I don’t struggle with anxiety, I am actually quite good at it. – Unknown
Do you deal with anxiety, worry, fear and depression? Are there times when it just feels like it’s too much to handle? In Matthew 6:34 when Jesus was talking to His disciples during the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” DO NOT WORRY ABOUT TOMORROW. If you are like me when I have been dealing with my own struggles, that sounds great and wonderful until it’s 2 am, and you feel like you can’t get a breath. Then, it isn’t as easy to let go of control and put it in God’s hands, where it’s actually been all along.
The illusion of control. I say illusion because we really aren’t the ones in control, we like to think we are. I have always been a control freak, and I don’t like it when I can’t control the outcome. Sometimes we have to surrender it to God and ask for His will to be done. Jesus showed us how to handle that feeling that is all consuming when in Matthew 26:38-39 He was dealing with His upcoming torture and crucifixion. He knew what was coming. “Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me. Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will” He took that sorrow in His spirit to God. We may not know God’s plan and if we could get a 10,000-foot view of our lives, we might think about things a little differently. Isaiah 55:8-9 it says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” There are things we do not know and may never understand until we reach Heaven. We have to know that God is a good God and loves us and wants what is best for us. Like the Garth Brook’s song, sometimes we need to be thankful for some of those unanswered prayers. Had we gotten what we wanted at the time, it wouldn’t have been the best for us.
There are times when the worry is just over something smaller but the times when we are consumed by the worry, maybe a medical diagnosis, our children, a job situation, the death of a loved one, it is very real. It’s not something we can just turn off. Wouldn’t that be great? If we could flip a switch and all that worry drain away. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. So, how DO we deal with those emotions? Here are a few ways I have found that seem to help.
- Pray First. Just as in Matthew 26 when Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow, He took it to the Father and we can too. In Philippians 4:6-7 we are told “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God is there for us. He gave us the Holy Spirit as a constant companion and comforter. In the Bible there are several names for Jesus based on the different traits that He has. We can pray to Jehovah-Shammah (our constant companion) and to Jehovah-Shalom (our peace). No matter the situation we are dealing with, we are not alone. Even when we don’t have words, God knows our thoughts and we can sit with Him in our pain and worry.
- Practice Gratitude. Gratitude and fear cannot coexist. Every morning, start your day by listing 3–5 things you are grateful for. I recommend making them different every day and not the normal things like your family, health, etc. Look around during the day for things that you can be grateful for. Gratitude doesn’t have to be something grandiose. Be thankful for the small things in your life as well.
- Get out into nature. Jesus talks about looking at the lilies in the field and knowing that if God cares about them, how much more does He care for us? Really work to be present. Feel the breeze across your face, feel the warmth of the sun, and walk around barefoot in the grass (of course, watch out for dog poop). There is something grounding about being out in nature. It’s also very calming to watch it rain or a far-off thunderstorm. Something about knowing God is in control of all of those things can give us comfort. We don’t have to tell the seasons to change or the sun and moon to rise and set. We don’t have to control everything for it to still work as it is supposed to.
- Think through your worry. We can tend to want to bury our feelings. That usually doesn’t help, and they surface stronger than they were. Sometimes thinking through the situation and testing your thoughts can be helpful. Ask yourself, is it true? Is this something that has a high probability of happening? Are you really worried about something that most likely won’t ever happen? What would you do if the worst does happen? I find, for me, it’s helpful to think about the “worst case scenario” and figure out how I would deal with it and that gives me a little sense of that control that I want to have. At times, we can have what Dr. Amen calls A.N.T.S. Automatic negative thoughts. We get stuck in a repetitive thought pattern and we need to break that pattern and test those thoughts to see if they are even true.
- Be fully present. We can all be a little consumed with social media, phones etc. I have seen many times when families are sitting at a table eating at a restaurant, and all their heads are down. They aren’t praying, they are all looking at their phones. We get preoccupied in recording a moment for social media and forget actually to live the moment. Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday. When we live in the future, we miss out on the present. Practice being present and really living the moment.
- Find things that bring you joy. No matter how small, do things that make you happy. Maybe you enjoy a hobby, read a good book, listen to music. Look for things to be happy about through the day.
- Help someone else. The best way to feel better about your situation is to help someone else with theirs. Volunteer, look for ways to help someone in your daily activities, call a friend that may be having a hard time. Sometimes a little change in perspective is just what we need.
In the end, we win! This life is just a breath, and there will be no tears in Heaven. Our situation here on earth isn’t permanent. We can come out on the other side. No matter what we are dealing with, God is with us, and HE is in CONTROL. He will work out whatever we are dealing with for our good. We may not see it now, but I just bet if you look back through your life, there is something you can find where at the time, it wasn’t easy, but later you can see some good that came from it. Maybe you got closer with a spouse or friend, and maybe now you can help someone else going through that situation, or maybe you are stronger in your faith. If these things do not help, please know there is no shame in talking to someone that can help you through it. A pastor, a counselor, online therapy, there are many ways now to connect with someone that can help you. We were meant to enjoy our lives here on earth and not just endure it.