Anxiety is a common experience, we all feel stressed, worried and anxious. But The Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that it was never God’s intention that we would be anxious.
In fact, the first anxiety attack occurred immediately after the Fall, when Adam and Eve felt separated from God and each other…and hid. Interestingly, brain scientists tell us that anxiety isn’t caused so much by problems as it is rooted in a sense of disconnection.
That’s right! Even when we’re going through hard times, if we feel securely attached to the people around us, our brains produce chemicals that help us stay calm. By contrast, even when we aren’t facing problems, if we struggle to feel connected to others, or if our connection to others is being threatened in some way our brain produces chemicals that make us feel anxious. Anxiety is meant to be a message that says, “Go find safe, healthy people to support and help you!” TOB and brain science remind us that the key to peace is seeking union with God and cultivating the community of love God has placed around us.
When we are feeling anxious it can be difficult to make the choice to connect with God and others. Here are a few practical ways to cultivate connection and conquer anxiety:
1. Know That Feelings are a Choice–We often feel as if feelings are something that happen to us. And they are, but we don’t have to stay stuck in the emotions that overtake us. We can chose to take actions that will help us feel better, stronger, calmer, and more hopeful. No, your emotions can’t turn on a dime. You can’t make yourself super-happy if you’re feeling sad, or perfectly peaceful if you’re feeling anxious. But by challenging the false messages that run through our minds, we can turn sadness into hope, anxiety into resolve and powerlessness into purposefulness. Instead of giving into the thought that, “there is nothing I can do,” we can remind ourselves that, “Even a small change can make a big difference.” Instead of saying, “No one cares about me,” we can remind ourselves to reach out to the people in our lives honestly and give them a chance to be there for us. Instead of saying, “This situation is hopeless,” we can remind ourselves that with God, all things are possible, and begin to ask him what changes we can make that will give him glory.
The psychologist, Viktor Frankl, lived in the Concentration Camps during WWII. He fought against hopeless and anxiety himself and also studies those fellow inmates who persevered despite their circumstances. Here is what he had to say:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
No matter how powerless or anxious you feel, don’t give up your freedom to choose to respond to your circumstances in a meaningful, intimate, and virtuous manner that leads to strength, power, grace and freedom.
2. Reach Out–When you are feeling anxious, powerless, or overwhelmed, that can be a sign that you are trying to handle too much on your own. Challenge yourself to reach out to God and the other people in your life–especially if you feel they won’t understand. Make it your job to make them understand or find other people who will. Remember God’s words in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We were created for community. If you’re feeling low–even if you don’t want to be around others–do everything you can to make yourself connect with the people in your life and leave yourself open to other’s efforts to connect with you. Our minds are literally wired to feel better and more positive when we feel connected. Making the effort to reach out to others for help, for support, or even just a distraction, will trigger your social brain to start producing feel-good chemicals that will help boost your mood overall. Work with the design of your body to increase your sense of peace, strength and confidence. Reach out to God and others and let the love that is there for you fill all those dark corners of your heart.
3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for. Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it. Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through. In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different. God loves you. He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into the latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace. The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.
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