DON’T LET ANXIETY CONTROL YOUR LIFE
by John Leverington LMFT, LPC, LMSW
Anxiety Is A Part Of Life
Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. One type of anxiety is a feeling of apprehension, fear, agitation, or uncertainty in response to a specific known or anticipated threat or danger. It may take the form of sweaty palms or an uneasy stomach when your plane is late for a connecting flight, your child reaches for the hot stove, or the doctor tells you to get a biopsy. This type of anxiety is a normal part of life, and it has an obvious, identifiable cause: I will miss my flight, my child will be burned, or what will be the results of the biopsy.
This type of anxiety is a normal response to a stressor. Faced with a stressful situation, your brain activates your body’s natural protection mechanism, the “fight or flight” response, just as it does when you face physical danger. When this occurs your brain releases powerful hormones causing your heart to pound, breathing to become rapid, and muscles to tighten, preparing you physically either to fight or to flee the danger.
A little anxiety provides a positive impetus to increase your motivation, focus your concentration, and improve your performance. However, for some people, the level of anxiety is out of proportion to the situation.
Causes of Anxiety
The causes of anxiety are as varied as the people who experience it. Among the more common causes of stress that trigger anxiety are:
- Medical illness
- Emotional or physical trauma
- Family conflicts
- Work or ministry demands
- Financial problems
- Environmental or societal pressures
When is Anxiety a Problem?
Another type of anxiety may occur when one doesn’t know the cause. There is the sense that something is wrong or about to go wrong, but the specific trigger is unclear. This becomes increasingly debilitating the more frequent or long lasting the feeling that something terrible is going to happen. It is an irrational, inappropriate worry that has a negative impact on your life and relationships and doesn’t dissipate with time. It is often accompanied by physical symptoms of trembling, muscle tension, restlessness, fatigue, insomnia, inability to concentrate, heart palpitations or shortness of breath.
Over time this constant feeling of apprehension can begin to put a strain on your health. When excessive worry interferes with normal day-to-day activities, it is time to seek the help.
Dealing With Anxiety
How well you cope with anxiety depends greatly on factors such as how long you have been under the stress that is causing it, your physical health, your spiritual perspective and the relational support available to you.
Regular exercise will help you reduce anxiety by helping you to control stress and improving your physical health.
If you find yourself suddenly overcome by feelings of anxiety, a helpful beginning tool is to learn to take active steps to concentrate on slowing your breathing. During an anxiety attack, your breathing may become rapid and shallow, and it becomes hard to catch your breath. Taking one slow deep breath at a time not only begins to get your breathing under control but helps you begin to see that you can control your response to the stressor, giving you perspective and beginning to restore your sense of mastery.
Another useful tool is to remind yourself of the power, presence and love of God. Since the Lord is always near, there is reason to be thankful (Philippians 4:6-7). God instructs his children to present their requests (including requests about anxiety-producing situations) to him in prayer and petition. Then he promises to calm us so we know “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” Sitting in the stillness of His presence, regular meditation on the Scriptures and God’s character, as well as service to others and consistent involvement with fellow believers all help to increase realistic thinking and decrease anxiety. The Scriptures do not promise an anxiety-free life, but they teach that anxiety can be overcome.
If anxiety is beginning to affect your daily thinking and performance, it is helpful to seek professional help early before the anxiety response pattern becomes ingrained. Professional Christian counseling provides an atmosphere where you can talk openly about unrealistic fears that have taken over in spite of your attempts to overcome them, as well as provide the support, encouragement, and expertise to successfully overcome the anxiety reaction. The good news is that anxiety is a very treatable problem, and skilled counselors have the tools to provide that expertise.
If anxiety is interfering with your life, consult a professional to help you regain control. There is simply no need to let anxiety control your life.