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The Antidote for Anxiety

Anxiety and fear are terrible things. If you've ever seen someone having a panic attack you know what I mean. Over 30 years ago, I had a bout with agoraphobia - the fear of people in public places. It was gut wrenching, irrational, terrifying - but oh so very real. More recently, I've struggled with intense anxiety over a relational issue. It's great to handle such things consciously  - I learned many lessons from it - but it caused me to rethink the issue of anxiety and fear and to share some things that can help you deal with anxiety.

Many pastors will tell you that worry is are sinful. While this may be true, I never found that adding a layer of guilt to any problems makes them easier to solve. I need more practical, less religious answers. Perhaps you do too.

Someone said FEAR is False Expectations Appearing Real. It's a great definition. In my recent struggle with anxiety, my insides churned whenever I was around the person in question. I catastrophized, my mind creating numerous worse case scenarios that altered my breathing, made it hard to sleep, and kept me on edge. I had to remind myself that over 95% of what we fear never happens. I had to remind myself of that many times each day.

I also asked myself a question I always ask my clients when they struggle with fear: what's the worst thing that can happen? When I first learned to do that it was from a man who said, "The worst thing that can happen is that you die, which means you get to Heaven sooner!" That may seem naïve to some, laughable to others, but it's still a great question to ask yourself. What's the worst thing that can happen if the thing you fear takes place? This helps defuse the emotional time bomb ticking away in your gut.

Another great technique is from the New Testament. In Philippians 4:6-8, the Apostle Paul offers one of my favorite "Prescriptures." I call certain passages that because I share them with clients to meditate on as needed for relief of symptoms. It's essential that we reprogram our own minds to think through things biblically. God's thoughts are higher than ours, and they shouldn't be. As we think in our hearts, so we will become. We can profitably weed the garden of our mind and so learn to cope with anything life throws at us. We can find victory over every problem, a silver lining for life's darkest storm clouds.

In this passage, Paul gives us the divine antidote for anxiety. He says, "Be anxious in nothing…" Get that? In NOTHING be anxious. He then tells us what we can do instead. I love how scriptures offer us a positive solution for every negative response in life. He says instead of being anxious, in every situation, we should "With prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God." Supplication is the operant word here.  It means a prayer, request or entreaty with a willingness to humbly accept God's answer, instead of willfully demanding our own way.  We can all benefit from learning to be more willing and less willful.

A story is told of a young boy who brought a broken toy to his father to fix. The father saw that in order to properly fix it he must take some of it apart. As he started to do that the boy panicked, thinking Dad was messing it up worse. The boy took it back and said he would fix it himself, but after repeated efforts, he couldn't figure out what it needed. He eventually had to humbly return it to Dad. By this time he had so messed it up that the father had to totally dismantle it to fix it right.

Boy can I ever identify with that. So many times, I am an Indian giver with God. I offer him a problem, and then through worry, I grab it back, as if I could fix it better than He could. I want to learn to take life's broken things to God much sooner - and leave them there.

Paul doesn't end his superb prescription for anxiety there however. He goes on to say that if we are anxious in nothing, but bring everything to God with supplication, we will immediately receive a wonderful benefit. "The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Christ Jesus."

Christ's peace transcends all human understanding - it defies reason, giving us a profound legacy of deep, spiritual tranquility.

While this 'prescripture' is a brilliant one and I recommend it for anyone who suffers anxiety over anything, it alone doesn't totally resolve the issue of worry. Sometimes we need healing. At other times, simpler methods help. Thoreau once said he never faced a problem that wasn't solved through a long brisk walk. This truly does make an enormous difference. Why does a walk work? I haven't got a clue. Perhaps the physical exercise somehow releases chemical processes in the brain that helps us sort things out more efficiently. I just know that every problem I've ever had looks remarkably different after a long walk. It also helps to pray through the problem as you walk, seeking wisdom, help, and anything else you need in the present situation.

I often use a little technique that makes this even more efficient. It's simply  breathing deeply whenever I sense anxiety trying to force me to breathe in a shallow fashion. Our breathing releases more toxicity and waste than either sweat or excretory functions. When we breathe deeply, it accelerates the process of releasing the anxieties and allows us to better defuse them.

But what if we need healing? Our body stores the memory and all feelings associated with everything that has ever happened to us.  All of this is stored in the brain and much is stored in the body. I led a quantum LEAP Healing Retreat for massage therapists in Colorado a couple of years ago. They realized that often, the bodywork they did with clients brought serious emotional issues to the surface and they wanted to better equip themselves to handle those things.

Psychologists call our inner repository for unhealed pain the subconscious, the Bible calls it the heart. Whatever you choose to call it, people estimate that we have forgotten 90 % of all that we have experienced in life. Whenever fear and anxiety cause us to catastrophize - to exaggerate the potential downside of a problem - this usually means you have hit an emotional vein of unresolved pain. Properly handled, the anxiety can become a vehicle for helping you heal a deeper issue or even resolve an unresolved problem.

My current anxiety allowed me to do both. I knew that my anxiety in this recent situation was magnified beyond what the situation warranted. I prayed for wisdom to know why. I discovered that the person who triggered my anxiety related to me in ways that resembled the my mother when I was age four and she suffered from extreme back pain. When I have a client who suffers from anxiety attacks, I encourage him or her to not fight the anxiety but rather to go deep into it - to feel all the terrible feelings that seek to force their way to the surface. If they do that long enough, they reconnect to a primal pain - a long forgotten, hidden anxiety that lay dormant for years or even decades. I encourage them to feel all the unfelt feelings and go totally through the pain instead of around it. I then pray for the Holy Spirit to come and heal the area that was damaged. This usually results in a wonderful warm tingling sensation that can last for many minutes as the Spirit's power heals the wound that is stored there. Once that's done, the person feels light, relieved, released - as if a heavy load has been removed, and indeed it has. In the wake of such healing, compulsive behavior they used to deaden the pain often simply evaporates. The person no longer needs too much alcohol, or comfort food, or pornography or worry or rage. The pain they anesthetized for so many years is now gone. It is replaced with a newfound joy, tranquility and deeper capacity for love.

In my recent situation, I also became sensitized to a problem I created for my ex wife. The person causing me problems would tee off on me in a  hysterical fashion. I'm not used to that. It was quite a shock. I saw how I had sometimes done that in my marriage. I was able to call my ex, who remains a close friend, and ask her if my ranting caused her similar anguish. She said yes, but she had gotten over it. I asked her to forgive me for any harm I had caused her, which she graciously did.

Twelve Step groups calls this making amends. It's good for us to humble our self and accept responsibility for any pain we have caused others. It makes us better people.

These divine antidotes for anxiety can add years to your life and life to your years. When all else fails, I remind myself that things will work out. Sometimes it helps to say that out loud. This too will pass. Things will work out. They always do. 

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