity, eventually you’ll become worried about something else socially related.

Anxiety is sortof like the book “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” (or “If You Give A Dog A Donut” or dang Laura Numeroff, you really went with that “give an animal an object” thing, didn’t you?)Which is to say that feeding your anxiety will just make it hungrier. You might temporarily push back your anxiety, but if you didn’t deal with it’s root, anxiety will just come back bigger and stronger.

d. Pep talks

In college I used to look in the mirror sometimes and tell myself I was awesome. Not in a crazy way, just in a “hey, remember, you’re going to be ok” sort of way. It was positive self-talk. Then I read an article about power poses (here’s a similar one from the WSJ). So now I stand in my best wonder woman pose in the restroom at work while telling myself I’ve got a great bone structure. (Wait. What?)

I don’t actually do that, but the whole pep talk thing is sort of silly in the same way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for positive self-talk and even for posturing yourself to feel more confident… but if your fear is that you will never amount to anything, I’m not sure standing a little taller and using the words “I’m awesome” are going to help.

Pep talks miss the point because pep talks can’t solve your problem. Many anxieties are sourced externally – your job, the economy, your family – so how do empty, internal words help?

What works?

So what is the right way to fight anxiety? Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that God has given us a very straightforward prescription for our anxiety – and best of all (at least for the Type A in me) it’s something we can do.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

When you are anxious, go before God with your anxieties with thanksgiving. If you do that, the peace of God will guard your heart and mind. (aka – anxiety squelcher.)

That’s a stone cold promise to you. When you are anxious, if you will bring those requests before God with thanksgiving, the result is that you heart and mind will be guarded by the peace of God. I almost wish it was more complicated than that. But it isn’t.

So pray. Present your request to God. If you’re anything like me, you’ll always be surprised when your anxiety subsides… though you shouldn’t be. Because God made you a promise.

And he’s never not kept a promise.

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This post is pretty long already, but I’ve put together the practical steps I use every day to fight anxiety. I’ve sent it to subscribers of the blog and would love to send it to you as well. Subscribe below and I’ll send you the 4 step template I use to fight anxiety.


Resolution Link Wrap

Note: This post is a little different than others on the blog. It’s more a collection of stuff about resolutions (you’ll notice a lot of links). Some are Christian sources, some aren’t… sorry, not sorry. If you hover over the links, you’ll see some additional notes. Each piece is pretty interesting. Happy New Year. See you in 2015.

You should resolve to do something, because if you don’t know where you’re going, it’s unlikely you get to the place you intended.

Making new year resolutions probably started with the Babylonians (but they did it in March). Then the Romans caught the resolution  bug. Then the Puritans did it as a way to avoid the parties. John Wesley created covenant renewal services (which seems pretty cool.)

The problem is that resolutions aren’t biblicalunless they are. (That’s also a free lesson in the importance of context.) Just make sure you’re resolving to do things honoring to God.

Regardless, some famous people have made resolutions. Woody Guthrie, Marilyn Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Swift, Jonathan Edwards.

Don’t bother resolving to go on a diet, stop smoking, get more exercise, lose 20 pounds, or stop biting your nails. Also, big goals are for losers. So what if you resolved to do less rather than more?

Whatever you do, if you make a resolution, you might as well keep it. What’s the point of always resolving and never actually resolving? Jerry Seinfeld keeps resolutions by not breaking the chain. I found some success with a similar method in a notebook. Remember, what get’s measured gets done.

Happy kitten New Year.

 

The Wrong Questions

Sin will say anything to anesthetize you.

“Everyone has that calling, it’s not special. You’re silly for thinking it is.”

“No one else thinks like that. No one is doing that. Do you really think you’re smarter than everyone else? Don’t be so naive.”

Two sides of the same coin. And no matter which side you call, the end result is the same. You won’t do that thing you’re supposed to do.

The funny thing is, those are the wrong questions. The question isn’t “Is this calling unique to me?” Or, “Will I be alone in my calling if I say yes to this?” The question is “What is obedient?”

Sin, of course, knows this. But it wants to distract you. Because if it can get you asking the wrong questions, it doesn’t have to worry about the answers.

The right time is now

I’ll do it when my schedule clears up, when my friend moves back in to town, when summer hits, after that next raise, after I get married, after I get a little more training.

I’ll do it when it’s more convenient, cheaper, easier, funner (totally a word). When it’s less time consuming, scary, dangerous, potentially embarrassing, uncomfortable, vulnerable.

I’m glad those aren’t things Jesus said.

The tasks in front of you today are important. No matter how big or small they may seem. No matter how uncomfortable or scary they may be. You wouldn’t have been created to do them if they weren’t important. So get to it already.

You do what you want

I’m always doing what I want. You are too. We all do exactly what we want all the time, and if we don’t want to do something, we don’t do it.

“But, but, but… I want to eat better… I want to exercise… I want to read more… I want to get off twitter.”

No. You don’t.

Because if you really wanted to, you would.

This is the truth about everything, sin included. Any sin you’ve ever committed, you wanted to commit. In the moment, you wanted to sin more than you wanted to be obedient… so you sinned. I mean, contrary to what I tell my wife sometimes, I have never accidentally eaten a cupcake.

When I eat a cupcake, I eat it because eating the cupcake seems more valuable to me than being healthy, or not glutting myself. (I just ate half a dozen cupcakes… just HALF a dozen. and it was an accident. ACCIDENT.)

This is the truth for all of our sins, and we can see it play out over and over again in our work. When we are lazy, when we are unfocused, when we cut corners, when we are short tempered with our co-workers. These are all things that we “don’t want to do.” But in the moment we want to. We want to more than we don’t want to, or we wouldn’t.

When we find ourselves failing at work, the first thought many of us have is to try to white knuckle our way into being better workers. “I should just DO BETTER!” we tell ourselves.

When was the last time that actually worked?

Never. And it doesn’t work because in the moment we don’t believe that being disciplined, or working hard, or whatever it is, is better than the alternative. So we do the things that we ultimately “don’t want to do.”

But you did want to do it.

Have you ever had something that you wanted so bad, you could taste it (why is this whole post about food?) One time I was in bed, but I wanted a taco so bad I got up from bed, put on clothes, and talked my wife into driving across town with me to Taco Bell (don’t judge me… your sins are no different than mine… they just have less sour cream.) Let me say that again for effect; I GOT OUT OF BED AND DROVE ACROSS TOWN FOR A TACO.

And then, after eating my taco, I wasn’t satisfied, so I went back for another taco. (I almost wish this was a made up story, but it isn’t. Here’s a tweet from 2012 to prove it.)

Taco Tweet

In that moment, I made the decision that a taco (or two) from taco bell was better than being healthy. I wanted those tacos.

If I had been training for a marathon and was going to run it the next morning, you can bet I wouldn’t have eaten a taco at 9:03 the night before. I would have wanted to run a better race more than I wanted a taco. I would have done what I wanted to do, just like I did what I wanted to do. But the action would have been different. See, it’s all about what do you want more?

So what’s the point of all this?

Unsurprisingly, Jesus told us this was the case.

When Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He wasn’t putting some weird guilt trip on us. Jesus was making an observation. He’s observing the fact that, “If you love me – if I’m the most important thing in your life – you won’t be able to help yourself… you’ll keep my commandments.”

Jesus is saying that if you love him. If you truly love him and you can understand what he’s done for you and how much HE loves you. You’ll WANT to keep his commandments. And you will want to every second of every day, because keeping his commandments will look sooooo much better to you than any alternative.

And therein lies the problem and the solution. You doing the things you “don’t want to do” or not doing the things you want to do. It’s a simple “want to” problem. It’s an affection problem. You don’t want to, because your affections are in the wrong place.

So today when you are tempted to procrastinate, or be short with a coworker, or be disappointed in your job title – the answer is not to mentally flog yourself, or feel terrible about yourself. The answer is to think about what Jesus has done for you.

The Gospel is a great motivator, but not because you feel guilty. The Gospel is a great motivator because if your heart is full of love for God, it won’t have room to love anything else.

Today you only need to work harder at one thing, and this is going to sound really corny, and I’m sorry for that, but today you only need to work harder at loving Jesus. If you get that, everything else will fall in to place.

If you love Jesus more, you will work harder and more diligently at your job. If you love Jesus more, you will be more patient and kind with your coworkers. If you love Jesus more, you will focus more clearly on the most important task. If you love Jesus more, you’ll do exactly what you want to do.

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