Anxiety affects everyone at some level. We get stressed and we rush around. In spite of our technological advances that make our life “easier,” we don’t seem to be free from the stress factor. Stress and anxiety can really move in a direction than can be quite scary. We may not even know that we are experiencing anxiety. A third of everyone will suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. How do we know we have an anxiety disorder? We can look at our lives and ask ourselves a few questions. Are we driven by fear, anxiety and worry? Does it seem that run on adrenaline? Do we have trouble sleep? Are we hot or cold at lot of times?
General Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
- General nervousness
- Thinking and over-analyzing too much
- Body sensations of rapid heart-beat, difficulty breathing, sweating, breaking out in cold sweat and shakiness
- Predicting the worst and “future tripping” (what if?. . .)
- Intrusive and obsessional thoughts, usually about safety issues, or horribly embarrassing thoughts
- Worrying and not being able to think positively
- Feelings of “out of control” and that one is going lose one’s mind
- Self doubt
- Overanalyzing body sensations (feeling ill..stomachaches, muscle spasms, headaches, TMJ
You may experience some of these symptoms or possibility all of them. Feelings of embarrassment and shame come up for people as they talk about their thinking and episodes. Sometimes we can have bizarre or irrational thoughts. This sometimes compounds the issue making it a private problem and keeping us from reaching out for help and support.
There is a solution for anxiety.
If you are suffering from panic attacks and anxiety, you need to know you can and will get better if you take certain steps. When we are spinning in the vortex of self-doubt and losing control, it is important to know there is something you can do. Recovery comes with time. Before we look at the steps from recovery, let us look at the mental, emotional and physiological
The Mental Side of Anxiety
We think a lot. The more we try to control our thoughts, the worse they seem to get. Some liken it to addiction and compare it with the questions we might ask someone who struggles with alcoholism. We might ask ourselves the question, “Am I a Thinkaholic?”
- Do I think more than other people?
- Do I have trouble stopping thinking after one thought?
- Do I numb my emotions with my thinking?
- Am I am embarrassed by my thinking?
- Do I thinking early in the morning?
- Do I think late at night?
- Do I prefer to think alone?
- Am I unable to control my level of thinking?
- Is my loved one concerned about the level of my thinking?
- Has my thinking caused me emotional problems?
Not only do we think a lot, but we think thoughts that cause of fear. All – or – nothing thinking. Over-generalizations. Catastrophic thinking. Over-identification with others. We tend to think the worst will happen. It is like our brains are hijacked and we have a gun to our head telling us to think this or “we are all going to die.” The media plays on this and make money scaring us to buy their products – health, beauty, financial or safety.
The Emotional Side of Anxiety
Fear is a good thing. It is a God-given emotion that tells us something is dangerous in our environment. It can be used to help keep from poor choices. It is when our lives are ruled by fear that is when it becomes a problem. With Generalized Anxiety Disorder we started to have fear about everything. We have a nervousness that is always with us.
The Physical Side of Anxiety
While anxiety has a lot to do with one’s thinking and spirituality, it also has to do with our bodies.
One physical aspect of anxiety involves centers in the brain called basal ganglia. These centers deal with fear and fine motor skills. When we experience panic or extreme anxiety, these centers become over-active. We may predict the worst, become shaky and become too sensitive to body functions. We feel and experience too much. We feel our heart beating. We are too aware. This is useful if we were in a situation where we need to escape from a real danger. People who have had a panic attack will do everything they can not to experience another one. It feels like certain death and loss of control. It is the over-control that can actually make the condition worse.
Anxiety can also be triggered by obsessive thinking. These thoughts usually are repetitive and difficult to redirect. In brain imaging we see that when this happens, we see overactivity in the cingulate gyrus. We might worry about our health, germs, or disease. What people think of us might start to rule our actions. We might experience intrusive thoughts about hurting someone or ourselves. We then worry about, “why am I thinking these thoughts? Am I going to lose my mind?” Fear of what people are going to think about us and worry about losing control are also classic symptoms of anxiety.
It is important to know that people do recover from anxiety. The first step is to find someone “safe” to share your feelings and what has happened. Sharing with a trust friend can bring some relief. Sharing with a counselor can bring some good information and tools to develop a recovery plan. Talking with someone can help us gain perspective and realize this will pass. It is kind of like a ground wire in electricity–it stops us from short circuiting.
Physical Techniques – Help for Anxiety
Believe it or not, deep breathing and relaxation are very beneficial to recovering from panic disorder and anxiety. It is very difficult for the person who already experiences anxiety to “calm themselves down” by themselves. Sometimes, unintentionally, they breath too fast, which causes a hyperventilation when then cause more anxiety and tingling throughout the body which causes more fear. It usually takes a counselor or someone who knows the process of progressive relaxation. Just by giving yourself something else to think about, can be the beginning steps to walking out of a panic attack. How many people feel the relief in just knowing they have Xanax (an anti-anxiety medication) to take. It is knowing what to do that helps. Progressive relaxation can involve counting, breathing and tightening/relaxing certain muscle groups. For Christians having a certain prayer or passage from the psalms to meditate is not only connecting with God Who can help, but also gets out mind off of the panicky thoughts.
Spiritual Tools to Help for Anxiety
Another element that people with anxiety struggle with is the need to feel in control. The irony is that the more they think that they control, the more out of control they are. We try to control people, places, and situations. people with anxiety struggle with is the need to feel in control. The irony is that the more they think that they control, the more out of control they are. We try to control people, places, and situations.
The irony is that we often try to control the things we don’t have control over, which are “people, places and things” and yet we have not learned how to control our own reaction – which is to give up control. We can change how we respond to live, rather than “re-act.” Many who have been traumatized in their past, have structural differences to overcome in their brains. Brain scans demonstrate this. We can train ourselves to think differently and more realistically.
In recovery from anxiety, we work on “letting go,” and changing irrational belief systems. The process of counseling can be helpful to help the client let go of negative beliefs and to think more healthy thoughts. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which involves changing negative beliefs or irrational beliefs into more healthier beliefs. This is a process and once the thinking has changed, the panic usually doesn’t come back. One can learn about themselves in this process. The whole crisis once it is over can become a real blessing which has developed muscles to handle life better by letting go more.
Medication or nutritional supplements can be useful for debilitating anxiety to help a person begin to feel better so that they can work on their thinking and lifestyle patterns that are causing the anxiety. It is important for the person to go beyond just wanting to “feel” better, but to “get” better. Pain can motivate us to work on our salvation process. (Hebrews 2:12) Unfortunately, once the pain is gone, sometimes so is the motivation to “get” better, that is to really have a change of heart.
One may need to prioritize and not do too many things. One may need to look also at what is happening in their spiritual life. It was St. Anthony the Great (250-356 AD), the father of monasticism, said that he “know longer feared God, but loves him.” By this, he is not saying that he didn’t have a healthy or reverential “fear of God.” The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. But we are talking about freedom from fear that was brought on by sin brings and how perfect love can cast out fear. As we progress in our healing from sin through love, we gain freedom from fear.
1 John 4:17-19
17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19We love Him because He first loved us.
Most of us cannot say that we have been made perfect in love, and thus we struggle with some form of anxiety because of our sin. But we an actually use our anxiety to help us get closer to God. So it is not something to be eradicated, but to be channeled. We should fear our own mortality so that we can make every opportunity to repent today, right this moment. God can then transform our minds and help us change our thinking.
We often get anxious over the wrong things. We often worry about temporal things, clothing, shelter, food, and provision. We worry what people think of us. Yet we don’t worry about sinning. If we have a healthy fear of God and a healthy fear of sinning, we would be fearful of saying judgmental things or criticizing our brother. If we could only have a phobia of pornography or a fear of offending our spouse and children.
We need to remember that God loves us and has everything we need for salvation and freedom from anxiety. May God grant this to us by His Grace.
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