Anxiety: A Path Forward

A few years ago, I purchased a wardrobe cabinet from Ikea. I have never been a fan of putting together Ikea furniture. Opening an Ikea box is quite intimidating. It feels like opening a book on quantum physics or calculus with no prior learning in these subjects. Once you get the Ikea box open, you find a step-by-step booklet and what feels like hundreds of parts. To say that putting together Ikea furniture is time-consuming and complex is an understatement! The wardrobe cabinet I purchased took hours to complete. And after I finished, I promised myself that I would never purchase Ikea furniture again!  

Anxiety often feels somewhat like putting together Ikea furniture—complex and challenging to figure out. When I began to have symptoms of anxiety, I had no idea what was happening to me. It took years to receive a diagnosis, and figure out how to manage my anxiety.  

In our digital age, with information available at our fingertips, we have a plethora of information on anxiety and all mental health conditions. This is a great thing! There is also a movement among Millennials and Generation Z to break the stigma and normalize mental health challenges that so many of us face. Between the ease of information and breaking the stigmas, we are opening wide the door to make access to health and help more available than ever before. 

I would love to share with you a few tips for understanding and managing anxiety. These have been helpful to me in my personal struggle with anxiety.   

(Disclaimer: this post is not intended to diagnose your anxiety, but to help you process healthy steps forward when dealing with anxiety. I encourage you to seek professional help for your particular condition).

BE PROACTIVE WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH

Being proactive with your mental health is essential for life in an anxiety-inducing world. Being proactive means that we need to learn to build healthy lifestyles, inputs, thought patterns, and filter systems so that we can be preventive with mental health. 

Think of this like the offseason in sports. During the offseason you are learning new skills, working out to become a better athlete, and perfecting the fundamentals of your sport. This investment enables you to be prepared for the season ahead. 

In the same way, we need to be investing in our mental health so that we are prepared to face the challenges and struggles of life. Mental health encompasses a person’s well being psychologically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. We need to be proactively investing into each of these areas of our lives. 

Here are some examples of being proactive with your mental health:

- eating healthy

- excercising consistently

- maintaining healthy sleep rhythms 

- reading a book

- putting your phone down

- investing in healthy relationships

- finding purpose each day

- praying

- reading your Bible

- filling up your emotional tank in healthy ways 

- writing tasks down and scheduling them

- communicating what you are going through with trusted friends and family

- going to therapy

- learning to identify unhealthy thought patterns

- speaking hope into your heart 

IDENTIFY THE UNDERLYING CAUSE

Identifying the underlying cause(s) of your anxiety is essential for finding healing and health. This means we need to dig into the caverns of our heart, mind, emotions, lifestyle, and relationships to discover what is behind our anxiety. We often focus on the symptoms of anxiety (which are terribly uncomfortable), but getting to the root is the path toward healing. When we only treat the symptoms, we often continue in the same cycle. 

You may ask, “So how do I figure out the root of anxiety?” 

That is a great question, and not easy to answer. 

It often takes time, help, and hard work to get to the root.

First, anxiety can be symptomatic of various underlying causes:  

- Stress

- Trauma

- A lack of healthy self-care

- Obsessing over fears, worries, and concerns

- Technology addiction and overload 

- Thoughts of comparison and struggle with ideals based on filtered content on social media

- A home life that is emotionally toxic—living in a continuum of stress and trauma

- A relationship that is emotionally toxic—living in a continuum of stress and trauma

- Spiritual struggles—doubt, guilt, bitterness, unforgiveness, uncontrolled anger, and others like these

- A health issue

- etc.

Second, finding someone to help you walk down the path of identifying and learning about anxiety is often crucial for long-term health. There are people that are trained in unearthing the root causes and teaching tools to help people move forward. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a psychologist, therapist, doctor, or pastor. In fact, if you have been struggling with anxiety for some time, I highly encourage you to seek help. Make sure the person that you do seek out for professional help is well versed in anxiety related issues.

IDENTIFY UNHEALTHY THOUGHT PATTERNS

Identifying unhealthy thought patterns is often crucial and helpful when struggling with anxiety. Psychology terms these unhealthy thought patterns, cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are distortions in our thought life—irrational, distorted, and unhealthy patterns of thinking.

The Bible also talks about unhealthy thought patterns. In the Bible we find ideas like changing our mind (i.e., the word repent/repentance), transforming our thinking (Romans 12:2), and learning healthy thought patterns (Philippians 4:8). 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

What are some examples of unhealthy thougth patterns? 

- When we only see black and white, and find no room for grey areas in life. We may even lay this burden of polarized thinking on the people around us causing them to not feel free to think differently about an issue or come to a different conclusion than us. 

- When we only focus on the negatives in situations or relationships and ignore the positives. We may even view one negative in a situation or relationship as catastrophic, and conclude that everything about that situations or relationship is negative. 

- When we assume we can read another person’s mind, and determine a negative interpretation about what they are thinking. 

- When we obsessively think about the future in terms of fears, potential “what if” scenarios, and pessismistic thinking.  

- When we take everything personally in our professional life and/or relationships. 

- When we ruminate on thoughts of bitterness, hatred, anger, vengeance, etc.

- When we consistently compare ourselves with others and find it impossible to live up to unreasonable ideals.

TALK TO GOD

God wants to help you with your anxiety. We all have concerns, worries, and fears in life. And at times we can feel trapped and paralyzed by these thoughts. They can become all-consuming. They can feel like an overwhelming weight, draining us mentally and emotionally. But God did not create us to carry all of the weight of life in a broken world. Life has far too many complexities and burdens to navigate and carry on our own. You were created to be in a relationship with your Creator, God. And He wants to help you with your concerns, worries, and fears.

How does God help us with these? 

1 Peter 5:7 teaches us to “cast all of our anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” That is a life-changing truth. The God of heaven and earth cares about all of our human concerns, worries, and fears. He knows that we cannot possibly navigate life in a healthy way by thinking about these continually. Instead we get to talk to Him, and trust Him in our present and with our future. He will lift the overwhelming weight of constant concern so that you can continue to move forward with rest and peace in your soul. 

Here is how this may look practically when you are feeling anxious with thoughts of concern, worry, and fear:

- Whenever you feel this way, try to find a quiet space where your mind will not be distracted and talk to God about what you are concerned about. He sincerely cares about you and wants to be there for you as you process through your anxiety.

- Whenever you feel this way, learn to identify when patterns of constant concern, fears, and worry begin to take root in your mind, and replace these with truthful and hopeful thoughts. Sometimes we create interpretations or scenarios in our mind that are not truthful and hopeful.

- Whenever you feel this way, think about the nature of God: He has compassion toward you, you can trust Him with your present and future, He is always there to help you, and you have hope in your relationship with HIm.

Wesley Towne