How Do I Move From Anxiety to Peace?

At Lake Geneva Youth Camp on Tuesday I delivered a talk to high school students about making the transition to college.  We touched on anxiety and I said, “That is a whole presentation in itself.”  Not wanting to leave the students without any help I stayed afterwards and for the students who stayed I delivered a impromptu presentation.  The outline of what I shared is listed below.

  • Stay Connected

Feeling isolated and alone doesn’t help with the processing of other negative emotions.  Feeling alone is a common symptom of being triggered.  When we feel like the world is against us, we have to let our friends remain our friends, our spouse be our spouse, our parents be our parents and our God be our God.  Acting on feelings of isolation only takes us deeper into darkness – letting others hold our hand and walk with us through difficult times is a great sign of strength, not weakness.

  • Be Reasonable

The role of reason when dealing with our irrational fears and anxieties is well documented.  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is predicated on the relief that comes with understanding.  It is very hard, though, to be rational when we have flipped our lid.  Quite literally much of our brain may have temporarily gone off-line.  Even in these times of irrational meltdown, there will be some bedrock truths we still accept.  Remembering those truths will give us a foundation on which to build.

  • Acknowledge Feelings – Name Them

Stuffing feelings or denying them only makes them more intense.  Spontaneous release sometimes comes simply through the action of naming or acknowledging a feeling.  It is as if the feeling has done its work in getting our attention. Now it has raised the alarm it can leave.  A helpful step in acknowledging feelings is to name the part of your body t carrying the negative emotion.  Stress is often carried in the shoulders, fear tightens the chest sometimes, guilt or sadness turns the stomach into a concrete mixer.  Don’t be surprised, though, if you find you are carrying your feelings in some unusual places like the throat, parts of the head, or even the legs.

Image result for emotional freedom

In many cultures men do not talk about their feelings as much as women.  The result is both that men are often unaware of what they are feeling and that they have no names for emotions.  Scanning the body allows a man to find his feelings and say, “My stomach is churning,” or “I feel tense across my shoulders.”  These are signs of emotional responses, a good friend can help give names to these physical symptoms like ‘sadness’ or ‘anxiety.’  Remember, we gain nothing by pretending the emotions don’t exist.  They will join with other unprocessed emotions and can possibly lead to more serious physical symptoms.

  • Release the Feelings

Having understood a little about our feelings some people remain satisfied.  As one therapist said to me, though, “If you have a sliver in your finger, is the goal to understand the sliver or release the sliver?”  Negative feelings have a job to do, much like Sadness in the movie Inside Out.  They are not evil of themselves.  However, if we hang on to the negative emotions they can begin to dominate the range of emotional experience we were created for.  Anxiety and fear, if they gain the upper hand, can suppress joy and peace.

To release my feelings, I ask myself if I have felt this feeling for long enough.  I then decide to release the feeling.  I have volition.  I always have the power to make decisions.  Also, my faith tells me, God wants to take on my negative emotions, so I decide to give them to him.  After making the decision to let go, I breathe out and relax my body.  Usually the feeling I have lessens or another feeling replaces the one I am processing.

The process doesn’t always work.  Sometimes there is a blockage and I need to release the blockage first.  Sometimes there is an irrational reason that I tell myself anxiety and fear helps me or gives me control.  Also, our emotions are not singular entities, which, once released, result in immediate clarity and peace.  It is more like an old CD changer:  Once an emotion is released another emotion rises up to take its place.  It is healthy to subsequently process the next emotion … and the next.

  • Be Thankful

Jim Wilhoit’s research has shown that gratitude is more effective over time than drugs and therapy combined.  It rewires the brain to see the world differently.  Keeping a gratitude journal is a habit that will lead to well-being.  In the journal list two or three things each day for which you are thankful.  The sun won’t come out from behind the rain clouds immediately, but eventually you will begin to see the silver lining.

  • Retrain the Mind

A person surrounded by dark colours, negative music, sinister television, and apocalyptic movies will see the world accordingly.  It doesn’t mean that a person should focus the entirety of their day on ‘Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows,’ but there is a lot of positive still remaining in God’s world.  The noble acts of Frodo and Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings helped me focus more positively.  On the way to work, I would often listen to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack and I would begin to feel quite heroic when pulling up to teach my fifth grade class.

  • Seek a Mentor/Counselor 

I have learned to manage my mental health my admitting when I need help.  Initially, when my colleague at work suggested I talk to a counselor, I flatly refused.  My pride told me, “Only screw-ups” talk to people about their emotions.  I was dead wrong.  I was afraid I would be punished on my life insurance because I had a mental health diagnosis of Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety and Depression.  Actually I was credited with having the strength to do what needed to be done in order to stay healthy.  Because I followed the pattern of behavior listed above, I am now free from anxiety and I have a peace and a joy I never knew before.  I have to maintain my positivity by consistently processing my negative emotions emotions.  Seek out a mentor or mental health professional to coach you on the path to emotional freedom.

***

These practical steps come straight from Philippians in the Bible.  They are revealed by God and are less effectively executed without a heart-deep relationship with God.  Central to God’s plan for emotional freedom is the assurance that ‘The Lord is Near.’  The body of believers we call the church should be our support network.  The believer releases their negative feelings to God because He cares for them (1 Peter 5:7).  Then the God of Peace, who dwells in the heart of the believer, guards their hearts with the peace of Jesus.  I have experienced the peace of God replacing my fear.  I would encourage you to seek God and walk on the path he has laid out for you.  If you seek God first, all these other things will be added to your experience of him.

Note:  There is a clinical anxiety (not circumstantial).  Close work with a psychiatrist as well as a pastor would be recommended for chronic anxiety which is the result of body chemistry.

Philippians 4:2-9

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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One Response to How Do I Move From Anxiety to Peace?

  1. artfromperry says:

    Most times, most anxiety comes from not being in your most present moment. Anxiety comes from the past or for your possibly-perceived future (or from the knowledge of real danger, i.e. a bully or stalker who is focused on you). Once you come back to your present moment and have a connection with other good human beings, most anxiety is relieved or banished without using prescriptions. I do not believe that prescriptions cure anxiety, they might give slight, temporary relief, “might” , but side effects from most of them are not worth trying that ‘possible’ help. (Disclaimer here; I’m not medical professional, however, one doesn’t need to be a medical professional in order to have figured out answers to some problems one might encounter in life. – artfromperry

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