Why Can’t We Just Give Marriage Back to the Churches?

In the debate about the nature of marriage, many people wonder why we don’t just give marriage back to the churches.

Well, in the first place, it’s gone too far for that.  Gay marriage advocates would never be satisfied with that option.

More importantly though, the question is based on the false idea that marriage was invented by churches.  It wasn’t.  Marriage began as  a natural institution (men and women deciding on their own to make a lifelong committment to each other) that became a social institution when Hammurabi (late 1700’s BC) distinguished it as separate and distinct from cohabiting, or same sex relationships, or hookups with temple prostitutes etc.

So marriage existed as a natural institution that was raised to a social institution because of the benefits marriage gave to society.

At a much later date, churches give marriage a new spiritual dignity as well, but churches were late to the marriage banquet as it were.  The Church, in particular, didn’t invent marriage any more than it invented bread or water.  It just uses those naturally occuring things and gives them a new spiritual dimension.  To suggest that we “give marriage back to the churches” makes as much sense as giving churches all the water rights in the world, or signing all the bakeries over to the Church.

Marriage evolved as a natural and social institution because it was good for people and good for society.  It must be protected for that same reason.  That said, if it isn’t protected, marriage won’t die.  Society as we know it will.  And then a new society will be created by the people who value traditional marriage because it is marriage that drives civilization, not the other way around.

“Dear Dr. Greg, Don’t be a bigot.” Letter from a Child of a Gay Father.

The other day, I received an email from a young woman who read my post titled, Gay Marriage: Getting the Conversation Right.  Her parents divorced when her dad came out and she wanted me to know that they were all in a good place with it–and why couldn’t I be?  I have removed any identifying details, but I thought I would share our exchange as a way of illustrating the real challenge at the heart of gay marriage and why standing for traditional marriage is not anti-gay, but rather, pro-child.

Dr. Greg,

I know you don’t know me but I saw some things you had posted on gay marriage. My mom and dad divorced when my dad came out as gay.  I love my dad and we have a great relationship.  I’m really proud of him and I think he is very brave especially because he has to face bigoted people like you every day. I’m the oldest but I know my brother and sister feel the same.

First of all you need to open your eyes and realize that you are living in the 21st century and you need to get over the fact that there is all kinds of diversity in this world. people of different ethnicities, people of different beliefs, and people of different sexual orientation. do you have a strong dislike towards someone for the mere fact that their skin color isnt the same as yours or they arent a part of the same religion you are? probably not. so why on earth would you have a dislike towards a man who prefers other men or a woman who prefers other women? it makes absolutely no sense other than the simple fact it makes you uncomfortable. let me clue you into reality: MANY THINGS IN LIFE WILL MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE, but there is nothing you can do about it. giving speeches makes me uncomfortable but i still have to do it.

Blacks are freed from slavery, women can vote, so why can’t gays have rights? they are the same as you and me- they are human beings. believe it or not, i am more than PROUD of my father for coming out to us. i have actually grown closer to him and we have a better relationship now. I can’t wait until the day he falls in love with a man and i get to be at their wedding, admiring the amazing father and person he is and has become.

the things you have said about gays, while they may be what you believe, they are out dated. go ahead and preach what you feel, but I am telling you now- you will be hearing from people about it. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church going to catholic school until i was going into 7th grade, yet I still hold no judgement against my father.

I’m not entirely sure if you are one of those people who believe homosexuality is a disease, but if you do try calling into work saying “sorry i can’t come in today, i’m queer.” yeah, i bet you won’t get very far. in my sorority there are about 50 girls counting myself, and of those girls 40 of them have gay relatives. open your eyes and accept people for who they are. while i don’t expect a response from you, i hope you at least read this.

i’m going to leave you by saying this: If Michelangelo had been straight, the Sistine Chapel would have been wallpapered.

(In closing, she attached a lovely picture of herself, her sibs, her mom, her dad and his new partner)



And here is my response….


Dear ______________

Thank you for taking the time to write me.   You are clearly an articulate and strong young woman. I have no doubt your parents are quite proud of you and that you are a credit to both of them.

I’m really not sure what things you think I’ve said about gay people. If you read my post on Gettting the Conversation Right about gay marriage, you know it has little to do with homosexuality and everything to do with the rights of children.  I can tell you that I have never said anything–or even believe anything–even remotely similar to anything you describe. If you would care to point out what you feel are my offensive statements, I would be more than happy to–privately or publicly–clarify or apologize for anything that is legitimately ignorant, bigoted or prejudiced. If you knew me, which you admit you don’t, you would know that I take a very dim view toward so-called “Christians” who define themselves by those they unjustly hate more than by the loving God they serve.

Thank you for sending your family picture.  You look like you all love each other very much. I think that’s wonderful and exactly as it should be. I also think it’s wonderful that you love your dad both for who he is and for the fact that your relationship has improved in recent years. From your letter, it sounds like there was a time when that was less true and I’m glad things have gotten better for you.  At the same time, as you suggest in your message to me, it took an awful lot of work for you to get there. You guys have obviously been through quite a lot. You should be proud that you’ve all come though as well as you have. That’s taken a lot of courage and love and strength.

That said, I am a family therapist who works with many divorced families. One of things that both my experience and all the data on children-of-divorce shows is that divorce tends to cause kids to become “parentified.”  That means that–more than young people raised in intact families–children of divorce (especially eldest children-of-divorce like yourself) tend to be too good at taking care of other people and not quite so good at letting other people take care of them. The child-of-divorce occupying your position (eldest)in the family often ends up being compelled, by circumstances, to try to hold the family together, take more care of their younger siblings than they should have to, and even take care of and defend mom and dad–both against each other’s anger as well as any critics outside the family.

Mid-divorce and post-divorce, as dad tries to figure out who the heck he is and mom is reeling from trying to sort out which end is up, the kids have to emotionally fend for themselves a whole lot more than they should ever have to. Usually, one of the kids ends up taking on the role of quasi-parent to both their siblings and even to the parents who just aren’t up to the emotional task of being there for their kids the way they ought to be. The fact that you took it upon yourself to write to me–some guy you don’t know, will probably never meet, and whom really you shouldn’t care two figs about–to defend your dad says a whole lot about both your big heart AND your degree of parentification. Your mom and dad should be defending you, not you defending them. You have your own life to live and you shouldn’t have to try to build your own future while constantly looking back over your shoulder to see if mom and dad still need your help. They’re grown-ups. Let them fight their own battles.

I know you’ll say that they didn’t put you up to writing me. I know that. I have every confidence that you reached out to me completely on your own. As I say, it is clear that you are a strong young woman with a big heart. And even though I know all of this is true, it is utterly besides the point. The mere fact that you felt compelled to write me–a total stranger– to defend him without any prompting from them is exactly what I’m talking about. Children have a right to be raised in an environment where they feel taken care of, not where they feel forced by their parents’ emotional immaturity to have to take care of themselves, or their siblings, and especially not their parents. You were deprived of that right in your home. You have borne up well under the challenges your family has faced. You are strong, but to be honest, circumstances have forced you to be stronger than you should have to be. I’m sorry for that.

See, what I’m really saying is that I don’t have any issues with your dad being gay. But I do think that marriage ought to be an institution that guarantees kids the right to be able to count on their moms and dads. I do have huge issues with your dad–or any man for that matter–making promises to someone, having children with that someone, and then failing to follow through on those promises so that they, themselves, can pursue what they have finally gotten around to deciding what makes them happy “now.” Parents owe kids better than that. Kids don’t ask to be born. Parents make them. That implies the promise, “I will always be RIGHT HERE. No matter what. You can count on me.” Not, “I’ll be here until I figure out what really makes me happy,” or “You can count on me until someone I want to sleep with more than your mom comes along.” I happen to think parents need to work that stuff out before they make promises to children by having children. You deserved an intact family, and nothing and no one had the right to rob that from you.

From your comments and the pic you sent, it looks like you guys have done an admirable job cobbling something good together after the divorce. That took guts, and good for all of you. I’m glad it’s better than it was, but that doesn’t make what you had to go through right. It just means that mom and dad couldn’t get it together enough to give you and your siblings what you deserved–what you were promised– from the get-go and so, you had to work a whole lot harder to try to get the love and happiness that was owed to you just for being born. I think you–and all kids–deserve better than that.

I do thank you for your concern for my ability to get along with a people who are different than me. You are absolutely right about the importance of that. I can assure you I am perfectly comfortable around all types of people; GLBT, straight, Christian, non-Christian, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever. In fact, come to think of it, I am the proud father of an inter-racial family (although it seems weird to write that because it doesn’t often occur to me that we are. Nevertheless….) In my mind, people are just people. We’re all just trying to do our best. We’re all God’s children, and I am not threatened or uncomfortable around anyone.

But you know, it is possible to hold different opinions from someone without hating them. That’s something that can be hard to understand, but it’s true. Perhaps you and I have different opinions about things. That fact does not make me less than you, more ignorant than you, or more of a “hater” than you. Since you don’t know anything about me, it is rather presumptuous and, frankly, prejudiced, of you to suggest that is not the case with me–although I am sure you did so unconsciously and unintentionally. Still, you should be aware of your own tendencies to act out in unjustified prejudice–especially if you are going to make a hobby out of pointing out what you think to be prejudice in others.

Likewise, the truth is that while everyone is entitled to their own opinions, not every opinion is as well-informed by reason and healthy thinking as another. It’s really important to learn to evaluate the strength of an argument or an opinion based on its logic and reason, and the effects that opinion will have on other people, and not by mere sentimentality and emotion, which can often lead people to justify a whole host of unjustifiable things, including inflicting the pain on others which we, ourselves, have endured and overcome, but should have, by all rights, been spared.

Let me conclude by saying you are clearly a remarkable young woman. Good for you for speaking your mind. I truly wish you and your family all the best.



Coming Tues to More2Life: Celebrating Marriage

Today, we join those in Washington, D.C. at the March for Marriage by celebrating the Gift of Marriage.  We’ll look at what makes marriage a blessing and offer great ideas for getting more from your relationship.  Call in with your questions about making your marriage great and your reflections about what makes your marriage a gift. 877-573-7825

Don’t forget to answer our FB questions of the day:

(FOR MARRIED PEOPLE)  What’s the best thing about being married to your spouse?

(FOR SINGLE PEOPLE)  What are you most looking for in a spouse?

Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C). Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!

Coming Monday on More2Life Radio: Loving the Ones You Hate to Love.

Jesus says, “Love your enemies.  Do good to those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).   As we begin this Holy Week, our focus turns toward the radical love toward which Jesus’ example calls us.  Today, we’ll look at the people who are hardest to love in your life.  We’ll examine what loving them really means, and explore ways to keep yourself safe while you do it.

Call in with your questions about loving your enemies from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am-Noon Central) at 877-573-7825.

Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C). Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!

What is parenthood?

One dimension of the debate about what homsexual unions should be called is “What is parenthood?”  What are parents?  What is their function, exactly?  Who are the “best” parents and is there even such a thing?

Family Scholars Blog is having an interesting discussion of that question.  The best contribtution IMO is by Laura Rosenbury, a Law Professor at Washington University in St Louis.  In sum, she says that the question, “What is parenthood?” is the wrong one.   Instead, we should be asking, “What is childhood?”  In other words, what do children need from us, not what do we want to give them.  It’s tought provoking stuff and I encourage you to read it.

My own reaction to Prof. Rosenbury’s piece is…

YES! ABSOLUTELY!   The biggest issue I have with the “new” conversation on marriage is that I do not see anyone in the new conversation speaking for the children. In the rush to help adults get along with each other and see that adults “rights” (i.e., desires) are protected, no one is asking these essential questions that Rosenbury has presented. The fact that there isn’t a ready answer to Diane M’s (one of the commenter’s) question, “What does this mean, practically?” is just evidence of my point. How dare we make changes in the only institution intended to protect the rights of children (and this applies to divorce law as well as homosexual unions) without really giving children’s voices a major seat at the table.

What does this mean practically? I don’t know either. Does it mean that, in divorce cases, children should be assigned an attorney (paid for at their parents’ expense) who represents their needs? Does it mean that there should be a methodological review board made up of people of varying opinions that judge–not the findings–but the strength of the methodology of various studies used by both sides to support their arguments?

I think most honest people on either side of this issue would agree that research and facts are really not driving this debate. Opinion and sentimentality are. I find that fact deeply distrubing because I have a tremendous heart for children. When I was a kid, the big experiment was “new math.” The result of this experiment was that my generation displayed the worst math and science scores ever. The new conversation is just the new math applied to family life and the ones who will pay the price are the children.

Regardless of the side you fall on, we all owe it to children to commit ourselves to asking the hard question, what is genuinely BEST for children. Not, “what can they get by with?” or “what’s good enough?” The question must be, “What is best?” That is what must define the terms of the conversation because children deserve our best. We can make exceptions from there, but the exceptions prove the rule, not the other way around.

We can say, for example, “breast is best” because we know the research supports that. At the same time, we make allowances for bottle feeding,because some kind of nutrition is better than nothing, but we do not say that bottle is best or even as good as breast milk because we know it is not true. In the same way, we ought to be able to say that a two-parent, heterosexual, married family is best for children because all the data shows that is true. We can make exceptions for other family forms because life requires it of us, but we should not be pressured to say or forced to pretend that alternative family forms are as good as traditional, heterosexual married households. It is simply not true and to say otherwise is politics, sentiment and folly, not fact. Our children deserve better than that.

Once we settle the “what is best for children?” question, exceptions can be made from there, but the bar cannot be lowered to meet the exception and it is irresponsible to try.

Coming Friday on More2Life Radio: What’s In YOUR Basket?

What’s in YOUR Basket?     As we enter into Holy Week and  get ready for Easter, we want to reflect on the virtues that help us rise up to live life as a gift.  We’ll look especially at the fruits of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, and Self-Control) and explore ways to increase the experience of these and other virtues in our daily lives.

Do you have questions about being a more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, self-controlled person?  Then call in from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am-Noon Central) at 877-573-7825

Don’t forget to answer our M2L Facebook Q of the D:  If you had to choose one, which virtue/quality (for example:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, etc) would help you the most in your life and why?

Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C). Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at www.avemariaradio.net, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!

How to Put this Charitably? “Conrad Black, YOU are the Dumbass of the Day.” (Or, Why The Church Need not Get Jiggy with the Pill)

Conrad Black, for failing–despite your obvious intellect–to bestir yourself to read a single book on Catholic sexual ethics, YOU are the Dumbass of the Day.

Sadly, the National Review has taken leave of the remains its senses and published a rambling essay on the need to overturn Humanae Vitae by Conrad Black, who, besides being Sirius’ older, less Catholic, and more sesquipedalian brother, would appear to be leaning on his extensive experience as a biographer of dead presidents (FDR, and Tricky Dick) as evidence of his authority  to lecture the Church on contraception.  Well, why the hell not?  Everybody else is doing it. Why shouldn’t an overblown, walking dictionary like Connie take a crack at it too?

Now, far be it from me to criticize the size of a man’s…vocabulary, but truth be told, Black’s apparent penchant for utilizing grandiloquent verbiage where a more prosaic lexicon would suffice is simply bedeviling.  Frankly, his literary posturing unnecessarily increases the opacity of his preternaturally inebriate points by an order of magnitude that is inestimably superfluous.    If you know what I mean.

But if you don’t have the patience (or hipboots) to wade through both pages of Black’s voluminous logorrhea, here is an English translation of his thesis.  “Hey, Churchy-dudes, get with it!  Nobody agrees with you on this whole contraception dealio.  Your opposition to the pill makes you look like cavemen.  Mix it up with that whole pervy-priest thingy and you end up making it really hard for me to admit I’m Catholic to all my ‘Piskie friends at the club.  I mean, they just started letting papists like me in last week!”

Well, hells bells man, why didn’t you just say so?

I know that both  Mark Shea and Simcha Fischer have already had a little fun at Mr. Black’s expense, but as the author of Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving, I couldn’t restrain myself from joining the virtual pigpile.  (Note to Conrad, maybe you should take some time to read my book before you pen your next idiotic missive on morality.  I know you can read.  In fact, you’ve apparently fellated every page of the OED.)

To all my regular readers, my first response to Black’s nonsense is, ” Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And what?  Did it take about 3.5 seconds to prove my point?  And this from an allegedly conservative publication.  But pardon me for a moment while I turn my attention to the object of this post.

(Deep cleansing breath….)

Conrad, bubbeleh, let’s talk.  You graciously admit that you are “not qualified to discuss…the theological arguments involved.” (Although that doesn’t stop you from accusing the Church of, “joyless behavioral philistinism.”–Ouch, buddy.)   Well, that being the case, allow me to take a moment to exercise a spiritual work of mercy and instruct your ignorant ass.

First, read this.   Although it’s about celibacy, it applies to your point about the Church needing to get with the times.  Here’s a taste…

…it’s the Church’s job to look as little like the world as possible so that we can tweak your conscience, make you think twice, get under your skin.  We MUST be different because we, quite literally, are called to irritate the hell out of the world.   The more the Church does any of the things you want it to do, the less it functions as Church and the more it becomes some benign social club.  But be honest.  You’d love that wouldn’t you?  Because you’re tired of the Church making you think twice about questions you can barely stand to think once about. (Seriously, go read the rest of it.  It’s good stuff if I do say so myself.)

Second, just FYI,  the Church cares so much about sex because families are made through sex and families are the building blocks of civilization.  Just try to build a civilization around the rights of the individual, corporation, military, state, or even a church and see what you get.  (I’ll make it easy: anarchy, company stores, juntas, communism, and the taliban, respectively).  That’s why the only just society is the society that takes as its foundation the traditional family because, as a social unit, the traditional family is both small enough to care for the needs of the individual and large enough to promote the common good by preventing rampant individualism.

The thing is, since familes come from…(wait for it) having sex (shocking, I know) and society is made up of families, if you get sex wrong, then your view of family gets screwed up and, by extension, your view of civilization becomes disastrously wrongheaded as well.  Getting the meaning and purpose of sex wrong is a bit like NASA launching a rocket that is just a half-degree off target.  It doesn’t look like that big a deal up close, but 60 million miles later it starts to add up.

The former New Yorker editor, Peter Devries, once quipped that “The miracle of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults.”  If that’s true, then the misery of contraception is not so much that adults fail to produce infants, it’s that adults become infantilized.    Contraception teaches us to treat sex as recreation, fertility as a disease, and children as parasites. A society founded on such “principles” is a culture of narcissism, a culture where marriage becomes obsolete, and the murder of the least becomes a virtue.

Sound familiar, Connie?

Look, I understand the Church is unpopular on this issue, but you’re a smart guy.  All it would have taken you is about 15 minutes of reading to at least understand the Church’s point of view.  I don’t even expect you to agree with the Church, but it would have been nice if you gave some evidence of understanding it’s reasoning.   It’s just sad that you think that the whole point behind the Church’s teachings on sexual morality is that it wants to “avoid trendiness and pandering.”  In the words of the social philosopher, Seth Myers, “Really?!?  Conrad Black?  REALLY?!?”

As we’ve already observed, you know how to read. Why could you not bestir yourself to read anything about this topic?  Surely, a biographer such as yourself knows the value of researching your subject.  No?  Well, God help the readers of your biographies if this is what you consider responsible authorship.   So, Conrad Black, that’s why you get the Dumbass of the Day Award.  Because a smart guy like you doesn’t have the right to write such lazy excrement.  Congratulations, Dumbass.

—Dr. Greg Popcak, is the author of over a dozen books including  Holy Sex!  A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them…

If you haven’t seen it, please watch this video of an 11yo girl’s testimony to the Minnesota State Legislature asking them the single most important question in the debate about gay marriage.  Typical for politicians, they cowardly fail to answer her question and then move to take the gay marriage bill to the next step.   But the moment is priceless nevertheless.

What this whole debate has really illustrated for me is that children have absolutely no rights whatsoever.   They are completely beholden to the goodwill of mom and dad and society.  There is no institution, no legal process, no structure at all in place to defend the natural rights of children to even the most basic things; the right to life, the right to a mother and father.   In our current legal system, children are largely seen as property for mothers and fathers to deal with as they see fit.  Traditionally, marriage existed to protect the rights of children to know, have and be raised by a mother and father who would, presumably, protect the child’s interests, but that has been eroding since the passage of no-fault divorce and as marriage begins to be redefined as an institution dedicated to serving adult desires instead of protecting children’s needs, we will need to find some other way to defend children’s rights.

The danger, of course, for arguing for children’s rights is that it would be tremendously easy for the state to use the idea of children’s rights to usurp the primacy of the family, but I wonder if it has to necessarily be that way.  At any rate, something will have to be done to protect the least among us.  It simply isn’t just to keep throwing children under the bus so that we adults can do whatever we want.    I wonder if, at the very least, children shouldn’t be provided their own attorney–at their parent’s expense–to advocate for them in their parent’s divorce proceedings.  That idea makes me cringe, but what other options are there?  We cannot stand by and continue to let children be victimized by a culture gone mad.

If we lose this marriage debate, everything we think we know about life and society will change virtually overnight.  Which, by the way, is why you need to be here.

40 Days to a Better Marriage Tip of the Day, Wed 3/20: Love Lessons

Everyone comes to marriage with illusions about love and how things will be and we all learn that the truth is…different than we expected.  Sometimes it’s better, sometimes worse, but its always different.  Today, reflect on some of the things you’ve learned about love since you were married.  Make a list together of the ways you’ve helped each other grow through good times and bad.

For the next 40 days, M2L will offer a tip-a-day for improving your marriage. For more help creating an exceptional marriage, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about Catholic tele-counseling services. 740-266-6461.  And check out more great marriage-building ideas in For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.

Trust in the Lord and you Shall Renew Your Strength (Isaiah 40:31)–A quiz to test anxiety.

Trust.  Mystical Theology tells us that that path to unioin with God evolves through three phases;  the purgative way (in which we overcome our sin and neurotic comfort-seeking), the illuminative way (in which we grow in virtue, zeal for service, and knowledge of God), and the unitive way (in which we experience spousal union with God).  Along that path, we are told, we should see the lessening of anxiety and the increase in trust and peace.

How anxious are you?   Take this quiz to find out.  And check out the resources that can help you deal with your anxiety, increase your peace, and draw closer to others (and ultimately, God as well).    (via  Therapy that Works)


Directions: Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by the following problems? Read each of the “7” items. For each item, assign a score of:

“0” if you have not experienced this symptom at all,

“1” if you have experienced this symptom for several days,

“2” if you have experienced this symptom for more than half the days, or

“3” if you have experienced this symptoms nearly every day.


1.    Feeling nervous, anxious or on edge

2.    Not being able to stop or control worrying

3.    Worrying too much about different things

4.    Trouble relaxing

5.    Being so restless that it is hard to sit still

6.    Becoming easily annoyed or irritable

7.    Feeling afraid as if something awful might happen


Scoring: Once you have answered each item, add all answers for a total score.

Understanding your score:  Total score:

0 – 4 = Minimal/non-significant

5 – 9 = Mild

10 – 14 = Moderate

15 or more = Severe


Total Score of 0 – 4

Scores between 0 and 4 fall in the minimal/non-significant range. These individuals are likely to experience some anxiety from time to time, but do not find anxiety to be problematic in their daily lives.

Total Score of 5 – 9

Scores between 5 and 9 fall within the mild range. These individuals may worry and/or experience mild physical symptoms of anxiety. Intrusive thoughts may be begin to become bothersome or distracting, causing stress.

Strategies to Take Action

  1. Change your thoughts – Be aware of your unhelpful thoughts and modify unrealistic thinking. We all have moments wherein we unintentionally increase or maintain our own worry by thinking unhelpful thoughts. These thoughts are often unrealistic, inaccurate, or, to some extent, unreasonable. Identify those thoughts. Think about them and how the affect your feelings and behavior. If they are not helpful, change them to more helpful, adaptive thoughts. For example, beware of “what if” thinking, thoughts that are all-or-nothing in nature, or catastrophizing.
  2. Practice Self-Care– Attend to your own feelings and healthy lifestyle practices: good nutrition, sleep, and exercise are important to well-being, resilience, and healthy stress management.
  3. Stay Connected – Social support is vital to managing stress. Maintain connections to family and friends. Talking with others can do a world of good.
  4. Take a break – Whether it be a simple change of pace or scenery, enjoying a hobby, or switching “to-do” tasks, breaking from concerted effort can be refreshing.
  5. Take action – Engage in an activity you enjoy; take a walk; listen to music; read a book. Or, engage in problem-solving (In what ways might you address the stressors that are causing these feelings?)

Total Score of 9 – 14

* A score of 10 or above warrants further assessment and may be indicative of an anxiety disorder.

Scores between 9 and 14 fall within the moderate range. These individuals may experience increased worry or preoccupation in addition to greater emotional and behavioral responses. Chronic levels of moderate anxiety may also result in symptoms of chronic stress such as headaches, stomach upset, and tense muscles in the neck, back, and shoulders.

Strategies to Take Action

  1. Take a deep breath – Deep diaphragmatic breathing triggers our relaxation response (switching from our fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, to the relaxed, balanced response of our parasympathetic nervous system). Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.
  2. Practice mindfulness and acceptance – It is “normal” to experience some degree of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, and/or imminent. Anxiety, in itself, feels bad, but is not inherently harmful and does pass. Think of it like a wave of the ocean; allow it to come in, experience it, and ride it out.
  3. Challenge your thoughts – Ask yourself about your anxiety. “Is this worry realistic?”  “Is this really likely to happen?” “If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?”  “Could I handle that?”  “What might I do?” “If something bad happens, what might that mean about me?” “Is this really true or does it just seem that way?” “What might I do to prepare for whatever may happen?”
  4. Practice positive coping statements. –  For example, “Anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling”. “This feels bad, but if I can use some strategies to control it.” Positive thoughts about your ability to manage stress can be helpful in maintaining motivation and persistence in making healthy stress management strategies.


Total Score of 15 or more

Scores of 15 or more fall within the severe range. When severe levels of anxiety persist, most or all areas of one’s life may be impacted.  It can become difficult to work, relationships with others can become strained, the ability to do everyday tasks becomes difficult, and caring for oneself, one’s home, and one’s family can be a challenge. Some individuals may experience panic attacks, which are short periods of overwhelming, very intense anxiety wherein they feel a sense of impending doom that something horrible is going to happen from which they need to find safety.

Strategies to Take Action

  1. Slow your breathing – Practice relaxation. Diaphragmatic breathing or other relaxation inducing practice (e.g., guided imagery exercises, tai chi, yoga) can reduce stress by helping to encourage the relaxation response.
  2. Develop skills to control your physical experience of anxiety/panic
  3. Progressive muscle relaxation, for example, is a kind of guided relaxation exercise that leads you to tense and release different muscle groups of your body, teaching you to notice and learn the difference between tension and relaxation so that you may have greater awareness and control over these bodily experiences.
  4. Biofeedback training, for example, involves heightening awareness of and gaining greater control of your physiological processes through feedback from the ongoing processes themselves.  Some of this feedback may include instruments that measure and provide feedback regarding heart rate variability (HRV), brainwaves (EEG), skin temperature/conductance, and/or muscle tension. There are some great smartphone apps available at low cost to assist in building these skills.
  5. Face your fears – Avoidance of that which causes anxiety can unintentionally maintain the anxiety. Challenge yourself to face your fears and learn that the feared situation is not nearly as frightening or dangerous as it seems. Aim for mastery experiences, experiences after which you can say, “I did it!”
  6. Seek professional help – Sometimes anxiety can be difficult to manage without professional help.  A mental health professional who provides cognitive behavioral therapy can assist individuals in learning to face their fears and better manage their anxious thoughts and feelings.