A Few Tools for Anxiety: Pull the Lens Back
If you talk to anyone in your circle they will most likely reference some anxiety they have encountered over the last few months. They may not use that exact word, but they will likely allude to a stress or fear taking hold. Anxiety is a real problem we face today. Most of us can
testify to times we have felt panic rise up inside us. Brain scans show there is a chemical component. Our brains are firing off alert signals when they don’t always need to. The more consistently they fire off specific messages of angst, the more those pathways form. The brain
paves a default road so certain responses become our first responses.
Think of it this way: Anxiety is a lens we look through, like glasses. We SEE people,
circumstances, conflict, stress at work, expectations and responsibilities through a lens that is
amped up and colored red with anxiety. All of life gets coated with anxiety. There is little to no
margin left inside of us when anxiety consumes so much space. So, when a situation sets us
off, we immediately evaluate it through our anxiety glasses instead of a lens of trust. Our initial
chain of thinking leads us smack dab in the middle of the worst case scenario. And we believe
it all to be true. When we care well for ourselves, we increase our margins, we breathe, we see
clearly, we listen, we calm, we evaluate and we settle down into a posture of trust.
As a trainer I have observed over and over how people exude anxiety. It spills out onto their
kids, friends and those they work with. When I get a chance to speak with parents, for
example, I explain to them that one mistake we make is to look at our lives through a zoom
lens. Some particular fear sits in the middle of the view, taking up most of the space in the
frame: college acceptance, peer approval, grades, lack of time on the soccer field, an area of
weakness in a certain subject matter, SAT scores, irresponsibility, etc. Whatever it is, it
consumes time, energy, financial resources and conversation. This area of fear becomes far
more important in our minds than it actually is. The smallest decisions, comments from a
coach, a few missed points on the test, the teacher not getting the grade posted yet, the
rejection from the college…all of these outcomes make life terribly fragile. We rise high one
moment and fall hard the next.
BUT, when we pull the lens back, taking our view out of zoom mode, we see a larger picture.
There is more margin, more pieces, more perspective. We are reminded that life is made up of
many good and challenging things: relationships, chores, learning to be still, the ability to
overcome hardship, the resilience that comes with a lot of rejections, spotting the ordinary
beauties in life, getting a C and not letting it steal one’s sense of worth, and delayed
gratification that fosters the rare trait of self-control. Those things in life that go wrong or don’t
work the way we had hoped, develop the internal person which is the key to maturity.
Perseverance, patience, self-reflection, humility, grit, and communication skills matter more
than we consider. When we subtly give too much weight to certain aspects of life, we open
ourselves up for more anxiety.
Anxiety is real. It is a challenge to live with. When working with a therapist or a psychiatrist, you
will be able to determine if medication is worth considering. Many of us deal with anxiety on a
level that can be fought with a few cognitive tools:
1. Make space on a regular basis. It may not be possible in your life stage to get an hour a
day, but some time to be still, quiet, prayerful and meditative is essential to our mental
health. When we do this, we allow margins to grow. We can think more clearly, focus when
someone is talking to us, retrieve perspective and stop to pray. Small margins lead to a
short fuse and we struggle to focus enough to believe God is in control.
2. Don’t trust your anxiety. It is a discipline to give little credit to our fears. Most days, most
hours, we believe that people everywhere are dangerous, that it is likely that our money will run out, that we really don’t have any good friends, that our job will probably be eliminated.
We are our own worst enemy at times. The scenarios we create in our minds quickly
become fact. Anxiety warps the picture. We hope to protect ourselves and prepare for
hardship, as a result, we are on high alert, noticing every sign that something is about to go
wrong. We see things that aren’t there, we create problems, and convince ourselves that
something terrible is about to happen. We may even think God is preparing us for it! Our
first step is to bring these fears to the One who can carry them. To trust him more than we
trust our anxiety.
3. Journaling your way into the truth is a lifeskill. Dump all your honest thoughts on the page
without holding back. Once you have gotten it out, reframe your thoughts. There are many
times I have had to write my way into truth. “God is for me,” “God has never left me to
figure out life on my own,” “God loves my children with a more pure love than I do,” “God
makes a way when there is no way,” “God removes all my wrongdoing and tosses it to a
place where it is remembered no more.” Peace will begin to sprinkle over those fears and
leave you resting in the love of God.