“It’s scary what a smile can hide.”
I am totally stressed out! “What if I can’t recover from this?” “What if I can’t protect them?” “What if I end up alone?” “What if I can’t pay the bills?” “What if I make them angry?” “What if they don’t like me?” The list of what if’s goes go on and on, every thought fueling yet another barrage of questions, worries and concerns.
On top of all the what if’s are the what now’s…. The house is flooding, the ambulance has taken him to the hospital and he is in critical condition, the child is missing, my abuser is messaging and threatening me. In your mind you can picture all kinds of scenarios and none of them end well. You’ve thought through every angle of the situations and have made plans and contingency plans. You are doing all you can to control things so that they don’t get more out of control. Still you can’t shut off your mind, you can’t sleep, your stomach is a mess, and you just want it all to stop!
That is what anxiety and fear feel like….and the reality is that all of us have felt each of them from time to time. Some of us however struggle with them on a continual daily basis. We are designed to function well with short bursts of intense stress. God designed our brains to excrete chemicals to signal that we need a burst of physical energy to accomplish impending threatening tasks. However, we are not designed to handle acute stress over the long term. When we try to accomplish this in our own strength we become sick, weary and drained.
Let’s take a closer look at these emotions that rob us of our peace and safety. What exactly are fear and anxiety?
According to the Oxford dictionary, fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the thought of danger, pain or harm. In this definition fear is based on knowledge that something specific and bad is about to happen. For example: a man points a loaded gun at your head and says “this is a stick up”. That is fear. You know that you are presently in real danger.
Its counter part, anxiety, is defined as a feeling of nervousness, worry, or unease about an imminent event, or something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety encompasses varying degrees of uneasiness of what may or may not happen and is usually more vague in it’s scope of reasoning. For example: you enter your neighborhood grocery store and begin to worry that you left the stove on at home.
These two emotions can work together. If you are uncertain if something is going to be dangerous or painful, you may experience both fear and anxiety, with each one fueling the other. Here is an example: You have had negative or scary interactions with someone in the past. During those interactions they hurt you emotionally and/or physically. Now you are faced with the task of having to confront them about an issue currently. You will be anxious about the upcoming confrontation and fearful based on previous experiences with this person.
Here are some potential indicators of fear and/or anxiety:
Physical Responses: headaches, muscle tightness (especially around the neck and jaw), inability to sleep, racing thoughts, chest tightness, ringing in ears, sweating, shaking, cold sweats or hot flashes, increased heart rate, numbness or tingling, the sense that the event is not real or like a nightmare, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, shortness of breath, feeling like you are going crazy, hyperventilating, and/or feeling faint or dizzy.
Thoughts about Self: I can’t handle this. I am going crazy. I am not enough. I can’t do this. I must figure this out. I won’t let this happen.
Thoughts about God: God doesn’t care about me or this situation. God isn’t in control. God won’t or can’t handle this.
Our action/tendency/response: Fight, flight, or freeze. This is the physical response system that is turned on in the brain as a direct result of a the incoming fear stimuli. In anxious or fear producing situations we will do one of these three things. Fighting the situation can look exactly how it sounds. You fight with the person regardless of if you are right or wrong or even if you have all the facts! Or it can look like coming up with all kinds of plans for every possible scenario. Flight can literally be running away from the situation, or it might mean going to extreme measures to intentionally avoid the situation or person. Freeze is when you literally do nothing. You are paralyzed. You don’t run or hide. You don’t make any decisions or take any precautions even though you are aware of the danger.
Communication: Fear says “this is dangerous”! Anxiety says “everything is out of control”or “this is not going to end well” or “I need to do better”.
Infected Fear and Anxiety: It is important to remember that we will all experience fear and anxiety from time to time. It is both normal and natural based on our circumstances, hormones, and various personalities. However, if we are constantly allowing them to rule in our hearts and mind we will be more inclined to suffer physically and emotionally. When we allow these emotions to go unchecked for long periods of time our bodies will literally break down under the stress. All kinds of health problems can be linked to prolonged anxiety including: depression, hypertension, ulcers, irritable bowl, migraines, sleep disorders, digestive issues,and autoimmune disorders. On a strictly emotional and mental level prolonged anxiety and fear can lead to depression, panic and phobias.
NEEDS. Part of the role of our emotions is to help us to identify our needs. When we look specifically at the emotions of fear and anxiety we may uncover that we have one or more of the following needs: 1.) The need for safety. 2.) The need for security.
Reminder. You have a right to all your feelings and thoughts, no one can tell you that you are not afraid or anxious, frankly these feelings aren’t always reasonable, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t truly experiencing them! While you have a right to these feelings you also have a responsibility to manage them. They are within your realm of ability to address, control or manage. The fact that you have the obligation to care for them also gives you some power and control over the internal mechanisms that are responding the the outward stimuli, triggers, or circumstances. Remember it is your thoughts that fuel this emotions. So while the experience itself is emotional, the fuel that is keeping it going are the thoughts that you keep playing over and over and over and over and over……………
So, what can I do?
1.) Determine what is within your control and responsibility and what is outside your control or responsibility.
Here are some examples of things you cannot control:
- Another persons actions, thoughts, or feelings.
- The past
- Certain circumstances or situations
2.) Challenge some of the thoughts and beliefs that are fueling your fear and anxiety.
- Is what I am feeling based on facts? Do I have all the facts?
- Am I engaging in any types of cognitive distortions? (See previous article entitled “Beautiful Mess”)
- Am I trying to reach an unattainable or unreasonable standard?
- Am I trying to change things that are outside of my responsibility or ability to control?
- Am I continuing to face the same situation, in the ways I traditionally have, and continuing to see no improvement or change?
- If you answer yes to this you may be trying to change something that you are not able or responsible to change. In this case you will need to focus your attention and efforts away from the person or situation which you cannot change. Instead you will need to put switch your focus on to yourself and the things you can change with in you, your circumstances and your boundaries.
3.) Accept circumstances or situations that are unchangeable or outside your ability to control.
Here are some ideas to help you work through accepting:
- Breathing exercises
4.) Control or change the things that are within your ability and responsibility to control.
Here are some ways you can take control of situations that are making you stressed, anxious, or fearful:
- Identify, set, and enforce boundaries.
- Set goals with small, well defined, measurable steps and track progress.
- Talk with a friend to help hold you accountable and encourage you.
- Read and meditate on scripture.
- Listen to music. Choose music with positive lyrics or soothing melodies. Some ideas might include: worship songs and hymns.
- Go for a walk in nature. Take in the sights and sounds.
- Engage in a soothing or creative activity…yoga, painting, cooking and coloring are some examples.
- Give your mind a break from rehearsing the problems and plans and instead do something fun and mindless like watching TV sitcoms or a movie.
- Remember times when you have done similar things well. Visualize yourself succeeding in this challenge.
- Remember the people who love and care about you. Talk to them about your situation and let them offer you guidance and comfort.
- If necessary you can also seek medical care, counseling and/or medication to address any issues that are perpetuating or resulting from the fear and anxiety.
Dealing with FEAR AND ANXIETY? Here is your challenge:
Review the topics under “What can I do?”. Where are you at? What is it you need to do starting today? Choose someone you can talk to, a trusted friend or counselor, and share this information with them. Get their feedback and ask if they would be willing to help you conquer this giant.
Additional ideas: 1.) Learn more about boundary setting and endings by reading the following books by Townsend and Cloud. “Boundaries”, “Necessary Endings”, “Changes That Heal”. 2.) Enroll in a yoga class. This will help you learn how to relax your body, and help you to focus on your breathing skills. 3.) Write out some of the scriptures verses below and keep them with you. When you feel anxious review them. 4.)Memorize the Serenity Prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Do you see me under the weight of all the burdens that I bear? Do you hear my cries of fear and worry over the many things and people I don’t have control over? How long will I have to continue on this journey? Will it ever ease up?
My heart is so anxious at times with all of the “what if’s”. I am constantly striving and trying to win the approval of people, trying to change people and make them do what I want them to do. I worry about the future. I long to trust you. I want to have the “peace” that you have promised.
Sometimes I think I am doing well and that I can just let go. Then next thing you know I am rehearsing once again all the possible outcomes and contingency plans.
Help me to trust you with all that is going on. Help me to trust you with my future, with the people I love and care about, with the situations that are beyond my control.
Grant me vision to see what you would have me do and only what my next step should be. Then please give me the courage to do that next step. Keep me focused on you and your will.
In Jesus Name-Amen
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. Philippians 4:6&7
When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm 56:3
I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, the comfort me. Psalm 23:4