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

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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.