We all suffer the negative effects of anxiety, but some suffer more than most.
When thinking about ways to reduce anxiety, through the frame of faith, I don’t think we can go past this advice. The Lord says:
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
—Psalm 46:10a (NRSV)
That said, and that borne squarely in mind, the following might also help, especially when we find ‘being still’ next to impossible:
1. Stop the Self-Condemnation – The anxious person increases their anxiety when they castigate themselves for being anxious. We ought to consciously remind ourselves that anxiety is not a shameful state to be in. Our feelings are valid. We need to stop blaming ourselves for being anxious.
2. Develop a Relationship with Our Fears – When we can approach our fear, coming alongside it and giving it its due, we can learn from it, and we therefore avoid it less.
3. Am I feeling anxious today? – It’s a reasonable question. If we are feeling more anxious than normal we may be able to more consciously apply some proactive techniques. We don’t freewheel in worry so much if we are trying to do something about it.
4. Attempt to Be in Two Psychological Places Simultaneously – The skill of the counsellor in treating anxiety is to simultaneously live both the anxious road and the well-adjusted ‘coping’ road. Likewise, for us, if we can keep a foot in both camps, just a little more perspective may be available.
5. Protect Our Thinking World – One of the biggest threats is what anxiety does to our thought world. When our minds freeze it is even more important to make ourselves think; to not avoid thinking. Sometimes simply doing something that doesn’t involve thinking is a way to break through such a mental rut.
6. Find a Safe Place for Change – Few people with anxiety problems are happy to remain there. The key to change is finding a safe place to explore physical, psychological, and behavioural strategies. There may be several opportunities to find a safe place; we may need to capitalise on several strategies.
7. Am I more emotionally attuned than most? – Anxious people tend to be more sensitive regarding the emotional plight of others. They may be more naturally empathic. Their experience with anxiety has probably nurtured warmth within them. This, of itself, is something to celebrate.
8. What Attachment Styles Explain – There is a lot of research to suggest our anxiety is driven from maladaptive attachment—to our parents and guardian-figures, well before we had any decisive influence over our lives. It is not our fault we are anxious. And we can always do some work to improve our circumstances.
9. Understand the Nature of Avoidance – When we conceive that our fears cause us to develop avoidance strategies, whilst facing up to our fears makes them melt away, we see the value in challenging those things we avoid.
10. Do I worry a lot? – Another fair question. It appears that the right hemisphere of our brains—the emotional side—is over-involved in worry, yet the left hemisphere—the more logical side—can easily assist. The logical side helps when it problem solves. When we worry we should ask more often, “What can I do about it?” Doing helps. Doing the practical helps reduce worry. We do what we can; and we accept the rest.
11. The Value of Challenge – When routine life provides its own anxieties, unpredictability threatens to send us over the edge. It is a good thing, however, to get involved in some novelty; to push ourselves to try new things; to take new and little risks. Can we still feel safe in slightly ambiguous situations?
12. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) – This is a simple technique, along with diaphragmatic breathing, and other physical techniques, can help in a very practical way to relieve anxiety symptoms and assist our confidence.
The fact we suffer from anxiety is not our fault. But we can do something about it.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement to Robyn Bett.