Terror. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. The ever-looming threat of nuclear war. Just the events in the last month are bound to kick your anxiety up a notch.
And that’s just the global stuff. Add your own busy schedule, work load or family conflict to the mix and there’s plenty to fret about. In fact, more than 6.8 million Americans suffer every year from general anxiety disorder.
If you’ve been stuck in the worry cycle lately, you’re not alone.
I come from a long line of worry worts; three generations in fact. I know what it’s like to worry over health, family, work, safety and the future. I’ve personally experienced trauma and panic attacks. Many times I’ve expected the worst to happen, feared disaster scenarios, and even found myself anxious about being anxious.
At its core, anxiety is really about fear and control. The more we feel out of control, the more we fear. And the more we fear, the more helpless we feel.
But here’s the good news. When fear starts to tailspin, you don’t have to nosedive with it. You can interrupt the downward spiral of emotions and take back the wheel.
When you start feeling anxious, ask yourself these 6 questions to regain clarity and control.*
1. What am I so afraid of?
When tempted to give a pat answer, take a moment to think again. What are you afraid of, really? Are you afraid of dying? Losing face? Being alone?
When I worry about my busy schedule, I’m really just afraid of failing and disappointing others. When I worry about my health, I’m actually afraid of losing control and dying young. Worrying about my husband’s safety when he travels just reveals my fear of losing loved ones.
Anxiety distracts you from dealing with sadness, loneliness, anger and other emotions. Acknowledging your fear is the first step to dealing with it.
2. Why might I be feeling this way?
Anxiety is a normal response to a threat. The important question is, what is threatening you?
Right now Puerto Rico is experiencing the real threat of a power, water, and food shortage. Those who survived the horrific Las Vegas massacre last weekend are now experiencing the side effects of trauma. Their anxiety is a natural response to the life-or-death situation they experienced.
But the adrenaline rush I experience every time I speak in front of a crowd or walk into a hospital? Not life threatening. I am not actually in danger. Which means something else is at play.
Are you anxious about a present threat or a perceived one? Could your worry be related to feelings of loneliness, failure, shame, loss, guilt or insecurity instead? Did you have a traumatic experience in the past that still triggers feelings in the present, even after the threat is long gone?
Nailing down what triggers your anxiety is the key to disarming it.
3. What evidence do I have that I could get through this?
What will you do if your fear comes true? More often than not, you would learn to adjust and adapt.
Think of a previous time when you were anxious or afraid. How did you get through it? What did you do to overcome it? If you did it once, you can do it again.
Instead of viewing yourself as a victim, see yourself as a survivor.
4. Am I imagining this scenario without God’s presence, power and provision?
But anxiety has a bad track record. Its predictions almost never come true. And all too often that future scenario we’re imagining is one without God in it.
If the unknown leaves you feeling out of control, remember the One who holds the world in His hands. No mountain moves, no sea rises without His permission. Nothing happens outside of God’s influence and authority (Ps 103:19, 1 Sam 2:8).
What situation is creating anxiety for you? Remind yourself that God will be there too.
5. What would it look like to trust God in the midst of this situation?
When bad things happen under the careful watch of God, it begs a question. Is He good? Can He be trusted?
It’s important to remember that God is never the source of evil (Ps 92:15). In fact, He hates sin.
We live in a sinful, broken world. We’re the ones who broke it. And we break it a little more every day. Evil has no reason. It is anti-reason. And anti-love. – Karl Vaters, Christianity Today
God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that we could be free from sin and the dangerous havoc it wrecks in our lives. Because of our faith in Jesus, we are made right with God and His disposition toward us is one of goodness, mercy and faithfulness. He uses the suffering and trials we experience on earth for our good (James 1:2-4, Rom 8:28) and comforts us with His presence (Ps 34:18). God knows what we need and provides for us (Matt 6:8, 7:7-11). We can cast our cares upon Him because He cares for us in the most personal way (1 Pet 5:7).
Do you trust Him to take care of you? What changes do you need to make in your thoughts, feelings, and behavior to reflect your faith in what God can do and in His endless love and provision for you?
6. What is within my control (and what is not)?
Worrying actually wastes energy, is unproductive and yields little fruit. It doesn’t actually solve your problem. If you want to minimize fear, focus on what you can control.
Instead of fretting over the next storm, how can you prepare for it? What can you do about it?
When I feel anxious about my health, I can use my energy to exercise, develop good sleep habits, eat a nutritional diet, and do stress-reducing activities; all choices that are completely within my control. These actions optimize my health while decreasing my anxiety.
Bottom line? Figure out what you can do and ask God to take care of the rest.
At its core, anxiety is really about fear and control. If you’ve been trapped in the fear cycle lately, take back control by putting these 6 steps into practice. Decrease your anxiety by understanding your present situation. Recognize you have been hard-wired to survive. Trust God with the future and rely on His presence, power and provision. Focus on what you can do today and take the appropriate action tomorrow.
*The questions and suggestions in this article are not intended to replace medication, therapy or other appropriate forms of treatment for GAD. If you are suffering from severe anxiety, please contact a local doctor or a licensed therapist for help and/or treatment.