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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.


When to Brag

Is your product so good that all the other competitors are criminals for selling such an inferior offering?

Is your service so good that your customers wonder what they ever did without you?

Is your work so good that your boss wants you to work on every project, even though your peers do a passable job?

If that were the case: if what you had to offer was undeniably better than your competition, wouldn’t you have an obligation to share it? If you knew what you had to offer could help the hurting, solve critical business problems, or make someone’s life better, wouldn’t you feel a compulsion to share it?

When you get to that point, where you feel like it would be doing people a disservice not to tell them about what you have to offer… That’s the point where you start advertising, promoting and sharing.

Share with them. Not because it’s in your best interest, but because it’s in theirs.

The advertising message that is motivated by, “Here, you need this, it will truly help you,” is much different than the one motivated by “Here, you need this, it will truly help me.”

For the believer, that’s our motivation at work to sell our product, advertise our service, and yes – sometimes talk ourselves up to our bosses (gasp). Not because it’s in our best interest, but because it’s in theirs.

And this, friends, is why Christian’s can be the best at marketing, advertising and promotion. Because we are experienced at having something far better than what’s on offer everywhere else. We’re already keenly aware of what it means to be compelled to share something good with others.

I don’t care if it’s the Gospel, or a toothpaste, or a restaurant, or a widget… or if it’s a dance number, a song, a blog post, or a painting. The believer knows what it means to say, “Here. Try this. Your world would be better if you had it.”

Hey! Asking you to sign up for the email list is hard to do. Personally, it feels like unwanted self promotion. But the truth is that subscribers frequently tell me they are encouraged by the emails they receive. So here I am promoting email signups (hopefully) for your good. Maybe you agree. So... are you a subscriber? Enter your email below and click "Subscribe" to receive a weekly reminder that your work matters to God.


Whispers of Doubt

Here’s some of the things the little voice in my head said to me today:
“It’s just totally obvious to everyone that you are a fraud.”
“You can’t do this. You are going to fail and look really stupid.”
“I wonder how you succeed at anything given that you are so poorly skilled.”
“When you fail at this – and you will fail at this – everyone will realize you aren’t good at anything in particular.”

Does that voice sound familiar to you? Do your doubts and fears sometimes sound like this too?

I hear these fears and doubts anytime I create something, whether it be a blog post, a report at work, a call to a client, an interaction with a friend, a photograph.

Do you hear them too?

This self-doubt. This self-accusation. It sounds similar to the whisper of sin. The accusations from sin that you are not worthy of God’s love, that you are not capable of being forgiven.

“Other people get forgiveness, but not you… you’re too far gone.”
“God forgives most things, but not that.”
“It’s just a shame how disappointed in you God is.”
“I’m sure your worship would be meaningful and sweet to God’s ears, but for the fact you’re worthless.”

All these accusations from sin seem to rhyme with accusations we bring against ourselves. “You’re not good enough. As a matter of fact, you’re terrible.”

Luckily, we as Christians have the best answer to all of these accusations.

“You’re wrong… I’m far worse…”

“… but God is far better.”

The answer to these accusations is to understand that they are completely true insofar as they diagnose you as imperfect and broken. But they are wholly and completely wrong when they suggest you can’t do anything because of it.

As believers, we get to practice answering to our shortcomings with God’s mercy and Jesus’ righteousness every day. That’s a huge advantage when we turn our attention to creating and building and doing things. We have an advantage because when the daily whispers of doubt start, they sound just like all the other whispers from sin. It’s not a new enemy we are facing when we try to create and build and do, it’s the same old one we fight every day. It’s just that the pig put on some lip stick.

So when the whispers of “not good enough” and “you have no right to do this” start, we can answer confidently: “You’re right, I’m not good enough…” And then triumphantly, “…but I know someone who is. And he has called me. To this.”

A Spade is a Spade

Hey, can we make an agreement together? As a group, can we start to stop something? (A real sentence I just wrote.)

Let’s do this: when we have a goal ahead of us, let’s get rid of the phrase “I don’t know how to do that.” Whatever your goal is, I’m done buying this excuse.

  • Change jobs or start a new business venture
  • File papers in a way that honors God
  • Build a client base who love the way you provide services to them and are willing to tell others about how great you are
  • Tell your co-worker about Jesus

Too complicated? Too difficult? You don’t know how to do that? Really?

Do you know how to use Google? Do you know how to call a friend? (Heck, you could even email me.)

I’m not buying that you don’t know what you are doing, or can’t figure it out.

No. Not too complicated. Not too obscure. More truthfully, it’s probably just too scary, uncomfortable, or painful—these, by the way, are totally valid reasons to not do something, but they are wholly different than “I don’t know how.”

The problem with saying “I don’t know how to do it” when you actually mean “I’m too scared to do it” is that you will spend all your time trying to fix the wrong problem and will never get closer to achieving what you set out to do.

Here’s the rub: properly diagnosing your roadblock is the critical first step to overcoming it.

So let’s call it what it is. I’m guessing that your goal, while probably scary and uncomfortable, is probably very simple when you drill right down to it. So let’s admit that we’re scared, not stupid.

What is something you “don’t know how to do”, but are actually afraid of?

Work and Rest

Hey! You may notice a new voice. This post was written by Joe Work. (Which, can we all agree, is a good name for writing on this topic?) Joe is a UT graduate working in Technical Sales for Oracle. You can follow him on twitter at @JoeWork

Sometimes I’m astonished by the things that cultures were willing to lay down at the altars of their gods. They sacrificed their time and energy even their families to gods of empty promises. But then I remember how often I do the same thing.

We see work as an endless treadmill. We’re running and running and running to keep up with the pace, to stay plugged in and connected. Forty hours a week is a myth.

If we aren’t at work, we’re worrying about it. Sometimes, we simply like feeling busy.

Ultimately the issue is in our hearts. Work can become an idol. And sometimes, it’s the idol that we sacrifice to the most. We give up our time and energy, friends and family, to worship our jobs.

What do you find yourself laying down at the altar of your career?

Worshipping our work leads to restlessness. We begin to feel tired, no matter how much sleep we get or coffee we drink. The world tells us to produce more and work longer. It promises us satisfaction if we just work a few more late nights or refuse a couple vacation days. It promises us joy once we get there. But we never actually get there. That’s the nature of sin. Empty promises await for all of those who bow at the feet of their jobs. Sounds like Hell, doesn’t it? Continuous striving to attain a prize that you never actually reach. Building our sandcastles only to have the tide come in and wash them away.

We worship our jobs and starve our souls, seeking and searching, never ceasing, never resting.

But restlessness is not a characteristic of our God, nor of his followers.

He rested while creating the universe.

We can rest too.