Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Anxiety and Control

Wow, after a hefty month off from the blog I will finally deliver on the promise from the previous post of a helpful strategy for getting yourself out of an overwhelmed state of worry.  Anxiety is a huge topic which I am sure I will hit on more at some point but for this post I will focus more on worry and some practical steps that can help manage and process worry state.  The first thing to remember about worry and anxiety are that they are not only unavoidable but necessary and even helpful in the right contexts.  When you have a big test next week it is worry that gets you off of the Xbox and your nose in the books.  When your child is walking a little too far ahead of you at the county fair it is anxiety that keeps your vision locked onto them.  When you get your credit card statement and it makes you want to vomit it is worry that makes you tough it out at an unpleasant job rather than telling your boss to shove it.  Worry is helpful when you are faced with a situation where you need to do something that is within your control in order to prepare for or respond to something in the present. Laying in bed late at night worrying about whether the upcoming budget cuts will cost you your job is not useful or beneficial.  Lamenting the poor quality of the local high school that your 3 year old is districted to attend some day isn't helpful.  Assuming that because you are 23 and have not yet received a marriage proposal that you are destined to a sad and decrepit life ending as an isolated elderly shut in who is eaten by her 95 cats and the world doesn't even notice for weeks is perhaps premature.

A horse who is working and supposed to only focus on what is in front of them to avoid distraction and wandering off is outfitted with blinders, because it really doesn't matter what is to the left or right, only what is straight ahead.  In a similar way I have found a big part of determining whether worry is helpful or destructive is to put on two blinders by asking two questions about the situation.  Blinder #1 - What can I do right now in the present about the situation.  This means if you are focusing on fixing some mistake or beating yourself up for something from the past and you are NOT in possession of a functioning time machine then you need to forcibly focus yourself on the present and what you can do now.  If you are living in the future, mapping out 90 different scenarios of what might possibly happen and preparing contingency plans for each of them, and you are not one of those creepy precogs from the movie, Minority Report, then you are doing what Beth Moore refers to as paying payments on debts that most likely will never come due.  What can you do right here and now about your big job interview in the morning when it is midnight?  Go through your mental Rolodex of every possible question that has ever been asked from one human to another, or just roll over and get some good sleep for the big day.  Rather than once again convincing yourself that you will never dig your way out of the debt you have piled up and that it is just a matter of time before your house is foreclosed on and your kids repossessed, you could step out of the line at Starbucks and decide that starting right here and now I'm going to stop spending money frivolously starting with the couple of bucks you have in your hand.  We like to think that if I can be prepared for something bad to happen then it can hurt us less, which is true if you have set up an emergency savings fund in case your job gets outsourced, but getting shot in the leg pretty much hurts the same whether you anticipated it or not.

The second major blinder to keep secured into place is to ask the question "What do I have control over in this situation?"  If you are honest with yourself then usually the answer is very little as the vast majority of the control we convince ourselves we possess is just an illusion.  We can't really force our kids to make good decisions so worrying that if we were good parents that they would never make mistakes is giving yourself a little too much false control.  Being riddled with anxiety about losing your job is helpful if it pushes you out of your comfort zone to start sending your resumes out to better opportunities or to buckle down and start actually doing the job you've been getting paid to perform for years, but just rehashing over and over that somebody in a boardroom somewhere might make a decision that will cost you your current job doesn't actually lead to preparing yourself or responding to the situation.  What do you have control of?  Your thoughts, feelings, decisions, beliefs, values, and commitments?  What do you not have any control over?  Basically everything outside of that.  I'd say everything outside of your own skin but marathon runners with high cholesterol and health food nuts with cancer would say that's even a myth.  I'd say everything outside of your own mind but those suffering with debilitating depression or in the midst of intense grief would say that you often don't even have control over that.

So you find yourself absolutely crippled with anxiety, worried about the million troubles in your life and how you are going to fix them, what do you do?  You get out a piece of paper and write out each major issue and list them out, which immediately shrinks your list from a million to like 6.  Counting anxieties in your mind is like counting toddlers in a room, you end up getting a much higher number because they keep moving around.  Once you have each of the main categories you hit each one individually with the two big questions of what do I have control of in this and what can I do right now about it and it will look something like this:

It's 10 at night and you are getting ready for bed and just feel overwhelmed:
1. Aunt Suzy is having a hip replacement - I can pray for her and ask God to give her a speedy recovery.  I can write on my task list to pick up a card tomorrow while I am grocery shopping.
2. We are in a bad economy - Pray.
3. I think my daughter is sexually active - Pray.  Stop by her room and just tell her I love her, hope she sleeps well, and that if there is anything at all that she feels like she needs to talk with me about that I am here for her.  Put on my to do list for Wednesday while I am having tea with Mary Beth to get the contact info for that hit-man she hired for her rotten husband to see if he does grungy teen boys as well (Just Kidding).
4. My marriage is falling apart and I'm afraid my husband doesn't love me any more - Pray that God will help you forgive his shortcomings and that he would reveal your own and give you the strength to become better.  Before going to bed tell him I am committed to him, that I love him, and that he is good enough in my eyes.  Write down in task list for Friday night to make him a big steak out of the blue and rub his back before bedtime.  Spend my last few minutes before I fall asleep tonight reading a book on being a better wife rather than using the time to watch CSI: Hoboken reruns.

One last great resource on this topic is a recent sermon at my church called "Work, don't worry.  Because worry don't work." - If you have an ipod/pad/phone just get the elevation church app as it has all the old sermons and find it under the "Treatment" series - or hopefully this link works -

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