I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this in previous postings, but there tend to be waves in therapy. By that I mean that the problems bringing clients into the office tend to ebb and flow like waves. Sometimes its couples dealing with infidelity, other times its kids being bullied, sometimes it is an individual grieving the loss of a family member.
I wonder what it is about any given space or time that brings these types of trends to the surface. In some ways I really like it because it forces me to refresh and hone my skills in dealing with a particular issue. Often times, just when I start to feel really comfortable with my new skill level, the trend changes again. In that way, the waves seem very purposeful.
Right now the wave is anxiety. Do you find it troubling or comforting to know that you aren’t the only one experiencing this issue at this time?
Autumn is a natural time of transition, both in nature and in US culture. Sometimes I wonder if we are out of sync with the natural rhythm of life. Instead of slowing down as the days become shorter and darker, we get busier and busier until we reach almost fever pitch by the time winter solstice rolls around in December. As nature is winding down we’re winding up and when nature expresses renewed energy and vitality in the spring we are worn out and desperate for a rest.
So here we are, a month or more into the school year, and running full tilt. If I can just get through November then things will slow down. At least that’s what I tell myself. Can you see a finish line for your sprint? Is your anxiety about being able to get it all done in a short time frame or is your anxiety about there being no end in sight? Is your anxiety motivating or debilitating?
Anxiety is just another label for stress and, like most things in life, it's all about moderation. A little stress is good for growth. That’s why we prune the plants in our gardens. But too much stress kills. Did you notice what happened to the plant life around Houston after last year’s drought? Apparently my fig trees loved the drought; it was just enough stress for them to create a bumper crop of fruit this year. My rosemary bushes on the other hand are really struggling for survival. The strawberry plants? Complete toast – fodder for the mulch pile.
People are the same way, we each have a different tolerance level for various types of stress. We look at others who are enduring hardships and think “I don’t know how they deal with that problem. That would kill me.” Sometimes we even create anxiety by obsessing about all the potential circumstances that seem too big for us. But God does not want us to be stressed out over the unknown. I think that’s why the Bible states specifically that God promises not to test us beyond what we can bear and that He will provide a way out so we can endure the trial (I Corinthians 10:13). There’s a reason that your neighbor’s trial is not yours and even if you do run across a similar situation in the future, God will equip you to endure at that time. Don't borrow trouble from the future.
So take a look at your anxiety. Is it coming from borrowed trouble? If not, perhaps it is discomfort that God has provided to nudge you into a new direction. What would happen if you looked at your anxiety as something that has come to help you? What would it tell you? What might it help you accomplish?
Maybe your anxiety started out as a nudge but has taken a bad turn and instead of being helpful or motivating it leaves you panicked or confused. That’s a sign that fear is ruling your thoughts and this is a good opportunity to take action.
Here are a few things that may be helpful.
Meditation and hypnosis. Many different meditation tracks and self-hypnosis scripts are available online. There are also trained hypnotherapists who can provide a more individualized experience. Sometimes people think of meditation and hypnosis as being anti-Christian, but that is not necessarily true.
The Bible instructs us to meditate on God’s word (there are many references to meditation in the Old Testament, but Psalm 77 is a good place to start). Another good verse to consider is Philippians 4:8, “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 (ie. meditate) about such things.”
One definition of hypnotize is “to put in a trance” and there are several passages in the book of Acts that talk of people falling into trances and while in that state they heard or received direction from God. Hypnosis is a naturally occurring change from conscious to subconscious focus. Have you ever driven home and then once you arrived home you can’t recall if you actually stopped at the corner stop sign? That’s because you were in a natural state of hypnosis. Sometimes using hypnosis in a more deliberate manner can help access the roots of fear and anxiety in a way that helps remove the emotional reaction from its stimulus.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be helpful in identifying the beliefs that impact your attitude about anxiety and its level of control in your life. The brain does an exceptional job of categorizing information for us, but sometimes it makes errors because it is hardwired to protect life. While it is great when our brain equates danger with a particular vegetable that previously made us sick; it’s not so great when our brain generalizes that fear and avoidance to every vegetable we see.
When the brain over-generalizes in this type of manner, the way to correct the situation is to retrain the brain. This happens through creating new pathways in the brain via conversations about alternate explanations, identifying the sources of emotional reactions, and courageously confronting the fear/anxiety. That doesn’t mean that if you are afraid of heights you should go book a sky-diving trip, but rather look for small opportunities to confront your fear and celebrate small successes.
Sometimes group therapy can be helpful as it provides an opportunity not only to really experience the fact that you are not the only one struggling with anxiety but also gives you an opportunity to hear first-hand what others find helpful and to practice self-calming techniques. There are several organizations in the Clear Lake area that provide group therapy services.
But the best treatment I know is to stop trying to escape. The more you focus on avoiding or outrunning the anxiety the stronger it becomes in your mind. The closer you are to something potentially threatening, the bigger and scarier it seems. We should not fear but be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9) and know that God is “our ever-present help in times of trouble”(Psalm 46:1). Take your eyes off the problem and focus on God. As it says in the song "Stand in the Rain" by SuperChick:
”The only way out is through everything she’s running from.”
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4) Why can we say this? Because it’s just a shadow. Jesus Christ has already defeated death, so the shadow of death… bah, that’s nothing to Him. If you have professed your faith in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, He promises to be with you always.
But you still have to walk through that valley, there is no detour.